Languishing: The Dominant Emotion of 2021?

It seems inevitable to talk about the pandemic and mental health. A lot of us have gradually gotten used to a “new normal” way of living, but it was fascinating to me how many filmmakers had to change the original plans for making their movies, and how it affected the results, often in surprising and interesting ways. The use of framing in Devil’s Food Cake that I thought enhanced the story so well was compelled by using Zoom to make the film during quarantine. And I Am A Black Hole was inspired by quarantine and made during quarantine on an Iphone by one solitary man.

I saw a handful of my friends sharing this article from the New York Times, so it obviously struck a chord. It seemed like as the pandemic and stay-at-home measures dragged on, initial fear and grief began to melt into more of a “languishing.” That first intense wave of emotion could only be sustained so long, kind of like a manic episode, and then it crashed into a more kind of….bleh, muddling through. This article says the lack of motivation and focus that come with “languishing” may actually be the dominant emotion of 2021.

I feel that we’re not going to see the full effect of the pandemic on our mental health for years. The low-level anxiety, coping mechanisms, and post-traumatic stress will remain with us even when the worst is over.

I know solitude was hard. I know being with families or loved ones, cooped up for that much time together, was tense and hard. Everyone was affected socially in uncomfortable ways.

When people started discussing languishing, it reminded me of another term that had resonated with me years ago when I first heard it—anhedonia. This wasn’t so much a definite depression as much as it was an all-consuming apathy, a loss of the ability to feel pleasure in things you usually feel. I knew as soon as I learned about “anhedonia” I suddenly had a term to give voice to that completely flat-line, joyless response to life I often felt when severely depressed. It wasn’t drowning, it wasn’t trying to swim, it was floating aimlessly, watching your life drift by, too passive to participate in it.

To me anhedonia, the complete absence of pleasure, is one of the worst “feelings.” Many times when I am extremely depressed, I still feel in touch with my emotions—maybe too much. I tend to “over-emote”—I dwell on things that happened in the past, ruminate on how I’m letting down the people I care about, and over-blow incidents and mistakes in my mind—but it’s all because I care.

I’ve heard people say the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. I kind of get that, too. I was once taking an Uber and had a very talkative driver who, once he learned I worked for the library, started ranting about his librarian ex-wife. After a long monologue discussing her betrayal among other things, he said “I hate her so much.” Aside from this being awkward and me thinking of nothing to say except “I’m sorry,” I also remember thinking to myself, what he’s really saying is “I reverse-love her” so much. If he didn’t care, he would have forgotten her years ago.


Anyway. Languishing. Wild. There’s some little tips in there to cope, like doing little projects or goals to re-build your interest in things. But I just wanted to bring up this interesting “feeling” (or non-feeling)? I’m unfortunately not really in any place to be a self-help guide.

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