UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, May 6th, 2021: Dumpster Fire

Among the news which my Twitter feed offers up today is this raging dumpster fire in the Osborne Village neighbourhood of my home city of Winnipeg:

Dumpster Fire, Osborne Village

Somehow, a dumpster fire is an apt metaphor for the state of my life lately, on Day 417 since I began working from home in self-isolation for my university library system.

Manitoba now has the third highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 infections in Canada (after Alberta and Ontario), and experts are saying that we will soon have to implement a third lockdown to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system here.

Personal visits to other private households, indoors or outdoors, have already been forbidden. I only leave my apartment to go to work at my closed library on Mondays, to do some collection weeding, and to pick up the groceries I have ordered via the Walmart website every 2 to 3 weeks. I am weary of the restrictions, but it looks like it’s going to be this way for at least another 3 to 6 months. I am not due for my second shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine until July.

I have not had a hug for fourteen months, people. It is starting to really wear on me.

The medications I am taking to control my blood sugar are no longer working as well as they used to, so my family doctor has put me on injectable insulin for the first time. It has been extremely frustrating to try and figure out what the optimal dosage of insulin should be, and we are still trying to figure that out. My blood sugar has been consistently high this past month, and it worries me greatly. I know I need to lose weight, but it just feels so impossible what with everything else going on.

On top of all this, my psychiatrist is considering leaving Winnipeg to accept a position in British Columbia, and neither she nor my family doctor know if they can find a new psychiatrist to take me on as a patient. The current pandemic has led to a extreme shortage of mental health professionals in Manitoba, at a time when so many people are struggling with anxiety and depression. It is, quite simply, the worst possible time to lose my psychiatrist.

Because of these and other worries, I must confess that my productivity has taken a nosedive. I’m having trouble getting anything done. I tell myself that things aren’t normal, that it’s normal to feel this way in the middle of a pandemic. But somehow today it doesn’t really help.

Today is just a dumpster fire, and I wish I had a few more buckets of water to put it out.

UPDATE May 7th, 2021: This evening, Manitoba’s chief public health officer ordered, among other things, that all galleries, museums, and libraries must close. So I won’t be going in to work on Monday after all. Given the sharp increase in COVID-19 infections in Manitoba this week, this is not a surprise to me.

Pandemic Diary, February 2nd, 2021: Groundhog Day, Murder, RuPaul, and Yearly Beloved

Today is officially Day 324 since I first began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system, and frankly, I think I am starting to lose it.

I am finding it hard to get out of bed, hard to get moving, and hard to get any productive work done (despite looming deadlines). And I am feeling inordinately cranky, tired, and just absolutely, positively FED. UP. with dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and all of its consequences, both anticipated and unexpected.

My mental health has been taking a dreadful beating over these past few weeks in lockdown, and I am ready to scream myself hoarse and shake my puny fist at the universe. And YES, I most certainly will use this blog as my soapbox, to vent my frustration! (Better than keeping it bottled up inside…and we’ll return to my regular reporting on social VR and virtual worlds with the next blogpost, I promise! Thanks.)

An article in today’s National Post newspaper sums it up quite nicely:

Nearly three decades after its premiere, the 1993 movie Groundhog Day has reached a new level of relevance under COVID-19. The world’s locked-down, working-from-home millions often report that they feel trapped in the movie’s plotline of an unending, inescapable time loop. “It does have this feeling like we’ve done this before. We’ve been here before. There’s nothing new on the horizon,” psychologist Steve Joordens told the Canadian Press last week.

Now, I must confess that I have never actually watched the movie Groundhog Day from beginning to end (not being a particular fan of Bill Murray, either the actor or the man). Perhaps it’s time to add it to my Netflix viewing queue. What I have been watching in the evenings are two long-running murder mystery television series, one Canadian and one British.

Murdoch Mysteries (CBC website, Wikipedia) is a popular, long-running CBC TV drama set in Toronto during the late 1890s and early 1900s, which has just been renewed for its 14th season in 2021. I have access to the first 13 seasons on Netflix, and I am currently binge-watching season 7.

