I have had no energy since the pandemic quarantines started. I might even lose my job over this lack of motivation, but I can’t seem to do anything.
Motivation. What is motivation? Where did it come from? Where did it go? When will it come back? Why am I still wearing the same pajamas I was wearing in March of 2020? Why am I beginning a paragraph with rhetorical questions?
Because. I have no motivation.
If you don’t have any motivation either, welcome to the club. There is a logical reason for why we’re feeling like such losers. And here it is: These are sucky times.
I know of no other way to put it. This is not a normal era, so expecting to feel normal and “productive” is like expecting to spontaneously turn into a turtle. It’s not going to happen.
This pandemic era is like one giant funeral. If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, you already know what I mean.
A funeral will sap your energy and leave you totally exhausted. And it doesn’t end after the funeral ceremony. Once the funeral ends, friends will incessantly call to check on you, but you’ll have no enthusiasm to speak to them, so you’ll blow them off because conversations take energy.
Eventually, friends quit calling because you never answer your phone. So you end up isolated. Which means that now you’re REALLY lost. The further you sink, the faster your motivation disappears. Sound familiar?
Here’s the thing. What I just described isn’t called motivation loss. This is classic grief.
Which is exactly what you’re experiencing right now, “collective grief.” And before you tell me I’m an idiot for using this phrase, I didn’t make up that term. Mental health experts did.
We are grieving the loss of a world we grew up in. And we’ve lost a lot. We’ve lost travel, parties, concerts, church services, holidays, buffets, handshakes, indoor dining, gainful employment, company picnics, Little League, hugs, movie theaters, and just when it couldn’t get any sadder, Hank Aaron died.
To make things worse, there are still folks out there who claim they’re doing just peachy. Like my friend John, who says this pandemic has been no problem for him.
John says he started a new diet, a new workout routine, a new business, and he probably claims he’s found spiritual fulfillment through the teachings of Englebert Humperdink.
“I’m doing great!” says John.
Well, simply put, my friend John—and I mean this respectfully—is full of doo. And people like him ought to quit bragging about how wonderful their life is or else their friends might write about them and use their real name.
This morning, I interviewed a mental-health therapist while doing research for this column. The doc had this to say about people who claim they aren’t having any pandemic-related problems: “I don’t think it’s possible not to suffer during this period.”
He explained why. I’m paraphrasing here:
Imagine you are standing outside during a tornado. During the storm, someone tells you that you have just won the lottery. Thus, while an F5 cyclone the size of a rural school district destroys your hometown and harms your family members, you’ve just discovered you’re a millionaire.
Now I ask: In this scenario, can you truly be happy?
Well, brain science tells us that the answer to all this depends on the gross total of your lottery winnings after taxes.
No! Wait! I mean brain science tells us that you can NOT truly be happy in this chilling scenario. How could you? Your whole world is falling apart, what good is a pile of cash? You have bigger priorities here.
Which leads us right back to motivation. Maybe you’re not lazy, maybe your priorities have changed.
Take me. I first realized that my own priorities had changed when I found a hole in the seat of my pajamas last month. This was first discovered by my wife one evening who was sitting on the sofa while I was walking through the living room.
The following is a verbatim quote from my wife: “There’s a hole in your butt.”
Sure enough, she was right. There was a gaping hole in my PJ bottoms, located exactly where the Good Lord split me.
Well, once she presented me with this vital information, what do you think I did next, being the responsible taxpayer that I am?
If you’re guessing that I immediately walked into my kitchen and ate pork rinds you’d be correct. Because my thinking was, “A hole in my pants? Huh. I’m hungry.”
In fact, as I write this column, I am STILL wearing the same PJs which expose my hindparts. And I don’t have the slightest desire to change.
Which is why I asked the mental-health therapist on the phone what sorts of things people like me could do to overcome our lack of motivation.
The expert said this: “My advice to my patients is roll with it. Be unmotivated. If you don’t want to wash your hair, don’t.”
