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Emails to my Therapist

I Have What Prisoners Call Gate Fever

Dear Nicholas, A week after my second shot, with greater freedom close, I’m at the pit of my pandemic year. It’s like what prisoners call gate fever, the barrage of feelings before expected release, emotions shooting in surprising directions.

My case is no doubt quite different from an actual prisoner’s, because I’ve been living comfortably at home with my husband and I’ve been my only jailer. I’ve been free all the while to put on a mask and drive to the grocery store, which is probably all the freedom I’ll exercise for a while in my over-abundance of caution.

But the gate fever is on me.

The Real Prison Door

For real prisoners, the feelings emerge from real dangers: that they won’t be able to manage the outside world, that they’re leaving friends behind, that at the last minute freedom will be snatched away. Anxiety is strong.

I didn’t know the term “gate fever” until this morning when I went to Googling “frustration impatience near the end….” and “short-timer”. I was seeking a diagnosis for my own condition. I found it.

Without knowing the name, I noticed this fever in process once years ago, not in a prison but on a cruise ship. At dinner the first night, the waiter approached our well-behaved foursome in a mood suggesting he might land a karate chop to smash the table. Bob and I and the quiet British couple were very very polite. The next night, in a more amenable mood, he told us it was his last week after many months at sea before going home for many months at home. I thought, Aha, that’s it! With home so close, he was angry he wasn’t there already and obviously that was our fault.

Symptom Number One

My own such fever is also taking the form of defiance–at my jailer, who is me. For a couple of days, I’ve defiantly neglected my own fierce disciplines, have skipped the bit of yoga and the daily meditation I require of myself. Now this may seem laughably small. But for me, it is large. I take such commitments pathologically seriously. Also, seeing that skipping a couple of days hasn’t killed me, it’s possible I’ll never do either practice again. That all-or-nothing thing has happened before.

Symptom Number Two

I’ve lost eagerness about doing anything in particular when the gates re-open. I imagine myself continuing to sit here glum on the sofa in my flannel loungewear until I have fully withered and died.

Symptom Number Three

I doubt that anything is ever going to go well again. This is uncharacteristic. I usually run on a dopey optimism that everything will work out well somehow eventually.

Possible Solution?

Do my abandoned routines? Get dressed, do mascara, do yoga, meditate?

Nope. Not doing it. Just try and make me.

Wild possibility?

Do something nice for someone else?

Will consider. Maybe.

Trade yoga for karate?

Too much work. 

Count my blessings? Naah. I don’t want to dilute the mood I’m in. Better to get it over with fast and furiously.

Yours in thunderous gloom,







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  • kenju
    February 24, 2021 at 4:05 pm Reply

    You are certainly not alone. I am vacillating; hopeful on the one hand for the ending of the pandemic (if only people would wear masks and stay home) and bored with the sameness of my days, but also happy to stay home and do nothing.

    I have not had house cleaners since late February, and the house is well-past beginning to show signs of dirt and dust build-up. For years, I cleaned a 10 room house on my own, in addition to running a business in that home. Now, I am loathe do do much of anything in the way of cleaning and I have to psych myself up to do much. Even my cat shows signs = sneezing time after time. I suppose I will have to talk myself into doing a little each day. If only I could stay off this laptop and phone…..

    • Peggy Payne
      February 24, 2021 at 4:30 pm Reply

      Oh, I know the feeling, kenju! After the years with the ten-room house, home business (and attendant complications), I’d say you’re due for a rest.

  • February 24, 2021 at 5:02 pm Reply

    Great post, Peggy!

    • Peggy Payne
      February 24, 2021 at 5:09 pm Reply

      Thanks, David. Maybe we’ll all be released soon, at least to halfway houses.

  • Susan Schild
    February 24, 2021 at 6:19 pm Reply

    Loved this one and can relate!

    • Peggy Payne
      February 24, 2021 at 8:14 pm Reply

      Thanks, Susan. We may all need a period of re-entry to deal with the changes. At least I’m hoping for re-entry.

  • Barbara Hooton
    February 24, 2021 at 10:58 pm Reply

    Oh Thank You, I am having trouble identifying what I am feeling and your writing helped! Feeling a lot of cumulative loss and grief and it is challenging to move forward when the rug has been pulled out from under you so many times. I know we will move forward, but not today

    • Peggy Payne
      February 24, 2021 at 11:35 pm Reply

      Barbara, I appreciate your confidence in moving forward yet not today. That’s a good way to put it. And the weight of all that’s happened does quietly accumulate. I think I’m not entirely conscious a lot of the time of the weight that we’re all to some degree carrying. One moment of light-heartedness just after getting my second shot made me see the contrast.

  • Robert Braxton
    February 25, 2021 at 1:26 am Reply

    Reading “The Multiverse” by Rev. Dr. David Williams (PC USA Poolesville, MD) ought to do the trick – worked for me – and I don’t get 2nd vaccination until last appointment slot this coming Saturday.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 25, 2021 at 2:37 am Reply

      A theologian sci-fi author sounds pretty interesting. I’m reading Updike’s Rabbit at Rest, which I listened to as an audio book when it came out 30 years ago, then was appalled to discover it was abridged. Now feel I’m reading it for the first time.
      Good luck with the second shot.

