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Clouded by covid I intensely dislike the way this grim crisis has awakened and empowered the most unpleasant side of my personality

Vaccine of the soul to let us live free of fear

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'Contentment and peace of mind have never felt so heavily rationed'

'Contentment and peace of mind have never felt so heavily rationed'

PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has had to make some unpopular decisions

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has had to make some unpopular decisions

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'Contentment and peace of mind have never felt so heavily rationed'

EVEN as the sun gods drench Ireland in life-affirming September light, seeking to outrun the clouds that have invaded our mental horizons can feel like an exercise in futility.

Contentment - that lovely glow in the psyche that we call peace of mind - has rarely felt so heavily rationed.

Or more worth fighting for.

As the shutters are again pulled down on Dublin's illusion of normalcy, as so many across the land huddle on the precipice, it feels like the very soul of the nation has come under heavy and sustained enemy gunfire.

Covid-19 is toying with our sanity, a malevolent foe pitilessly dislodging the foundation stones of our well-being.

That its assault has been assisted by confusing, contradictory and disjointed leadership only adds to the terrible sense of drift.

The battle is to repel the forces of negativity, to shoot from the skies the desperation circling like so many rapacious vultures.

Nerve ends are frayed, fuses are shortened, the national mood rumbles like Vesuvius on the eve of eruption. A great payload of angst feels on the brink of a mighty detonation.

So many of the simple things in life have been beyond our reach for so long.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin has had to make some unpopular decisions

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has had to make some unpopular decisions

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has had to make some unpopular decisions

Like wandering down to the local GAA field to take in a football or hurling match; or sitting at a bar counter without Perspex screens, sanitiser or €9 substantial meals.

Or embracing an elderly relative, feeling the warmth of their blood that is our blood.

Or walking into a shop to buy a paper or a loaf of bread without first having to mask up like a bank robber.

Those pleasures we took for granted feel like lost - and, in the worst moments, irretrievable - treasures.

We thought as June rolled into July and case numbers tumbled, that Covid was in retreat.

We dared to dream: Of holidays, normal work routines, spontaneous nights out, a world unfettered and unrestricted. Soon we would have the best of our lives back.

We imagined we had the pathogen on the run.

And so, a little cocksure, we rolled into the Béal na Bláth of September with our defences down, brutally exposed to the pathogen's latest deadly ambush.

Second time around, it feels harder to summon the defiance, the community spirit that was the hallmark of last spring.

Rather the prevailing mood is stark, a suffocating, walls-closing-in sensation, as if we are doomed to an endless, inescapable cycle of lockdown and half-light.

Is this how it felt for Sisyphus, condemned for eternity to push his boulder towards the hilltop only for it to tumble back down to base camp?

That day when we might finally crest the post-Covid summit, when, vaccinated, we return to 2019 norms, can feel so far away as to crush all optimism.

And so, dark sensations invade the spirit.

A tingle of despair, a froth of rage, a shiver of confusion. We are a tribe on edge. Frightened and irritable. The impression is of tumbling into a bleak and bottomless void.

Apologies for inflicting this postcard from the badlands of the soul. And yet, how can we ignore the demons with which so many of us appear to be wrestling?

We fret about loved ones, jobs, lost opportunities, economic catastrophe.

That old line beloved of my grandmother races across the decades: A problem shared is a problem halved.

A confession: I intensely dislike the way this grim crisis has awakened and empowered the most unpleasant side of my personality.

The constant search for scapegoats, the desire to apportion blame, the squalls of rage that appear from nowhere, manifesting themselves in scornful rants.

Young people are castigated for doing the things we all did in our youth, those vital rite of passage experiences that come along only once and yet which we expect today's teens and young adults to sacrifice.

Some rail at NPHET's caution, others wish them to squeeze us into an even tighter wave of restrictions.

And so the fissures open up, between the generations, between those of us who believe we must live with Covid and those who support the notion of putting life on hold until the virus is suppressed, between Dublin and the rest of the land.

All of this is born of frustration, fear, powerlessness, an overwhelming desire to get back the things that brought joy to our world.

On Friday, as I was strolling in the sun, a middle-aged, masked lady was walking in the opposite direction.

Seeing not another human being, but a potential crucible of infection, she darted into the middle of the road, putting maybe 15 yards between us.

In that moment, it really hit home how the constant grim drumbeat has truly terrified some people out of their wits, carried them to a place of irrationality.

Sebastian Barry, a wise and compassionate writer, talks of "the fall of things that had been precious".

There are very few things more precious than mental health.

Somehow, we need to find a way to part the Covid clouds and to allow, in this darkest hour, the sunshine to filter back into our lives.

A vaccine for the soul, one that allows us to live again free of terror and rage.