“Worst thing you can do is fight the way you feel. Listlessness and lethargy are basically symptoms of depression. Resisting them is like saying, ‘Hey, I can make this bad stuff disappear if I try real hard.’ That’s not true. And putting pressure on yourself to be productive is the worst thing you can do. Give yourself a break.”
So if you’ve had the motivation to read this far, the doctor’s advice pretty much boiled down to this: Relax. Quit punishing yourself. This is a hard time to be alive. But you are indeed alive, and your life is a gift.
And in case you were interested, here’s my wife’s expert advice:
“For heaven’s sake, change those holey pajamas, I can actually see your scrawny, white…”
Terry - February 6, 2021 7:27 am
I realize you are probably tired of reading my comments, but here’s the thing….I stay up waiting on Sean’s post every night, because,pandemic y’all! This guy speaks to my heart most every time! But tonight was extra special. My man wears pj shorts with a big ole hole in exactly the same spot. Throw them away? No way, besides he can’t see it.
Love ya, Mr. Dietrich. You are gifted.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 6, 2021 7:40 am
Christina - February 6, 2021 7:53 am
ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE! And be kind to yourself.
Susan Ross - February 12, 2021 9:50 pm
Leigh Amiot - February 6, 2021 10:10 am
“Quit punishing yourself.” Thanks, I needed that. And Kohl’s has men’s pj pants on sale for $9.99.
Sonya Tuttle - February 6, 2021 11:26 am
So I have a new name for my condition which causes me to cry about nothing or everything every day. My sympathy on your pajamas, but a HUGE thank you for finding enough words to fill your column and give me a smile. God love you.
Ann - February 6, 2021 12:03 pm
I think this pretty well describes many of us right now and it’s fine to roll with it…for a while, but even though I mostly feel unmotivated…cleaning a cupboard…going through the closet..taking a walk (5 minutes helps)… pulling a weed..ANYTHING to “ normalize” even for a few minutes so you don’t stay in the quagmire that has been created. We don’t want to forget how to live!!
……soooooo, find a needle and thread and close the gap!❤️
Debbie Taylor - February 6, 2021 12:49 pm
Yes! Amen! Right on, Sean! Thank you for writing this just for me, I needed some perspective on this lack of motivation I’m experiencing. You nailed it and your insights, humor and “give yourself a break” advice is a huge help.
Debbie g - February 6, 2021 1:27 pm
😂😂😂😂😂😂😂. I’m going shopping. Love you and your sweet funny wife ❤️❤️
Joyce - February 6, 2021 1:31 pm
I fight with this lack of motivation. You have helped me put it in perspective. I’m going to create a hybrid situation for myself. Thanks, Sean.
Tammy S. - February 6, 2021 1:34 pm
Keep writing, Sean. It helps, so many, including me.
I do agree with Ann’s comment. Finding little things to do, daily, to help me feel accomplished does help. I cleaned out one of our LR side tables last week. It is all nice and organized now and I love it. Now I cannot get the other disorganized side table out of my mind. I think I’ll do that one next week after a daily walk. And calling a friend to grab a bite together, even if it is a pb&j sandwich you bring from home and eat outside together, it is needed, for me right now. Thanks, again, for these words and the encouragement that it’s ok to not feel ok.
