The opposite of flourishing

By Blackheath pond, the mother goose fiercely protects her ailing baby; all I could do was watch in pity

Is languishing. It’s what we’re all doing right now, according to big think pieces in the New York Times and little comedy pieces in The Guardian. Languishing is what we do when we sit in neutral nothingness, not really engaging with the world (mostly because it’s not allowed to engage with us). We’ve been locked down and shut out of the habit of making plans or looking forward to things because of the frequent and crushing disappointments meted out by the Big C-19. We’ve been working from home and growing stodgy and dull from too much Deliveroo and Netflix. We’re sick of the sight of our own homes, gardens, parks and streets. Too many shops and businesses remain shuttered despite the gradual relaxing of the rules in April. A chill north wind is compromising our enjoyment of beer gardens. If we can be bothered to go through the rigmarole of booking our hail-lashed table in one.  

Languishing is, in fact, a sociological term, coined by American academic Corey Keyes in 2002. As a result of this halfway-house identification of a mood between content and despair, he’s having a moment, which is more than can be said for the rest of us. He’s keen to distinguish the feeling of languish to that of anguish. It’s not depression, it’s just, as the Grauniad so zetgeistily puts it, ‘Meh’ Everything is kind of Meh coloured, which I imagine as a kind of taupe.

How can anyone feel depressed, if they’re not suffering from Long Covid, or any other life-threatening disease? If the Government has ensured their furlough and self-employed grants so they can pay their bills? If they can stand in gardens and take refreshment with their nearest and dearest and they can cheer while politicians make encouraging noises about world-beating vaccine programmes and the likelihood that holidays, at home and abroad, can happen this summer?

That’s how I upbraid my pathetic self when I limp home from another abortive run to find that last night’s gusty wind has blown three disposable face masks into the front garden, where they dangle unpleasantly in the shrubbery. It’s the self-loathing also lurking behind the rush of relief I feel when I learn that my marathon has once again been postponed (postponement the third takes it to September, which is where it started last year…). It’s the wan smile (behind the mask) I exchange with the osteopath when I rock up for yet another session with my latest running injury. Groin strain! Truly a pain in the arse. And other areas.

It has been two long weeks since I’ve been able to follow my comforting little training timetable, to enjoy sprinting efforts on the track and jog the recoveries feeling pleased with Marathon Gran’s return to speed. Therefore I am languishing in a defiantly self-indulgent way and repairing to bed as soon as darkness falls so that I don’t have to endure my own company for too long. A pile of books sit invitingly by the bed, the most delightful being the one my sister sent me, On Chapel Sands, by Laura Cumming, whose writing is so extraordinarily textured, conjuring the bracing Lincolnshire coastline with such a painterly, energetic curiosity that I am intrigued, for a while, out of my despondency. Her writing is interspersed with memoirs from her mother, an artist with the same bright way with words as her daughter. It’s an absolute joy and it provides me with the ‘flow’ that the psychiatrists recommend us languishers escape our taupe coloured world with. Flow is when you’re really absorbed in a task of activity and you lose your sense of self and stop focusing on the trivial shit, such as whether it’s time to put the kettle on and open that pack of Tesco dark chocolate digestives that you discovered were quietly vegan and cost only 69p.

Flow can also be achieved if you’re running well. It’s not exactly absorption because your thoughts range far and wide, and you may actually be airing them if you’re running with intelligent friends and there are a few miles to be covered. Running alone, you think up interesting stories and truly believe you will act on your ideas once you’re home.

Bad news hits like a hammer blow and suddenly the world looks fragile and ill. Languishing is what happens after the initial shock and tears. Then all you can do is your best and hope for the best to happen. Maybe the little gosling in the picture recovered and went for a swim with her devoted mum. The mother goose’s fierce protection of her baby was the comfort I drew from this afternoon.

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