The lead investigator, William Murdoch, has a scientific bent, and often finds ways to incorporate newfangled inventions and technologies (e.g. X-rays) into his sleuthing, assisted by the highly capable coroner Dr. Julia Odgen, who is William’s off-again, on-again love interest throughout the series. (I peeked ahead, and yes, William and Julia do finally land up together…at least, by the end of season 13! We’ll see what happens during season 14…)

The other murder mystery series that is currently keeping me somewhat sane and entertained in lockdown is the venerable Midsomer Murders (ITV website, Wikipedia), which started in 1997 and is is now the U.K.’s longest-running contemporary detective drama at 22 seasons long! (Mind you, British TV seasons tend to be much shorter than North American ones.) I am currently watching season 8 on Amazon Prime Video.

Now, I do find some of the murders and their resolutions, in some of the episodes of Midsomer Murders, to be a bit contrived, but I quite enjoy the characters, especially the lead investigator, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (played by the wonderful John Nettles), as he sorts out the suspicious deaths which take place in the many small countryside villages located in the fictional English county of Midsomer. Also, I am a big fan of picturesque English villages and cozy village murder mysteries! I treat every episode like a mini-vacation in England.

And, of course, I am also greedily consuming every. single. crumb. from season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race—I even watch Untucked! to get more of the behind-the-scenes drama! I’m also watching season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K., which has seen some jaw-dropping eliminations of drag queens every week. I quite regularly pop into in the subReddits for both shows, chatting and kiki-ing with other fans, who discuss all the twists and turns in these reality TV shows. (I catch both these shows through a streaming subscription to OUTtvGo, Canada’s LGBTQ television network, easily the best CA$39.99 a year I have ever spent!)

I am just completely fed up with living under a code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown, so I was more than ready to enjoy a brand-new comedy special I watched this evening on Amazon Prime Video, which left me with a great big grin on my face, called Yearly Departed, in which a succession of female comedians give eulogies to various things we lost in 2020: rich girl Instagram influencers, pants, casual sex…

If you are as fed up as I am, you might find Yearly Departed to be just the tonic you need to help you grieve and process your pandemic-induced losses! Be sure to watch until the end for a special surprise guest, plus a mini making-of coda! Highly recommended viewing.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

COVID Feel Good: A Free Self-Help Virtual Reality App to Treat the Psychological Stress Caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic

The homepage of the COVID Feel Good website

A new, free virtual reality app aims to help those struggling with pandemic-related stress to get their symptoms under control. VRScout reports:

There’s no question about it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has us going through a roller coaster of feelings right now. Not only have we been cut off from normal social gatherings such as family gatherings, concerts and after work hangouts, but it’s preventing us from traveling, putting a damper on many holiday travel plans. 

Thankfully, we have now have access to an extensive array of VR technology that allows us to escape our dreary reality. A recently published research paper shows that using VR to hang out with friends through socialVR platforms, go to concerts, play games, or “visit” other parts of the world actually has a positive impact on your level of happiness.

Italian researchers worked with 400 participants over a three month period as part of this in depth study. Users were encouraged to view 360 photos and videos of other countries, visit virtual gardens and beaches, spend time with other VR users in platforms such as VRChat or Mozilla Hubs, and isolate themselves in a virtual location referred to as the “Secret Garden” to reflect privately.  

Here’s a link to the research paper mentioned in the VRScout article, written by Dr. Giuseppe Riva, a professor of general psychology at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, and titled How Cyberpsychology and Virtual Reality Can Help Us to Overcome the Psychological Burden of Coronavirus (which was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, volume 23, issue 5, 2020).

The paper states:

To help our readers to discover the well-being potential of VR, we suggest the use of a freely available VR tool: ‘‘The Secret Garden.’’ It is a 10-minute 3D 360-degree video (4K resolution supported) that can be found here (https://www.covidfeelgood.com/), designed to combat stress and counter the disappearance of places and communities generated by the coronavirus.

