Is Exhaustion Our New Normal?

We are a battered and exhausted populace. I say this after taking eight plane trips in the past month. I believe there’s nothing like air travel to gauge the emotional health of our nation.

If I was writing this a year ago, I would have said we were angry but today that anger has been replaced with an angsty bone weariness. I see in my fellow travelers a fatigue that seems to be acting as a coping mechanism. As if our energy is being saved for the next big disaster and we don’t dare waste it on non-life threatening aggravations.

There’s still episodes of anger and even hope. I saw a couple wearing masks get furious that the person in the window seat in their row (a total stranger) was not and would not put on a mask. They fussed, raised their voices and pouted, finally asking the flight attendant if someone wearing a mask would change places with their maskless seatmate.

There weren’t any takers for this request and the outburst barely registered a raised eyebrow for those of us sitting near the kerfuffle. It seems our bandwidth for the pro and con mask drama had reached its limit months ago. Even the flight attendant, while attempting to be accommodating, appeared to be zoned out.

On another full flight (Is there ever a flight that’s not full these days?) a woman placed her bag in the middle seat in an attempt to dissuade anyone from sitting there. I marveled and was jealous at her ability to have that level of hope. A hope so immense and almost magical that somehow, she thought that on a full plane, a fact that the flight attendants had been announcing repeatedly, that somehow no one would want that middle seat.

During the last leg of my most recent journey severe weather in Texas was playing Tetris with the aviation grid. Many planes were delayed and flights were cancelled. But instead of people wailing and having mini temper tantrums we were all like over medicated Zombies, tethered to our phones as we tried to find another flight.

Even when the delayed flight I was waiting for finally arrived and the announcement was made that yes your flight is here – but hold on because now you have to wait for flight attendants that are stuck on another plane to arrive – I held my breath for the onslaught of outrage.

Instead, there was a feeling of resignation. It was if we all did a communal sigh that said not, “I give up,” but “I gave up a while ago.”

As we waited and waited for the flight attendants to show up one woman, undoubtedly a cheerleader or a life coach who just completed a positive thinking visualization seminar, yelled, “Life is good and I appreciate all of you and our flight crew!”

This outburst generated no comments. Not even eyerolls or smiles. It was if most of us had willingly put ourselves in a trance as a way to survive our hellish day of travel.

I asked two men standing next to me why people weren’t angrier about all of this hurry up and wait drama. The older of the two men said, “We’ve learned to surrender to the things we can’t control.” The younger men chimed in with, “It’s just not worth it anymore.”

I agreed with both of them. But I couldn’t stop thinking that it seems like the last two years have taken more from us than we realize. There seems to be an undercurrent of exhaustion engulfing us. A feeling that if we keep our heads down maybe the next bad thing won’t find us.


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