The Plague-Ground – If you’re feeling anxious, join the herd

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… 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:

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  1. Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
  1. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  1. You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how others are coping.
  1. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.

How real is all this? Well, yesterday, KidsHelpPhone expanded its services to… adults.

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10 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – If you’re feeling anxious, join the herd”

  1. Carolyn Everson

    Spot on Bob – as always. And as a Board member thanks for the shout out for Kids Help Phone.

  2. High anxiety!
    Those five points are to the point and excellent points to consider, to remember, to remind oneself regularly. Cut ourselves some slack.
    When this is all over, and hopefully it will be all over, one day, wouldn’t it be a good thing to know that we learned something from it: kindness, cleanliness, how to adapt, what it takes to survive and to know we did the best we could.

  3. Bob- your thoughts certainly reflect the new reality. Anxiety on a universal level can be seen anywhere and everywhere. As I risked life and limb (my experience) by grocery shopping for my family, three households that include two seniors that will not survive getting the virus, I watched a 40 year old lady fill up her her car with likely three times her normal order. She was prudently sporting a baseball cap, mask and gloves. As she pulled down her hatchback trunk, she presumably forgot about her baseball cap sticking out and the trunk lid hit the cap. No damage was done but the fright on this lady was obvious. She teared up and seemed to try to compose herself. She appeared to have been on the very edge of not coping and this little fright seemed like it could very well push her over that precipice. She seemed to cope better with this fright than I did as she got into her suv and drove off leaving me thinking about her. I am an observer and see that everyone and I mean everyone has fear of some sort growing inside of them. It seems to me that without some form of massive assistance in the form of mental health therapy, the new society of social distancers will likely develop coping mechanisms that may challenge society itself. So what am I going to do about it? Reply to a titillating blog. An interesting coping mechanism that we both seem to have!

    1. Perhaps we need the word, “Panxiety” to wrap this up. And thanks to Kids Help Phone and all the volunteers.

  4. Irene Szylinger

    Good one Bob, thank you.
    It seems like life is at a stand-still but time keeps going and that is all connected to our perception of what is worthwhile.
    Love to you both, Irene

  5. Thank you Bob for the much needed piece. I like the word Panxiety…
    As a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience- I witness this daily and recognize in every word you shared. Both personally and professionally. It’s important for people to realize that at this very time hundreds and even thousands of us therapists are also sitting at home and losing work, precious resources wasted often, as I hear from some colleagues. Moreover- I volunteered to help those on the pandemic frontlines – and got only one call from a stressed X-ray tech. The service is not spotty- it is not funded. It should be part of OHIP. We fight for it for years, hopelessly. Even people with benefits from work suffer from insurance companies declining their requests, as they “only cover psychologists” or some other limitations. And now, of course, people are losing even those benefits being laid off. Bravo for KidsHelpLine. But it is a temporary small patch on a wound that needs serious healing. I do have clients, but many of the clinics we work for are closed, fewer people can spend money on treatment at the time we all need this. I think it has to be addressed in the Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation. Thank you!

  6. I agree with the previous responder. As a result of this present crisis, we will have a fallout of, a tsunami of mental health Issues, which will gravely impact our society. This cannot be shoved under the carpet and ignored, as it will certainly impact present and future generations, in ways we cannot imagine.
    Government on all levels, need to step up and focus on assistance and help in spades, with managing this mental health fallout in a wise and thoughtful way. Funding from all levels will now be required to meet this need. Bob thanks for this forum, in allowing your subscribers to vent. And also your thoughtful insights and the levity in which you present them. Blessings to you!

    1. And I agree with YOU, Lorraine…..Lots of mental illness following physical illness of COVID-19.

    2. Indeed, it is a nagging reality, especially given that so many deaths in Ontario are in long-term care facilities.
      I will pass the article on to Jean. Cheers. Bob

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