Recently developed in Lombardy, the Italian region at the center of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak by a group of Italian psychologists (https://become-hub.com/en/), it has been designed keeping in mind that providing psychological relief to so many (Lombardy population is >8 million inhabitants) over such a large geographical area would be complex. In fact, to experience it, any smartphone or tablet/PC will work. However, to fully experience the psychological benefits of being in a digital place, a cardboard headset is also necessary, including those sold for 15–30 USD in different digital marketplaces.

Here’s a three-minute YouTube that outlines the process and the app:

The app comes with a detailed, 19-page protocol; instructions are available in a variety of languages, including English:


To start the self-help experience you need:

For more info about the rationale of using VR and the science behind the protocol, you can check the different links provided.


The app is unfortunately only available via cellphone-based VR, not the Oculus Quest or any other VR headsets. For further information, please refer to the COVID Feel Good website.

This project is yet another example of how virtual reality can be used as a way to treat people who are struggling with mental health issues. an area where more and more research is being conducted every day at universities around the world. If you are interested in Dr. Riva’s work, he has also written the following research article:

Riva, G., Mantovani, F., & Wiederhold, B. K. (2020). Positive technology and COVID-19. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(9), 581–587.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Acedia During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A 5th-Century Term for a 21st-Century Problem

Acedia, engraving by Hieronymus Wierix, 16th century (source)

As regular readers of my blog well know by now, I have a tendency to go off on tangents. Today is most definitely a tangent, but it is a topical one in this time of pandemic, so I hope you will indulge me.

Today is officially Day 205 of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. This morning, in my biweekly telephone chat with my psychiatrist (we suspended face-to-face sessions at the start of the pandemic), she mentioned a podcast that she had listened to, and a word which I had never heard before: acedia (pronounced ‘uh-see-dee-uh’ in English, sometimes “uh-kee-dee-uh”).

Father Harrison Ayre, a priest in the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, who was interviewed in a recent article from the Catholic Saskatoon News, says that acedia “manifests itself specifically in listlessness, distraction, and wanting to avoid the task at hand…Paradoxically, it could look either like sitting around and doing nothing, or busying oneself with anything and everything but the task at hand.” Sure sounds a lot like me, trying to be productive while working from home!

Acedia was first identified by 5th century monk and theologian John Cassian. According to an article on the topic published in The Conversation, by Jonathan L. Zecher, a research fellow at Australian Catholic University:

Etymologically, acedia joins the negative prefix a- to the Greek noun kēdos, which means “care, concern, or grief”. It sounds like apathy, but Cassian’s description shows that acedia is much more daunting and complex than that.

Cassian and other early Christians called acedia “the noonday demon”, and sometimes described it as a “train of thought”. But they did not think it affected city-dwellers or even monks in communities.

Rather, acedia arose directly out the spatial and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Together these make up the paradoxical emotion of acedia.

“Spatial and social constrictions” are also a rather apt and concise description of governmental and societal responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing limits physical contact, and quarantines and lockdowns constrict physical space and movement. Working from home day after day, and rarely leaving that home, means a distinct lack of external stimulation. In other words, the 21st-century coronavirus pandemic conditions we face ironically approximate those of 5th-century solitary desert monks. The article goes on to state:

Reviving the language of acedia is important to our experience in two ways. First, it distinguishes the complex of emotions brought on by enforced isolation, constant uncertainty and the barrage of bad news from clinical terms like “depression” or “anxiety”…

Learning to express new or previously unrecognized constellations of feelings, sensations, and thoughts, builds an emotional repertoire, which assists in emotional regulation. Naming and expressing experiences allows us to claim some agency in dealing with them.

As we, like Cassian’s desert monks, struggle through our own “long, dark teatime of the soul”, we can name this experience, which is now part of our emotional repertoire.

So I did a little librarian sleuthing (something I’m quite good at), and eventually, I found the podcast which my psychiatrist had mentioned this morning.

It is an episode of The Table, a podcast hosted by Evan Rosa, and produced by Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, which is titled Fighting the Noonday Demon: Kathleen Norris on Acedia, Boredom, and Desert Spirituality. Here is an excerpt from that fascinating podcast, which was recorded two years before the pandemic hit, and which I recommend you listen to in full (even if you’re an atheist like me):

What are those original 8 deadly vices? The list Cassian translated into Latin from Evagrius was: Gluttony, Lust, Avarice or Greed, Superbia or Pride, Despair or Sadness, Anger or Wrath, Vainglory, and Acedia.

