For some reason, when confronted with a personal or societal crisis, I’m always presented with the urge to say something particularly insightful, even in situations when my capacity for insight is minimal, and even in situations where it would be infinitely more helpful to actually do something. As you can perhaps surmise from the above, I’m not a huge fan of this tendency. Even at its most noble or otherwise well-intended, I think it leads to make sweeping pronouncements that I simply cannot support with evidence and that simply cannot hold up under examination. At its least noble, I think it’s driven primarily by a desire to feel in charge of both the situation itself and the feelings of others relative to that situation, and is therefore a manifestation of typical white guy entitlement. For some reason, my brain has decided that this is my problem to fix, even when that’s ludicrous.
Nevertheless, as we head into the second full week of staying in relative isolation to inhibit the further spread of COVID-19, I find my brain drifting towards this mode of operation. The first week made it perfectly clear that while we all recognize the necessity of staying at home as much as possible (and if you don’t recognize this need, please leave. For real, you’re a reckless moron, and I don’t want your patronage or your attention), we are also scared out of our minds and going stir crazy.
I wasn’t even leaving the house all that much before last week, but it only took me a day of staying at home for my morale to flag. Over the course of the next seven days, I resorted to several unsustainable practices to get nothing more than brief, passing jolt of feeling like a person again. I drank too much. I ordered a pizza for no reason. I overslept every day, and I didn’t do much of anything except play video games, worry my head off, and wait for each individual day to end. I became scared of eating, using too much hand soap, and wiping my ass. By the end of it, I felt as though my mental health was doomed to collapse. I am reminded of how I felt on 9/11, and in the days (and months, and years, really) following 9/11 – I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m certain it’s going to suck.
This is despite the fact that my personal situation is relatively stable during this pandemic, and it could easily be a whole lot worse. You’ll notice most of my fears above pertain to resources. I’m scared of eating because while we have a decent amount of non-perishables on hand (which is a tremendous privilege in and of itself), that amount is still limited. I’m worried about using too much hand soap and toilet paper for the same reasons. As with food, we have a decent but decidedly finite amount of these things, but supplies at the stores near us range from ‘limited’ to ‘depleted’, and it is unclear when (or even if) they will stabilize.
This is freaky, but it is nothing compared to the myriad problems others I know are facing. I know people who are unable to work from home. I know people who own businesses that will struggle to stay afloat and keep their employees on during this crisis. I know people who live in the greater New York area, where the virus has been spreading at an alarming rate. While I am in pretty decent health, and not terribly worried about what would happen if I do get infected, I know people who would almost certainly get very, very sick if the caught the virus, and who would require hospitalization. My point is, just about everyone is facing the exact same problems I am facing, and lots of people I know are dealing with additional fears that dwarf my own. The outbreak has made it clearer than ever how our society fails its most vulnerable people, especially when they are in need of the most help.
Clearly, a lot of these problems are fully outside of my purview. Nevertheless, I am trying to live responsibly. The results have been mixed. I’ve done a good job of staying at home, but I went to the grocery store Sunday morning to re-stock a handful of items, also hoping to grab some things which had been sold out when we had done our initial shopping run early last week (dry beans, eggs, flour, butter, etc.). It felt weird to be shopping in the first place; not only was I concerned that I was acting irresponsibly by going out at all (as we were out of town the weekend before, I’m concerned that I am carrying the virus, even though I have shown no symptoms), I was concerned that I am buying more than I need, and therefore part of the problem.
I don’t think I was hoarding, per se, but I do think there was an aspect of panic buying to my behavior. I grabbed a couple extra cans of chickpeas, for example, and I picked up a couple of lemons without having a real plan to use them. In both cases, these things weren’t available last week, and I’m hoping that in stocking up on these now I won’t need to replenish them next time, but I know that the impulse to panic buy a bit more than I strictly need isn’t going to go away. I left the grocery store knowing myself to be selfish and afraid.
Since I can only assume we’re all in this for the long haul (I figure it’s going to be at least a couple of months before life gets back to something resembling normal), and since it’s clear to me that we’re all in danger of losing our minds during this time of isolation, I find myself once again trying to say something smart that’s going to make everyone feel better, even though I know I can’t speak to most people’s fears and concerns. Hell, I don’t even know how to navigate this myself. I don’t want to say everything is going to work out, because I don’t know if that’s true; if anything, I know there’s no way everything is going to work out for everyone. Therefore, I’m going to resist the urge to spew platitudes.
That said, stay at home. Seriously.