I am noticing a psychological arch happening with folks about COVID-19. It starts with denial, “People are freaking out, it’s no big deal.” Then minimization, “It’s just a bad flu, I’ll be fine.” It turns into some concern but containment, “I think I will just wash my hands a lot and keep up business as usual.” Finally, it dawns on folks that this is a thing. “What do I do, what should I do, what are others doing?” Next is some panic, “HOLY SHIT! This is actually happening; we have to do this. Do I have toilet paper?” Last there is resignation, “I can do this, I’ve got all I need now. Time to settle in for the unknown.” Then you will continue to ride waves of all of the above as you work with the truth that we are indeed in a pandemic, it is indeed serious, and you do indeed need to act.
The whole thing is amplifying a host of social issues. I have wished that this illness would be something that brings us together in our shared humanity. For some, I think it is. I want to give a shout out to all the helpers out there. For the folks taking this seriously and showing care. Thanks to the people who see that social distancing is an act of necessity and also kindness. For others, which is typical in our divisive age, there is a gaping divide yet again. To me, it boils down to the true disease of our time, a lack of EMPATHY. There are people who really care about others. Like, care about ALL others, even people different than them. Then there are those that care for themselves, their loved ones, and people like them only. Many of our social ills boil down to this actually. Through social conditioning, cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, education, biology, bias, region and environment and a lot more, some folks have strong social empathy and others don’t. This isn’t a party issue either, when liberals or socialists hate on conservatives they are just as bad. HATE toward any person or group in any form is bad.
Speaking of people who are different than me, Eric told me that his Texas friends who watch Fox News incessantly say Seattle is overreacting, and that if we all get sick and die it’s because we are a bunch of “lib-tard” heathens and gays. I have always wondered how one can go to church and pray to Jesus and say that filthy shit. I also wonder how that’s gonna work out for them as they continue date night at Walmart. The fucked up thing about health policy is that if you act and it works, people will say you over reacted. If you don’t, they say you under reacted. I think one of the big issues in the world is ignorance. Look, numbers don’t lie. People are highly trained and educated to do these jobs. Your OPINION does not matter with science folks. Let science inform and lead us. Duh. Also, if the NBA, with billions of dollars at stake closes down, you might want to pay attention. If you haven’t noticed, in the US money is often louder than science. So if you can’t pay attention to evidence, then pay attention to the goddamn money.
This emphasizes the current administration and astoundingly ignorant decisions being made on the daily. It also emphasizes shitty policy for at least 40 years if not more. We were not prepared for something that science has said was inevitable for a long time. Hell, didn’t anyone read Outbreak in 1987, or at least the fucking movie in 1995? Another instance of science fiction calling it out way ahead of time. We have cut funds to the health organizations we need most right now to fight a pandemic. We need science to make tests and treatments, to inform us of protocols and keep us safe. We also need HEALTH CARE. I hope I do not have to explain to anyone the absurdity of health care in the US. If I do, you are really asleep at the wheel. Personally, I spend $600 a month with an $8500 deductible and 70% coverage after that on the best plan I could get. So, if I end up in the ICU with coronavirus, I’m looking at over 10k on top of my $7200 per year premium. I recently thought I was having a heart attack, which turned out to be a panic attack, but I sat there unable to breathe trying to work out if I could afford to find out or not. No one should have to do that. With that said, I am one of the lucky ones who has coverage they can pay for, even if barely. Also, I would rather buy a max prop.
This leads to the many issues of privilege that are completely in our face right now. I have an education and a profession where I can work from home and afford my bills and food for a few weeks or more. Already, Eric and Andrew and I are navigating issues of class in our little family because they both have blue collar jobs that require them to be out and about. They cannot stay home, or they would eventually end up homeless. So, they take the risk of getting sick or getting others sick, which will also cost them a lot because they do not have sick pay. It could cost someone else their life. It’s Russian roulette. There are kids who are not eating now because they are out of school for 6 weeks and depended on free lunches. There are parents making decisions between staying with kids or leaving for work so they can feed kids. We have no social safety nets here, so once again health is a privilege not a right in our country. That’s fucked up.
Then there is the mental health aspect. I see a lot of shaming out there folks. There is justified anxiety to all of this. There is so much uncertainty abound. People are rightfully stressed, not just about getting sick, but about financial impact, social impact, educational impact, time management and childcare. For those of us with anxiety disorders, it is a total shit show. I have mad skills I am using to stay centered in all of this, and it’s like a part time job not totally losing my shit at the moment. Every ounce of me is fighting my OCD right now, old habits I haven’t seen in 20 years around washing and germs are coming out of the woodwork for attention. It’s fucking hard. Also: why wasn’t everyone else washing their hands already? Gross!!! So, every time I see the snarky comments about not freaking out and shaming peoples stress over it, I have to fight that stigma again as well. Be calm has never in the history of tactics to help stress worked. Empathy does. “Wow, I can totally see how this is stressful for a lot of people even if it doesn’t bother me.” Let’s just say some of us ARE overreacting, then what? That makes us less than everyone else? You are better? What are you trying to fucking say? Let’s go back to the E-M-P-A-T-H-Y part.