  • Robert Braxton
    February 25, 2021 at 5:33 pm Reply

    at Wake Forest Univ. between 1962 and 1966 in a course led by Dr. Dan O Via the class read Rabbit Run (cocktail hour – like glasses clinking – against one another). As a naive boy from the sticks – not all that much has changed in me – except for reading your exciting books!

    • Peggy Payne
      February 25, 2021 at 5:50 pm Reply

      I’m glad you’ve allowed my books into your world, Bob. You sum up Rabbit Run very nicely, also Cheever. It’s interesting how long ago the Rabbit story now seems, though it was written by “a boy my age.”

  • Amey Miller
    February 25, 2021 at 10:03 pm Reply

    I’m not going to try to cheer you up, as you’ve been so eloquently stating a real thing, shared by many, including myself. Name it and claim it! But here’s from my daughter on the phone today saying that somewhere she read that a feeling of staleness was essential to the creative process — a kind of stating of a problem that then required a creative solution. Yes, it may be that some of your practices need revision or updo, or that just taking a vacation from them will do the trick.
    As a friend of mine ended an email recently —- “Steady On!”

    • Peggy Payne
      February 26, 2021 at 12:06 am Reply

      Well, golly, I just took time off at Christmas, Amey! (I’m not so good at doing that unless I’m traveling. Hoping to travel again one of these days.) I like your daughter’s thought about staleness. Every time I’ve ever felt at loose ends I wound up stumbling onto something new and interesting.

  • Amey Miller
    February 26, 2021 at 4:56 pm Reply

    Thanks for this, Peggy. Yes, vacays are a complex issue, and choices and limitations involved. Anyway, I have been further mulling over “gate fever.” I wonder if a piece of it is the sense of being let out into what feels like a hostile world. David points out that that is a theme in “The Shawshank Redemption.” For myself, I’m more afraid of what I perceive as massive global “corporate totalitarianism ” (I think this term comes from Wallace Shawn) than the virus. Of course all is tangled together. Bezos and Zuckerberg are perfectly happy/thrilled for us to be held captive by the virus, and the fear of the virus, so that they can provision us through their various delivery systems. Just sayin.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 26, 2021 at 6:32 pm Reply

      Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies, Amey, though I didn’t remember that aspect of it. It was the beer on the roof and the piped-in classical music in the prison–his satisfaction in making these happen–that have most stuck with me. I find myself unworried about totalitarianism, though I understand the fear, and the ACLU has been the steadiest receiver of my 25 or so dollars throughout my adult life. I have another friend who is very worried and angry about the current loss of individual liberties. I think I don’t feel it myself because my behavior this year is the same as it would have been no matter what the government did. That said, I would have left choices up to the individual more than the various governments have.

  • Anonymous
    February 26, 2021 at 9:37 pm Reply

    I’ll hazard one more beat: I wonder if we are more in agreement than it sounds: what I am talking about are forces related to the rise of Trump, the inablity to address climate change and ecological disaster, drastic inequality and systemic racism, many things. These forces seem more dispersed than “totalitarianism” suggests; nonetheless the end result is scary totalizing stuff, where we are staring at the risk of what Yuval Harari calls “the ability to hack humans” — — to turn us into widgets ala the movie “The Matrix.”

    • Peggy Payne
      February 26, 2021 at 10:12 pm Reply

      I agree with you, Anon, about the awfulness of all the items you list. And yet I think humans can’t be turned into widgets. I think we have enough capacity for outrage to avoid that.

  • February 26, 2021 at 10:12 pm Reply

    I have some pathological seriousness, which I’m told may interfere with joy. I’ve too’ve fallen off some Practices since Trump’s Virus- I wanna do those things again more regularly. And I too am strongly resisting what I know’d be Good for me. Doesn’t feel like your “gate fever”, and I DK what it is – maybe Covid attrition. But it doesn’t matter to me much what it is, I just wanna get ’em going again.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 26, 2021 at 10:15 pm Reply

      Given that you want to, I’m convinced you will, Bob. I’m guessing it’s pre-gate fever: the curse of covid to blame.

  • Amey Miller
    February 27, 2021 at 10:01 pm Reply

    I am NOT Anon! I must have not added my name by mistake —– chalk it up to
    Pandementia! But anyway, thanks for added thoughts, and for this thread. AND for your faith in our outrage! I just watched Josh Hawley talk down in Florida about liberal elites and their love of oligarchs. I am outraged!

    • Peggy Payne
      February 27, 2021 at 11:43 pm Reply

      Technical glitches don’t even require pandementia in my experience, Amey. Thank you for your ever-thoughtful well-informed outrage!

  • Amey Miller
    February 28, 2021 at 3:11 pm Reply

    And echoing Bob, here is a line from a poem my sisters and I put on my mother’s gravestone: “Turn again to life and smile.” Outrage ain’t everything. . .

    • Peggy Payne
      March 1, 2021 at 2:21 pm Reply

      I’m going to keep this in mind today, Amey. Thanks.

  • April 12, 2021 at 8:10 pm Reply

    […] doubt this is a later stage of the “gate fever” I wrote about a a couple of days […]

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