You know who is baffled by Cher Devitt’s behavior? Cher Devitt.
For the whole pandemic, Devitt, a professional organizer from Roslindale, has been fantasizing about living life again. But now that she’s vaccinated and she can, well, she’s not.
Not getting tickets to hear the band she loves play at The Sinclair in Harvard Square. Not meeting friends for dinner at the Laughing Monk Cafe in Boston. Not flying to New Orleans.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said. “I’m not depressed, but I’m not doing cartwheels, either. I’m meh.”
Every moment in the pandemic has been strange in its own particular way, and here’s the current weirdness: The world is opening back up, but for many, the panic and grief of the early days have not turned into joy, as they expected, but rather into malaise.
Most people fighting the blues, albeit listlessly, think they’re alone in their meh mood. And they have no idea that there’s actually a psychological term for it. The term was coined by a sociologist in the early 2000′s but seemingly made for this moment of in-between-ness. It’s called “languishing,” and it lives on the psychological spectrum between depression (no explanation needed) and flourishing (we’ll talk about this in, like, 10 years).
“You are not hopeless or completely exhausted,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.” “But you are not looking forward to the things that normally give you excitement.”
“There’s a lack of meaning and purpose in tasks and roles that normally feel important and worthwhile,” he said. “An everyday sense of ennui.”
With so many left jobless or grieving lost loved ones, languishing might seem to be almost a luxury, a gloom reserved for the fortunate. But the feeling is incredibly common. An April poll of 1,014 adults by Ipsos found that the condition was afflicting one in five American adults.
Democrats (19 percent) and Independents (27 percent) have it worse than Republicans (12 percent). And In blue Massachusetts, many are showing up at therapists’ offices.
“Everyone is asking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ” said Elaine Espada, executive director of Beacon Therapy Group.
“People are saying they feel ‘stuck’ or they don’t feel like they’re alive,” she said. “They’re going through the motions.”
Alex Chinks, a licensed clinical psychologist in Needham, has been struck by the number of clients in their 20s and 30s who are not looking for new work even though they want to switch jobs.
“The weeks keep ticking by, and they are just not doing it,” she said. “They are not showing classic symptoms of depression — they’re high-functioning — but they’ve lost their mojo.”
That’s Vania Arroyo, a photographer and makeup artist in Dorchester. Pre-pandemic, she was a person who got excited about life, she said. “I would go see a ribbon dance and think it was so beautiful that I want to take up the art of ribbon dancing.”
But her business collapsed at the start of the pandemic, and though calls have started coming in, she can’t motivate herself to leave the dullish job she picked up to support herself and get back to her passion.
“I’m not depressed but I’m not in a good place, either,” she said.
Regret that she didn’t “make the most out of the pandemic” — by learning Photoshop, for example, or brushing up on trends in brow shapes — is making it hard for her to get started again.
“I’m in the same place I was before the pandemic,” she said. “I should have used the opportunity to get further along.”
Even social butterflies are languishing. Anastasia Magnitskaia, previously a one-woman social whirl, says that confusing mask and social distancing rules, and keeping track of everyone’s varying comfort levels, have turned a night out into something she no longer has the energy to plan.
“It makes you not want to do anything,” said Magnitskaia, of Arlington.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ipsos poll found that the condition has most widely hit people who bore some of the pandemic’s biggest daily burdens, the less well off.
People without a high school education (32 percent) are more likely to be languishing than those with a high school degree or beyond (20 percent) and those people earning less than $50,000 are more likely to be in the state than those earning $100,000 and upward (28 percent and 16 percent, respectively).
Lovern Moseley, a psychologist at Boston Medical Center, captured the mood: “They feel like they’ve been knocked down so many times they don’t have the energy to get back up and engage in life,” she said, speaking about the parents of the children she treats, many of whom have lost jobs and burned through savings.
“What is the goal?” they say. “I am doing all this work, but for what?”
Grant, the Wharton professor, says it’s hard to move forward when the world is still stagnating, and fear that the pandemic will roar back is a demotivating factor, too, according to other mental health experts and those languishing themselves.
“I can’t quite trust that things will get better,” said Carol Rosenstock, of Brookline.
Espada, of Beacon Therapy Group, tells her patients not to expect languishing to disappear in a day.
“In the same way we’ve been talking about the pandemic not just going away, it’s the same thing with the languishing,” she said. “It’s going to take time for all of us to transition back into society. It is a process, not just a door.”
Bottom line: Even languishing is languishing.