The last examples for now on the real social disease of lacking empathy is reflected in people’s attitude and behavior. Hoarding toilet paper and supplies is selfish. There is enough for everyone, slow the fuck down. Some people cannot afford to stock up all at once, some do not have space to put it anywhere. Think of other’s needs. Also, think about getting a bidet, toilet paper is wasteful, and your ass will thank you. Most young people I speak with say, “It doesn’t impact me, so I don’t care. If I get it, I will be fine.” I even hear people my age say this. While that might be true, not all young people live through this virus. Certainly elderly and immunocompromised folks are at high risk. Many will die. Half of my friends and many of my clients are in this category. I will be heart broken if they get sick, I will be angry thinking it was due to selfishness on the part of someone who could have just stayed home and watched Netflix. Moral of the story: social distancing and action are not just about you. In this case, it is more about slowing the bell curve so hospitals and staff are not overwhelmed and can help everyone who needs it. Otherwise, medical staff are facing unthinkable decisions on who lives and dies by getting treatment. Don’t be an asshole.
The virus is also hi-lighting is how fucking bad the news is. It’s like pulling teeth to get accurate news these days. I am so sick of people sensationalizing every little thing. News sources are more concerned for profit and likes than accuracy or influence. I am also sick of people only reading headlines and not thinking critically. I get it, it can be a part time job weeding through all the bullshit out there. We are all busy, I have empathy. But what you read and see is like food for your brain. We not only have an issue of eating fast sugary foods in this culture, but we also fill our heads with crap on the daily. Your intake of stimuli and information is part of your overall health. Your brain literally FEELS what it is exposed to like it is there. That’s a big fucking deal. I have a few news sources who I deem as non-partial with journalistic integrity, I also read a lot of peer review journals. I try not to only source echo chamber news. Luckily, I have some VERY smart friends who cull much of the good stuff and post regularly and with diversity. Thank god for them, you know who you are. These are folks I trust to do critical thinking and use the interwebs mindfully and responsibly. The kind of people who ask, who funded this study, how big was the study group and controls, who is publishing it, who is making money off it? You know, smart people.
I used to think the divide in the US was about smart people and stupid people. Then educated and ignorant. While maybe some of that comes into play, now I mostly see it as who is kind and who is not. Empathy is kindness. It is the willingness to put yourself in another’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. It is the ability to say, maybe I cannot relate to this fully, but I can try. It is the intention of listening and caring, of trying to meet needs to help people live better lives. It’s about love and connection, respect for our shared humanity. I gotta tell you folks, I’m getting real sick of the haters out there. I am getting real sick of doing emotional labor for the bullshit behavior that comes from their gaping wounds. I am real sick of people being ass-hats in the face of real global tragedy. I have compassion for the circumstances that creates this kind of heartless fuckery, but I am really at a point where I think it’s time to collectively scream, “cut it the fuck out!”
Because I am one of those sensitive people solidly in the camp of bleeding hearts, I have been actively coaching folks on their anxiety in this pandemic. I am trying to support in the ways that I can while also taking very good care of myself. I am trying to frame this time as self-care and community care. It’s a time to really go to the basics of helping one another and ourselves. Here are some suggestions for anxiety that are helpful now, and always in our ever changing and stressful culture. You can also vote. Fighting for your needs, others needs and what is right is a profound way to have self-care. Vote with empathy, even if all the choices aren’t to your liking. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.
- BREATHE. Slow down and take 5-10 deep breaths focusing on getting air to the bottom of your lungs and increasing your exhale time. This helps release endorphins as well as stimulate the vagal nerve which helps calm you down. It also helps you connect with your body.
- GROUND. Orient yourself to the present moment. You can do this by simply walking through your main 5 senses of sight, taste, touch, sound and smell. Name three things that you notice in this very moment about each with intention. Pause on them and notice the quality of feeling with each. This will help your cognitive and physical brain to connect and regulate.
- MOVE. Dance in your living room. Do yoga for anxiety. Go for a walk outside. Play with your dog or cat. Work out. Get some endorphins going. Be playful about it.
- LIMIT NEWS. Be intentional on where you are sourcing your news and how much you take in. Some folks do this once per week or once per day. Personally, I only read news in the mid-morning after coffee and some relaxation time. If I do it before bed it keeps me awake, if I do it first thing, it puts me in a bad mood. I also limit it to about 15 minutes or just a few articles.
- COMMUNITY. It’s important to have your go-to folks. Whether that is friends, family or your therapist, make sure you have some regularly scheduled time to connect and talk about your feelings and life. Hug and get physical contact if you can safely, even if it’s from a pet. Social distancing is more like physical distancing. We actually socially need one another more than ever, find ways to connect.
May you act soon, get ahead of it if you can. Seattle just closed all of our restaurants after closing schools for 6 weeks or more. We are like the ghost of Christmas future, watch us in the next 10 days and see if we got on it on time or not. If not, god help us all. It’s a day by day practice of wait and see. Stay well friends.
May we sail in peace.