Mental health struggle in a pandemic

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 12, 2020, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

This post has been in my head for a long time. I've not been completely certain about how to write it, because my brain has been racing non-stop for weeks and without structure. Let me distill it down to some basic facts:

  • The pandemic ends one of three ways: Massive and widespread death, effective treatments for those who are infected, or a vaccine. There are some minor wins occurring in treatment, but there's no data that suggests significantly better outcomes. A few vaccines are entering phase 3 trials, and if they're successful, which is not guaranteed, we might see some health workers get it before the end of the year.
  • Apathy is making people careless. Keeping the wheels of commerce turning and people working is certainly important, but what we're seeing is inconsistent behavior. Some of it is because a subset of the population views epidemiology as a political issue, and others who simply don't have good information. Some states, including ours, are starting up a second wave of infection. Orange County posted 130 new infections yesterday. It was averaging 25 just 10 days ago. Community spread is spiking all over the US.
  • Our family is particularly at risk. While I personally think that a 1 in 100 chance of dying from the infection is too high, it's worse when one of you has a history of respiratory issues. I saw it at its worst last summer when bronchitis wrecked Diana. If that weren't enough, Simon has had to be treated with a nebulizer twice in his young life, once for pneumonia. The idea that one of them could be dead in three weeks is not completely unreasonable.

This set of circumstances is difficult to accept or reconcile. The other day we were talking about, "Well, I'm not that much at risk, and people are venturing out to Universal for roller coaster rides." Enduring self-quarantine for this long makes you try to rationalize things that observable truth should put down. If we're being honest, without some medical breakthrough, this is the way our lives look for another six to nine months at best. That's very, very hard to accept.

That our leadership has been so poor fuels anger, too. Local governments have been left to their own devices trying to figure out how to deal with the pandemic, when only a coordinated and consistent response could truly control it and lead to the most positive outcomes possible. Some nations have demonstrated this, like New Zealand and Australia, but we've failed hard. There was no real federal response, and states basically said, fuck it, go back to your lives, just wear a mask. Two weeks later, we're seeing the leading indicators about how that's working out. Even the stock market responded negatively.

I know all of the dates. The last time I was in a theme park was March 5. The last time we ate out in public was March 12, the day before we bailed on a short cruise. Since that time, the closest thing we've had to in-person socialization has been watching the Crew Dragon launch from our front porches with our neighbor. Countless Zoom calls with family, friends and coworkers and virtual birthday parties have been the normal ever since. There's nothing normal about not seeing other human beings for three months.

If the disease by itself wasn't enough, you have the economic carnage that makes me uneasy no matter how well my employer is doing. I worry about our local economy and its people, so dependent on tourists. We're in the midst of a long overdue civil rights movement that I care deeply about and want to do more with beyond financial support. My favorite charity had to basically shut down indefinitely. My child has ASD and the most unexpected things can cause meltdowns. If that weren't enough, social media has further outed the racists among people I thought were friends, and the hurt and disappointment over that is not easy to get over.

Put together, all of this is enough to drive my anxiety through the roof. A friend of mine correctly points out that, if you can afford it, it's reasonably easy to avoid contact with others, but contact with others is the thing you need the most when the world is particularly difficult. That you can't really do anything about the state of the world to relieve all of the anxiety factors is a pretty bad place to be.

Logically, I know that this will pass, and I'm starting to think that there's a good chance that we as a society come out the other end better (optimism still runs deep with me). The dumpster fire has a way of making us see how screwed up we have allowed things to be. But in midlife, there's a sense of urgency, so losing a year is going to have a cost. I hope it's worth it.


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