Third Quarter? Fifth?
Updated: May 1, 2021
I get my second vaccination tomorrow. No anxiety – and I'm not elated, either. I suppose I'm feeling a sense of relief: I got through this; my wife and children did, too. But there's something else. Writing in the UK edition of Esquire, Olivia Ovenden sets it up like this: "Psychologists have a term for the collapse in morale that occurs just after the halfway point of a prolonged period of isolation: the 'third quarter phenomenon'. First coined in a 1991 study, the theory goes that the cumulative effects of boredom, tension with the people you're locked up with, and distance from the finish line, can become overwhelming. The world you're stuck in has lost its novelty, and escape feels far away.
"What we're about to experience is referred to by some as 'fifth quarter syndrome': a return to normality that, for some, can be an even tougher transition...."
Oh. Great. No – that sounds about right. While I look forward to experiencing live music at the Ottobar again, or going back to my favorite place on Earth, MOMA New York, a lot of this strikes me as list making. Forcing the enjoyment. Close to rote. I will get back to normal, damn it.
The enormity of the pandemic "marked our brains and bodies in ways we don't yet fully understand," Ovenden writes. "We're about to discover how deep those marks go."
If this is the fifth quarter, a period of self-assessment may be all that we have. It could be what "normal" looks like: People getting a little quieter than usual. Taking a break for a day. Two days.
You'd think that the strange stigma that accompanies the term "mental health day" would vanish from our post-pandemic lives, right? I hope so. If it is to be, then so be it.