When I was younger, my aunt suffered postpartum depression, a condition new mothers may battle that, according to Webster’s, is “a mood disorder involving intense psychological depression that typically occurs within one month after giving birth, lasts more than two weeks, and is accompanied by other symptoms such as social withdrawal, difficulty in bonding with the baby and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.”

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

She was, and still is, a tough cookie, having placed third in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. So I’ve always assumed postpartum depression was a legitimate ailment if it struck my mentally and physically strong aunt.

Of course, as she did with most of the competitions she entered, my aunt eventually conquered it, but PPD always stayed on my mind, partly because I enjoyed the punchy alliteration of the condition’s name, but also because the temporary nature of postpartum depression suggests that depression is something that can come and go and is not necessarily a life sentence.

Fast forward to 2021 and life after the pandemic. We’re dealing with lingering effects of the coronavirus, but deaths are way down and we owe it all to the miraculous vaccines. But in my daily life, I’m noticing some people aren’t moving on. They’re changed. They’re different. Maybe I am, too.

I’m no psychologist, but I think we’re feeling the effects of another kind of PPD, post-pandemic depression. Similar to postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, post-pandemic depression is caused by events that change one’s outlook and turn it darker or more anxious.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and especially the government’s response of forcing “non-essential” workers to “stay home and stay safe,” in some cases on threat of fine and imprisonment – is exacting a heavy mental toll we shouldn’t underestimate. Add in the Black Lives Matter riots and 2020 election and people are facing a different kind of America than they did in 2019, the relative calm before the storm.

Post-pandemic depression can manifest itself in many ways. Here are a few:

Post-pandemic euphoria: This is the body’s way of fighting or flighting from 15 months of being cooped up. People are getting out and about in 2021. Increased traffic in Maine is evidence. But, make no mistake, they’re busting out to break their pandemic-induced depression.

Post-pandemic spending: While this started during the pandemic (UPS and FedEx delivered all our new goodies, didn’t they?), people have been working through their depression with so-called retail therapy. The government gave us thousands and we’re dutifully spending it in an albeit vain attempt to heal our weary souls.

Post-pandemic confusion: Some people don’t know what to think. They continue to wear masks, despite being vaccinated. They avoid the vaccine because they’re worried about the side effects. The “new normal” is a world unmoored from its conventional ways, which is disconcerting, to say the least.

Post-pandemic consternation: Many have realized they no longer trust scientists (who changed their minds frequently on virus-related data), the government (which instituted an awful fiscal response and authoritarian lockdowns), churches (which obediently followed government orders to close their doors despite their congregants’ great need), the police (who didn’t stop speeders or rioters or pretty much any criminal behavior during the pandemic, which has led to soaring crime and homicide rates), the media (which lied, indoctrinated, omitted facts or didn’t investigate obvious stories, especially during the election) or any of our other critical institutions in general. This all causes deep frustration and consternation with the institutions that guide civil society.

Post-pandemic survivor’s guilt: Imagine the people with loved ones who died from COVID-19. They live daily believing they probably brought the virus home and spread it to their relative. That would cause overwhelming depression.

Post-pandemic fatigue: Many are just sick and tired of anything to do with 2020. Mention masks, Trump, Fauci, racism or COVID and they break out in hives. As a result, they avoid the news altogether.

While depressive effects of the coronavirus will last for years (think especially of the school-deprived children whose lives have been radically altered due to isolation), the one good thing is that we’re talking about post-pandemic issues here. Despite the mental challenges, which will eventually fade as did my aunt’s PPD, 2021 is better than 2020 in most every way (except the horrendous traffic, of course).

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