Janis - February 6, 2021 1:57 pm
Pork rinds. Yum. That would mean I’d have to go to the store to get them, because I don’t dare keep them in the house. Thanks for the truth-i-ness of your words today (and every day), and the knowing giggles of agreement that erupted from my body this morning. <3
Kate - February 6, 2021 2:06 pm
Go do something nice for someone else, a phone call, a very late thank you note, write down all the things that you are thankful for, or how you have been blessed throughout your life. Go Back and read Sean’s article about all the wonderful kitchens you have been in over the years and all the wonderful people who have cooked for you, ladies perhaps in the kitchens, men perhaps on the zillion grills out there that have grilled hamburgers, hot dots, BBQ. Kids still play outside in our neighborhood and I love to listen to them laughing and playing, the sun still comes up. Maybe plant a flower that blooms or buy someone an African violent that they can baby and take care of. And thank God for all the wonderful animals and family that make us get us and focus on something besides ourselves. People in the past have survived World Wars, depressions, rationing, and more. Surely we can all survive this and find some joy along the way. And yes, I have to make myself do all of the above, because it IS hard to be motivated sometimes. Setting a timer for 15 minutes and making yourself do something is also a good way to get motivated. Generally you are still busy and focused after the 15 minutes. I learned to do that a long time ago when battling depression and grief. I promised myself I would do something for 15 minutes, turned on the timer and it helped. I think loneliness is an epidemic in this country and it WAS before the covid virus, it just is affecting more of us now, partly because we have lost community along the way, and most of us need to be part of something. Thank you Sean for helping us all.
Jane - February 6, 2021 2:09 pm
I totally agree. It seems as if a thousand years since I’ve hugged my grandson. A million since I hugged my pastor and told her what a great sermon that was. A bazillion since I ate biscuits and gravy and visited with my best friends at our local cafe…which has since gone out of business..and 6 of those friends have died..I didn’t go to the funeral…there wasn’t one. It sucks…it really does.
Beryl - February 6, 2021 2:09 pm
“Collective grief” is real, as is “collective joy”. There is nothing more healing than helping someone else. I’m not saying ignore your feelings because this can lead to a whole other set of mental health issues. Get up, shower, put some new clothes on, make a connection with another human being who needs something- get outside of yourself. And for goodness sake, limit or eliminate the “collective news”! It’s one thing to be informed and another to be pulled into the vortex of doom and gloom. LAUGH! The neuroscience behind laughter is proven. Even a smile secretes the “feel good hormones”. If you are having trouble finding something to laugh about go to the YouTube channel and look up laughing babies. If you don’t end up laughing then perhaps a mental health professional is in order. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others. Love yourself so you can love others. We can get through this “collectively” if we change our individual choice on how we wish to be in this ever-changing world.
Robert M Brenner - February 6, 2021 2:19 pm
Thanks Sean, everyone needed this message today and as long as this pandemic exists we will be okay!
catherine Deloney - February 6, 2021 2:59 pm
So true. In the beginning I was fine. I was great. Yes, actually had gone back to healthier eating and exercise and dressing nice and feeling like ha, it’s not effecting me. I’m lucky, my husband is my best friend and we pretty much isolate anyways so our routine didn’t change much. Then, stores started closing , my art class stopped , our church stopped and all msm went insane w bombarding us how bad things were….then …. The toilet paper thing happened.
At some point depression hit me like a mac truck. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to go to town w the stupid little mask and all the freaked out ppl. So…I didn’t. I got real creative w cooking from our pantry and freezer until…..they were practically bare and I was forced to go to town.
I literally have been rotating the same sweat pants and leggins and tops. I didn’t care and why put makeup on or do my hair. And poof the whole year went by….a WHOLE year! Of life gone. And we’re only slightly better now. My art class just started back, church has been back , I pretty much have a F it attitude w the mask deal and the self appointed mask police. And I’m trying to dig my way back to blissfully happy and normal . So, were all in this together and I, for one, refuse to give away another year of my life being depressed. But I’m not ready to part w the sweatpants 😂
Jan - February 6, 2021 3:09 pm
Just what the doctor ordered this morning! Reassurance that I am not the only one. We are all in this big boat together!!!
Sue Rhodus - February 6, 2021 3:20 pm
Hallelujah !!!! I am not alone. ❤
Marge - February 6, 2021 3:35 pm
Add in below zero temperatures for the upcoming week to an already isolated existence! I enjoy Sean every morning and know, for a fact, that without my pup I would be absolutely stir crazy! But I’m not😉
Phil (Brown Marlin) - February 6, 2021 3:36 pm
Good advice, Sean. Personally, I’ve never been very motivated, My user I.D. in life is “lazyboy” and my PW is “procrastinator.” Thus, although this past year has cramped my laid-back style somewhat, I have learned to concentrate on the things I can do and let the rest go for now. There is an old saying that goes, “You can get used to hanging if you hang long enough.” Then there was Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine, who paraphrased the words of Jesus and said, “What, me worry?”
