The pandemic has taught me you don’t have to be facing a fist or a pistol in order to feel threatened. You don’t have to face eviction or lose your job or your clients.
You don’t even have to be on a respirator, or just be old.
All you have to feel is a change in your routine. Change alone is enough to turn things upside down.
This is a hard reality to get used to. After all, the chance to sit at home with our family, reading books, streaming movies and cooking up a storm, is one of our official Fantasy Lives™. Surely, we should be feeling fulfilled instead of oddly empty.
It’s also hard to square a distant change with a present threat. If I just steer clear of people (and wash my hands), the virus won’t be coming for me. I know this; I just don’t feel it.
I’m also not facing a road bomb in Afghanistan. I don’t have a ‘right’ to feel PTSD. But I sure do flare up over nothing, much more than before. My anxiety consists of forgetting things instantly, of getting gobs of sleep yet always feeling tired, of viewing every task like a summit of Mt. Everest.
So why do I feel this way? And why can’t I think my way out of what I feel? More to the point, why do so many friends feel the same way?
I think it’s because this pandemic has got inside virtually everybody on earth.
Never before has one thing shaken almost everyone. This is trauma on a global scale. So just as some countries assumed that if you travelled abroad, you were by definition infected with COVID-19, I think we might all assume that if you’re a living, sentient human, your psyche has been infected with anxiety that’s hard to pin down right now, but like the virus that sparked it, will reveal itself soon for all to see and deal with.
For years, various experts have been screaming that Canada faces a mental health crisis. Spotty service, people falling between the cracks and duelling treatments have made having a mental illness often more risky than a physical one.
But now…..now that the baseline for most of Canada’s 38 million people is a kind of free-floating anxiety, I think we’ll face a crisis in mental illness that will finally force us to stop avoiding and underfunding the very affliction so many of us share.
I’m not saying anxiety is a mental illness. I am saying when an entire population is even holding on to the spectrum of mental illness by the tiniest of fingernails, it’s time we gave this affliction the respect it deserves.
The Internet is awash in advice on how to stay calm and carry on.
But something arrived out of the blue last night that I’m going to paste to my computer screen, and I urge you to do the same:
- You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
- Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
- You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
- You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how others are coping.
- You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
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