As the reality of an indefinite psychological marathon descended, many journal writers began to count their blessings, in entries tinged with both gratitude and fear.
“There have been a lot of losses in the last months, including transportation on public buses, bike riding as the bike trail is washed-out, the library is closed. … When I hear this could go on for another year, I feel despair. But I’m taking it one day at a time and am grateful that I can pay my bills, have a roof over my head, and so far have figured out how to get food.” — Retired woman in her 70s, from Michigan.
In their preliminary analysis, Dr. Mason and Dr. Willen found that expressions of guilt, privilege and gratitude emerge early in the epidemic, and appear in about one-third of the 530 English-language contributors overall. Ten of these diarists devoted most of their entries to giving thanks — for what they have, and for seeing what they had taken for granted.
“Some of this is white liberal guilt, feeling bad about doing OK when so many are not,” Dr. Mason said. “But we have a lot of people of color who are not privileged, and they feel the guilt for a slightly different reason. They’re seeing family members dying, losing jobs and not being able to pay rent.”
A Summer of Protests, Fires and Existential Dread
“The world feels like it is imploding again with the murder of Black and brown people by police, children murdering innocent protesters, teachers scared to go into schools, the economy continuing to collapse, a hurricane. It’s overwhelming … we are all just sick of this.” — Nonprofit worker and mother in her 40s from New Jersey
Over the summer, Covid-19 outbreaks swept through much of the country, even as Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets in more than 400 cities and towns. By August, California was in flames, ravaged by one of the worst wildfires on record. And all of that seemed further fuel for an increasingly nasty, deeply polarized presidential campaign that ramped up in September and October.
Many people, especially younger diarists, were ready to scream. “At this point, as selfish or whatever as it may sound, I’d rather be homeless than spend another day in this house,” wrote one young woman, a student in her late teens, from New York. “That may sound dramatic and me being angry, but I am done with this.”
The journals swell and recoil like a living organism, spilling forth a growing sense that the world was coming off its moorings. “The record temperature recorded in the Death Valley reminds me not to forget about feeling despair about the climate crisis,” wrote another woman, a software engineer in her 50s from California. “The pandemic has made everything feel like it’s falling apart.”