Seriously (what?), each day we have choices to make, some simple, some not so easy. Your friend John is partly right. We can choose to be sad or we can choose to be happy and make the most of our situations.
Ask your lovely wife to patch your favorite jammies. Then you could nickname her “Jammy Jamie.”
Bobbie - February 6, 2021 3:38 pm
Somehow, knowing you’re not alone helps. Some are in denial,, but I say let everyone handle their ‘grief’ their own way. We can use this time productively if we choose. I chose to start painting again. Amazing how doing something creative can change one’s focus. But on the other hand, there are those times that I just want to get back in bed with same ole worn, frayed pjs on. What does it matter? As one who commented said, she doesn’t put on makeup or do hair anymore, or rarely. That’s me. On a positive note, look at the money I’m saving! Love reading the comments…getting others opinions and perspectives, such as Tammys comment that ‘it’s ok to not feel ok.’ This has all happened for a reason and will play out as it is supposed to.
Thanks again Sean. You always bring a smile which makes everything easier to bear.
God bless you …snd God bless America. ‼️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸
Joan Mitchell - February 6, 2021 3:46 pm
You have made a transition from wonderful, sensitive, entertaining writer to insightful, comforting, National Treasure writer. We need you! Take care of your scrawny white ___!
Debbie Hall - February 6, 2021 5:17 pm
So my lack of motivation to write means I’m not writing the observations I’ve made in the last. Like the first time the screen door on our new screen door slammed. Memories flooded through me that stopped me in my tracks. You know the sound!
Or that the moonrise last night created a blue and pink sky that looked like cotton candy.
That, thankfully my memories of my Daddy are not those of the years he was sick.
That my love of teaching college kids turns into stress during this time…until I get an email that is so sweet I cry.
So…please at least write about my screen door memories and cotton candy skies for me.
You’re the best!
Debbie Hall - February 6, 2021 5:20 pm
See…my motivation to edit is even less.
*in the last year
*on our new screened porch
E. Conboy - February 13, 2021 7:01 am
Ahhh! How sweet the sound of screen doors slamming as the young’uns scurried in and out faster than chipmunks hiding peanuts! How sweet the sound of family reunions and dinner on the ground on Decoration Day. We were blessed that a beloved aunt shared her lovely home with us and always we looked forward to that occasion. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. What a joy it was to be together and learn the latest family news and meet the newest additions to our family; the recently engaged, the newlyweds, the youngest and cutest infant in the whole wide world! It was exciting to learn of the children’s accomplishments: a scholarship to a school or university, appointment to a military academy, or an opportunity to study abroad or host a student far from his or her homeland. We were proud when one of the youngsters performed a recital piece on the old piano, and when another sang along. After dessert, the younger men folks wandered to the front yard sharing opinions, the senior gentleman relaxed on the front porch in the sturdy hand built swings and the ladies cleaned up and exchanged compliments and recipes galore. It was a day we wanted to enjoy as long as possible, but sooner or later each family would need to prepare to go home. But there was always time for another hug, though. My goodness, and we were already looking forward to getting together next year!
Precious memories, indeed.
