"Yes, we"re in a reality we don"t recognize. We are living under a threat that makes all the other threats we contend with either very small in comparison, or much larger than they usually appear. COVID-19 is not following any particular social rules, and despite scientifically unfounded comments and beliefs to the contrary, is both more dangerous and less curable at present than most of us can understand. For many of us, it is more or less overwhelming our ability to cope, because although it"s out there and basically all around us, we can"t see it. Some people who have it never develop symptoms and have no idea they are carrying and spreading it. Some people refuse to believe it"s real, and defy protective measures such as stay-at-home orders; some of those people are in charge of states where new outbreaks are taking place. Some others of those people are taking to the streets to insist on their individual rights over the rights of the collective. And then there are those of us who are particularly vulnerable to dying from COVID-19people with pre-existing conditions that include a plethora of medical issues, including both many that are usually easily managed and many that aren"t.
And some people who were already at much higher risk of a multitude of dangers are feeling more trapped than ever, because they are.
An African American wearing a CDC-recommended mask still runs a statistically higher risk of being evicted from, or arrested in, WalMart than of completing a shopping trip there. People of color who already had statistically fewer resources now are in more danger of being infected and dying. So are poor people, homeless people, and the tragically unlucky immigrants fleeing from life-threatening conditions in other countries who are detained en masse at our borders.
People who live with abusive partners or caregivers are at greater risk because now they"re forced to quarantine with them and have even less access to escape. Abusers don"t deal well with normal stressors; a pandemic brings a host of abnormal ones.
People who already felt isolated and alone are likely to feel even more isolated and alone. This increases anxiety and depression. Depressed people may die by suicide.
Here"s the thing: we already had racism, poverty, rampant abuse, and millions of folks believing that their rights were more important than anyone else"s so they should be able to do whatever the fuck they wanted. We already had the highest number of deaths by gunshot in the developed nations. We already had a medical system that was a mere patchwork of profit-driven care facilities stretched to the breaking point and ruled by insurance companies with ever increasing restrictions on care, and people dying because they could not afford or get to the care that would have saved them. We already had an economy in which the rich constantly got richer and the poor, poorer. We already had ever decreasing access to higher education and the opportunities, knowledge, increased skill sets, and open minds it creates. We already had horrifying levels of partner, child, elder, and sexual abuse. Being in a pandemic is not making those things better. But you know what? It certainly is ripping off any Bandaids of collective denial we used for protection from them.
Is there hope for us?
Good question. Glad you asked. By the way, do you know what happens in a chrysalis?
Here"s the answer: nobody knows. In fact, a recent scientific study of a certain species of caterpillar that metamorphoses into a certain species of butterfly could not even find the same DNA pre-chrysalis as post-chrysalis. And then there is the lotus flower. Beautiful, right? They don"t grow just anywhere. They grow in pond mud. It"s a messy and largely invisible process, until "suddenly" there"s a bud and then a flower. It"s not pretty, until it is. There"s risk involved, for both the caterpillar and the lotus. The caterpillar immobilizes itself by its biological necessity to create a chrysalis that immobilizes it for the purpose of metamorphosis into a butterfly, and if something happens to the chrysalis while it"s in there, it dies before it ever becomes a butterfly. If a pond bearing what would become a lotus plant dries up or is destroyed, the lotus will never bloom; no mud, no lotus.
What do we need to survive a pandemic or other crisis? Safety. That"s why the CDC wants us to socially isolate, wear masks, stay home. But for some of us, that isn"t going to keep us safe. We may have to choose a different kind of safetyif we can. We may have to choose to leave to stay safe, or not wear masks on our risky trip to Walmart for supplies. We may be forced from our home by foreclosure or evictionalthough in some places, it"s currently illegal to evict us. We may have to take our kids, leave our home, and throw ourselves on the mercy of people we don"t live with. We may have to stay, and make choices we never thought we would. We may have to seek medical care knowing we can"t afford it financially.
What I"m saying is although we may be in a chrysalis or buried in mud right now, we might not get the chance to bloom unless we make some hard choices. Those choices can be as simple as staying home, or leaving. I am not talking about going to a concert or corona party because we hate the idea of isolating; I am talking about deciding what the biggest risks to our lives and well-being are, and acting accordingly. Only when we have safety can we survive, and have the opportunity to go beyond survival to thriving. We have to do our best to hang on, be tenacious, not give up; we may have to just get through one day at a time, which is all we ever have anyway. It may take all our resources. It"s our absolute first priority.
If you have established safety and are still feeling isolateddo what you can to help others. The desire to help others, to be a positive part of a collective, is hardwired into us. We are innately social; it"s how we survive. As babies, we need connection and nurturing, we need to be seen, heard, and accepted, we need to be loved. As we grow older, we still need all those things, and we need to give them. We don"t have to become parents to do that. But it"s no coincidence that one of the best antidotes for depression is acts of service to others. In a pandemic, that can look like a lot of different things. That can look like checking in with someone you suspect, or know, is in a dangerous relationship. That can also look like making masks to give away, offering to run errands for others, just checking in with people you suspect are at higher risk if they get COVID-19. As a person over 60 with a husband who has a heart condition, I"m encouraged by the offers of help we have received. Our much younger neighbors across the street have been gradually turning their yard into a mini-farm since buying their house a few years ago. Seeing the proliferation of raised beds has triggered numerous conversations between us lately, because we"re all now home during the day, and outside more. The male of the couple has been digging holes in our yard, which is clay underneath and mixed with a layer of gravel, for us to transplant potbound plants into. That"s a project I"ve been trying to get to for years; it"s the digging that"s held me back. The same young man offered to do our shopping for us, as have other people. I"ve picked up items for other neighbors on my infrequent forays into the outside world. It feels good. The act of service that doesn"t especially feel great, because it"s hard to do, is to stay home. And it"s an essential act of service. So mixing it with other acts of service helps.
Don"t forget the changes that needed to happen before. Do what you can to make them happen. If you participated in working for peace, for justice, for preserving and cleaning up our environment, you were working to create greater safety for all living beings. If you knew your relationship with your partner needed work, don"t forget or give up on that. If you still have the resources to continue, do it! And if you"re noticing that you"re in closer touch with friends, neighbors, family, and that it"s a good thing, maybe now is a good time to set a goal to tend and grow those bonds of attachment after the pandemic is over. If you can choose, don"t stay at the mercy of a new normal; create one. When you start to feel less overwhelmedor maybe as a way to feel less overwhelmedwork on something. Start that new exercise program, try some different meals, make some art, study for that exam, join that organization working for change. We"re in an election year, and you don"t have to know Chinese to know that crisis is danger plus opportunity. We have opportunity now, and the stakes have never been higher, so why not make the most of the chances we"re given?
Above all, take the absolute best care of yourself and your loved ones as you can. Remember, self-care can be doing what you have to in order to survive another day, or it can be giving service. It can be just making sure you have shelter, food, and water, or doing more yoga and meditation. If you need help and you"re able to reach out for it, please do. We are definitely all in this togetherwhether or not it feels that way."