Languishing sounds like it belongs to
someone in the 1800s, sprawled across a divan in rumpled (yet stylish) clothes, sighing tragically between ominous coughs.
But as the opposite of flourishing—I get it.
Adam Grant wrote an article in the New York Times that used this word to describe what might be the dominant emotion of 2021. He pegged it as the condition between doing well and depression—what many were experiencing due to the long haul effects of the pandemic.
The article stuck with me, and when I shared it with friends, it stuck with them, too. That’s because, with the world partly desperate and partly on hold, most of us were feeling a duller version of ourselves. We were less motivated, less focused, relying on somewhat empty comforts instead of breaking through the fog or restlessness that snuck up when we weren’t looking. We weren’t depressed, but we were changed. The feeling of languishing had gone chronic.
The tricky bit is—it feels permanent. But that’s not necessarily so. Languishing is such a passel of vague feelings, it can slip into depression or other serious conditions. So let’s not let it.
When the pandemic hit, I was worried, like you’d expect, but had the advantage of having been a freelancer for ages. I was used to working from home. Had pushed through the wonder that was a full kitchen with coffee that tasted just how I liked. Knew how to handle deadlines without a boss on the premises. And regularly worked mornings in my PJs. My mom lived next door so we treated our two little houses as one household. She had her little dog and I had two cats. We stayed safe. Our family and friends stayed safe, too.
As the pandemic wore on, some of us experienced overwhelming sadness, worry and sudden loss.
It hurt. It all hurt.
But there were sparks of good, too. Friendships deepened. Vaccinations happened. When the Illustrators’ Table group met via Zoom, it took a while to get used to, but it was a relief to see their faces and share what work and workarounds we’d managed. I was still somewhat busy. Writing poems at first, but those dwindled down. Sketching more lively scenes for a picture book dummy, but that slowed down, too. Researching agents, but again . . .. Yeah.
Until Grant's article, I hadn’t been able to pin down what was happening. I wasn’t depressed, yet, but something was off.
However unfit that word seemed, I was languishing.
I'd already been making small meaningful changes—the way I’d learned to fight depression in the past. I was walking more. Reading instead of streaming a show at lunch. And a good friend and I began having dinner together via video calls, sharing ideas and ways to cope with just about everything.
All those things are normal to me now and they helped. But I wasn’t “there” yet.
Due to having to replace a dead computer, I was learning three new programs and was still freaking out about them when two things happened: 1) I was able to reformat my middle grade manuscript from the jumble that was left after the switch from Word to Pages, and 2) a middle grade cover design project morphed into also handling the design and layout of the book’s interior. (I did warn the client about the new programs.)
It was the commitment that made me plow through that uncomfortable feeling of ineptitude, getting used to unfamiliar processes to accomplish the same things I’d done easily with Photoshop and InDesign.
Something clicked after that. Maybe it was the design approvals and conquering these technical hurdles faster than expected. It knocked me into a more capable frame of mind.
Adam Grant mentioned naming and not glossing over the problem might be a first step. I’d done that when telling friends about his article but started writing this post to sort of weld it into my brain. It helped me notice just how much languishing affected me.
Once I could see it, I could do something about it. I started going to bed earlier to make some uninterrupted time in the morning to write. Next, I’m going to set aside a regular time to work on illustration.
I am better, but change is constant, even in what I hope is the wind-down of the pandemic. I’m keeping a watch for depression, sure. (Doing that since a teen.) But I’m also wary of that silly-sounding condition that’s the opposite of flourishing.
I hope all those who find themselves in similar digs, find their clicks—their solutions.
Check out Grant’s article, he has more antidote ideas, too:
(You can collapse the panel on the NY Times site that asks you to subscribe, as this is an article related to coronavirus coverage, which they are providing gratis. There is also free account with limited access, which is what I have.)
Works in Progress: