The Hero’s Journey

There’s a thing called Covid Fatigue. Or maybe it’s Lockdown Fatigue? I’m not quite sure anymore, what with the constant fug surrounding my brain caused by aforementioned fatigue. This all made sense this week when I heard several politicians refer to the pandemic being ‘a marathon, not a sprint’, which really stung, given I’ve been running flat out for one whole year now. Had I known from the beginning that this would be a survival test over twenty six metaphorical miles rather than a five kilometre skip I might have worn better shoes or packed some supplies. I might have thought to pace myself a bit.

Many of us would never have thought ourselves capable of participating in a marathon. Very few would choose it. But here we are – smack bang in our very own hero’s journey – with most of us already having hit the proverbial wall.

The idea of being on a journey in an emotional or developmental sense has become a clichéd one. In fact, many people now talk about personal journeys in a self-conscious way, eager to distance themselves from the gushy post-elimination interviews with sobbing Dancing with the Stars participants. But the word ‘journey’, however naff, remains appropriate. It is widely thought that in order to grow or evolve some ‘movement’ is required – as in, you move out of home or you leave a relationship or you might undertake a big travel adventure. But how do we grow and evolve when we literally cannot go anywhere, when we’re stuck? Of course, the journey must go inwards.

The concept of the hero’s journey is age-old and deeply seeded in our psyche. Essentially, it is a narrative formula which underpins the vast majority of our greatest and most popular works of art and commentary from Beowulf and Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Eat Pray Love and 13 Going On 30. A character is called to adventure, experiences a series of challenges and trials and – Ta Da! – there is transformation, resolution and personal growth. In the case of Sex and the City, perhaps also a cocktail.

This idea of the hero’s journey, the warrior’s fate, has been presenting itself to me all week – in the book I’m currently reading, in a podcast I listened to during the week… the hero’s journey keeps coming up. Just now, as I went to distract myself with my phone, a quote popped up: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are stronger in the broken places,” (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms) – another obvious nod to a journey of self healing. And add to this my small boy calling me to sit with him through a part of the film The BFG earlier this weekend, where Sophie undertakes a brave adventure to rid the world of child-eating giants. Yet another epic hero’s journey And, obviously, I love the girl ones the best – stories like Labyrinth and Tangled and The Little Princess.

So, given that we are now obviously stuck in a marathon we never trained for and I’ve been sent an embarrassingly high number of blatant signs by the universe in relation to the hero’s journey thing, I’m thinking I should probably embrace the idea. And if nothing else, it’s kind of nice, on the bad days, to think of ourselves as somewhat heroic, however flawed and however dull our own journey may feel. And at least there’s the promise of crossing the finish line somewhat transformed.

So where is my personal journey at? I’ve deciphered three things for sure.

Firstly, I feel myself de-connecting from people. This may seem an obvious one, but it really came home to me at a recent Xray in search of any rogue kidney stones (I’ll keep you all posted on that one). As with all current routine ‘outings’ to the dentist / supermarket / vet I was beside myself with excitement to be out and about, but it all went kind of pear-shaped. Hospitals are inevitably populated by older people and with no-one to accompany them, many appeared quite lost. And it’s difficult to politely ask for help when everyone’s at least two metres away and wearing a mask and in a hurry to just get out the other side themselves because, you know, killer virus alert. A lot of people looked bewildered and vulnerable – and that’s no craic. When I at last made it to the reception desk, having expended a lot of energy explaining to an elderly man with a brand new knee that ‘Yes’ I would mind his space in the queue while he sat down to rest, I noticed the girl behind the perspex had a gorgeous engagement ring on. Like, fabulous. A shining, pretty solitaire which was begging to be commented on. But I didn’t say a word about it. Because it was already taking all my energy to spell my name through my mask and then she had to spend some time clarifying details about my menstrual cycle (joy!) which happened to involve a lot of gesturing and pointing at a form. And while she was doing all the explaining and pointing, I started thinking about how maybe she was one of those people who had to postpone her wedding and maybe it would be a touchy subject for her. And I only wanted to be kind. The whole interaction was just sad and I already had a headache incoming from trying to smile animatedly with just my eyes. Simple, basic, daily human interactions give us so much nourishment. I miss the benefits of basic connection, never mind proper, relaxed, no-holds-barred conversations with friends. It made me realise that we are currently in a state of chronic de-connection and that’s not a good or natural thing.

Which leads me nicely to the second thing I know for sure – my need for invigoration. I miss feeling bloody alive. This is definitely due to the lack of connection, but also the lack of hobbies or seeing different places or planning something nice. I’ve taken to dipping in my local lake to enliven myself, to re-invigorate myself. Jazz it up a bit. When life is so mundane, I’ve learned I need to feel some kind of extreme of something and if freezing cold water is all that’s available, then so be it. It helps.

Lastly, all the banana bread baking has not been in vain. I’ve discovered the perfect recipe involves 50% more bananas than any ingredients list states, dark chocolate chips are a must along with a whole other banana split on-top with brown sugar sprinkled over it. Take my word for it – and consider this part of your journey completed.

That feeling of Covid fatigue is real. But it can’t all be for nothing, surely?

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” Haruki Murakami.

All we can do is stay the course and keep baking the banana bread – even heroes need to eat.

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