My beloved aunts and uncles are at rest now, near one another and I bring flowers to them on Decoration Day. In remembrance.
meg widmer - February 6, 2021 6:06 pm
I agree with Kate above….think of what our parents and/or grandparents went through…depression, World Wars, Korea,,,no central heating :), and the list goes on. When I think of my life, it has been a walk in the park compared to the generations before us. Bend over, pick up your big girl or boy pants and go do something for someone else….friend, foe, stranger…animal…makes no never-mind. Just do and keep on doing for the rest of your day and the rest of your life. It may become a very good habit and it may change your life and that of those around you, just by association. AND shift down’ and remember to smell the roses as you go. (Thank you, Sean for providing a place to share and support each other. ) meg
Linda Moon - February 6, 2021 6:33 pm
One of my guys stays motivated in Atlanta. He loves that city. Your rhetorical questions, Writer, are just fine with me. Your descriptive sentences about grief are very true. Then moving from grief to visualizing PJ holes and your wife’s expert advice, I laughed out loud….and the laughter is always some good medicine. My advice to “John” would be to go to the Relaxing River (the longest one in the world) and after you’ve relaxed there, come back and put on some comfy PJs (sans holes)!
Te Burt - February 6, 2021 7:09 pm
I find it’s helpful to watch a movie in which a whole lot of bad guys get the shit beat outa them. Or good guys. LIke Battle, Las ANgeles. Then I feel like, geez, they’re gettin’ slammed! By extension, my life is great! (I’m like John. Being retired, I have a good reason to stay at home, and I love my home — and my dogs.)
ThedailycuppaJo - February 6, 2021 9:24 pm
Forwarded to me by a friend. Sooooo funny. So spot on!
Pat - February 6, 2021 9:29 pm
Scrawny white . . . 😂 😂 😂
marinemom71 - February 7, 2021 2:55 am
Thank you Sean. I lost my husband unexpectedly on Jan.10. I am barely functioning, with no close family members to support me. Living this way has made me feel guilty, lonely and trying to figure out if it will ever go away. The humor you used made me see I’m not alone.
Debbie Hall - February 7, 2021 3:28 am
Prayers for you
Bob E - February 7, 2021 3:10 am
Sean, even though the visuals hit bottom your buttography elicited enough chuckles that I barely made it to the end.
Just kidding – I look forward to your stories – keep it up.
Bob E - February 7, 2021 3:22 am
Just reviewed the responses above and think your topic resulted in more lengthy replies than usual. You hit a nerve – many people are deeply affected lately.
Your humor helps to bail out lots of mighty good folks.
Thanks Sean and Jamie
elizabethroosje - February 7, 2021 4:54 am
Ha! I read the last few paragraphs to my Husband and then laughed and laughed (his comment, I can’t believe Jamie lets him write that!) …. 🙂 Yep. Grief. It’s true. I was in NYC on Thursday (I live just outside it) and got to visit my library (got 10 books!) and my favourite British teashop (tea and sympathy) and the next day I was so tired, while some of that was because the day before was exhausting (a lot of cab rides with masks on etc), it was in part, I would think, because it’s so hard not knowing when/if/when I can come back again to these places.
I would add, to the poor struggling soul in Atlanta that I totally get it and also I found, when in great suffering, that going outside and taking a walk really helps me even if the situation I am in does not change; somehow getting my body moving helps me fight just a bit more.
Thanks Sean, your a blessing. OH and I just read your memoir (will review it on instagram hopefully this week) and I just LOVED it. Keep writing. Can’t wait to get your new novel!
Martha Young - February 8, 2021 10:42 pm
Good to know, about how to treat being unmotivated, not your holey PJ’s .
Julie - February 10, 2021 12:09 am
I can’t imagine ever not having motivation to read your entire column! In fact, I hang on every word you write!
But I WAS beginning to wonder when you were going to mention the D-word. It was near the end…
”Listlessness and lethargy are basically symptoms of depression.”
Your mental health expert is giving us permission to be depressed under these unbearable times. We are all in this together…no one is alone, or untouched by the Pandemic…it has affected every single one of us in some way, large or small.
It may not be easy, or even possible to RELAX, especially if any of us have been hit particularly hard by this Ugly Monster. But we can try not to punish ourselves when we’re down.
This really IS an extremely difficult time to be alive, but life itself is God’s Greatest Gift. And we have God to also thank for the gift of YOU❣️