These 8 deadly terrible thoughts became the 7 deadly sins in the 6th century, when Pope Gregory the Great wanted to consolidate and develop the list in order to respond to the spiritual needs and pathologies of Christians at that time. So, vainglory and superbia are combined into pride. Envy is added to the list. But we want to hone in on just one that was removed and forgotten: Acedia. Despair or sadness and Acedia were often confused, thought irrelevant to life outside the monastery, and used interchangeably; so they were combined and renamed as Sloth.

Dante Alighieri thought of each of these deadly sins as corruptions or deprivations or negations of love. Four of them deal explicitly with the corruption of the mind—vainglory, sorrow, pride, and acedia—which is perhaps what makes it possible to see these exercises as psychology, which exists, at least in part, to heal corruptions of the mind, or mental illness.

So what’s the point of this listing of vices and the examination of temptations? Evagrius himself was worried about too much theorizing about temptation and sin, because of the way it can introduce bad thoughts to otherwise innocent minds. I’m sure there are many reasons, and I won’t list them all, but giving temptations and vices a name has a way of helping us respond. The 8 vices are presented as spirits or “demons” in Cassian’s Institutes. There is a meaning found in naming the enemy or attacker, or diagnosing an illness. Until you know what plagues you, it can be hard to formulate a resistance or treatment plan…

When Gregory the Great consolidated the list, it was seen as a good thing—it allowed Christians of that time to focus on the most problematic of temptations and try to root them out. But as a result, Acedia was taken off the list and hidden away. It didn’t seem to apply beyond the solitary, individual lives of monks, who were constantly tempted to abandon their cell, abandon their monastery and simply give up on the life they were called to.

In this podcast, Evan Rosa interviews theological author Kathleen Norris, who wrote a 2008 book titled Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, and who makes a distinction between depression (a concept which we are familiar with) and acedia (which has become a all-but-forgotten concept in modern society):

The Greek word acedia just means not caring. It’s come to mean as seriously not caring to the extent that you no longer care that you care. I described it as a spiritual morphing. If you really give in to it, it becomes this numbing effect on your life.

Just knowing the name of what it is, it’s not depression, it’s not just sadness. It’s not just boredom and restlessness, but all those things are part of it. Just knowing the name of it, and when it strikes it, seems to come out of nowhere.

If I’m depressed I usually know why. That something really bad has happened. Of course, I’m a little bit depressed. I’ll work through that. If someone has died, or a bad thing has happened, with acedia it can come out of nowhere. At least now I recognize it and I say, “Oh, you again. OK, well, I’m not going to give in.”

Depression is an illness, whereas acedia is a temptation. Because it’s a temptation, it can be resisted. You can struggle against it and win, whereas, if you’re seriously depressed, you probably need medication. You need a psychiatrist, or a psychologist to work with you on it.

With acedia, it is a temptation. You can resist it, once you know what it is, and you recognize it.

So, how that we have identified acedia, how do we cope with it? In a separate interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Kathleen Norris offers some suggestions:

So how do hundreds of millions of newly minted, if reluctant, “monks” cope with the experience?

…it helps to establish a daily routine. Monastic living is established with a routine, for a good reason. Times are set aside for morning prayer, mealtimes, afternoon prayer and work. It’s like a scaffolding, akin to the way buildings are kept together, much like our spiritual and emotional lives, she said.

Her other bits of advice: Take a shower and wash your hair every day. Little items of grooming, when neglected, can create a “feeling of ‘Why bother?’ ” Take a walk, keeping in mind social distance concerns. There’s nothing wrong with simple pleasures as well. “I provide myself with enough chocolate to keep going,” said Norris.

Researching and writing this blogpost has helped me feel better today, and I hope what I have learned helps you too. (Makes mental note to add chocolate to my next Walmart grocery pickup.)

Stay sane and stay healthy!