How to Survive the Worst
The profound disruption in business-as-usual of the last few weeks has done some interesting things for my sense of reality. I know I’m not alone in this. Everyone I talk to is on their own nauseating psychological ride, one none of us asked for or expected.
Suddenly we are confronted with a tsunami of new information, incredibly intense and ever evolving, the exponential spread of this novel virus something very difficult to grapple with as mere mortals. We are reacquainted with virology (forgot how fascinating it is actually…). Just a few weeks ago I was spending mental energy on, I don’t know, how to spend a Friday night.
The structure of our society is simply not set up for this situation. We’ve gotten complacent in anticipating possible outcomes to our reckless expansion, technology, development & consumption. Of course, some people knew this would almost certainly happen and tried to tell us. We ignored them.
As a whole, we have lost perspective on what history shows is our inevitable cycle. There will always be ups and downs. We have allowed ourselves and our leaders to get more and more wrapped up in drama with self-serving blinders. We’ve allowed our thoughts to be sold as commodities, gotten swept up in consumption and armchair critique. We forgot to be present, to be brave, to consistently check for our blind spots, to consider how interconnected our world is.
We didn’t realize how precarious it all was.
And now it’s come to a grinding halt. The entire state of California is under an unprecedented “Shelter-In-Place” order. 40 Million people. The fact that leaders were able to implement this at all is, frankly, miraculous. An historic sweeping action in remarkable contrast to its intent– to compel us to do nothing.
But capitalism don’t run on ‘nothin’, honey.
The economic impact is already traumatizing. My hospitality clients have been forced to do massive layoffs and themselves were nearly put out of business overnight. The industry was already unsustainable. There’s tremendous uncertainty about if, how, and when they will be able to rise from the ashes.
The jobs that are subject to lower wages and judgmental disdain in “professional” circles are literally keeping our society functional right now. Bus drivers and grocery clerks and waste management and mail carriers stay working. They’re putting themselves at risk every day, making impossible decisions themselves, so everyone else can stay home as much as possible. It’s completely absurd and overwhelming.
I’ve been on the verge of a panic attack all week. I recently looked at a picture of my deceased grandparents and felt envy that they don’t have to deal with this. My mind has gone to some unexpectedly dark places. Has yours?
I am realizing in order to get through this intact, I have to find ways to turn off the barrage of panic and bad news from people I truly care about for periods of time. I have to take care of myself. It reminds me of the metaphor to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. (Remember planes?) And this is another really challenging aspect of this situation.
What are we supposed to do? How do we act virtuously and do no harm in the midst of a global pandemic? How do we help effectively, without sacrificing ourselves and getting swept up in unhelpful panic? I personally have not had to navigate anything of this emotional scale in my lifetime. Many of us haven’t. But it’s worth learning from others and our mistakes. Just as in periods of relative calm, it’s a benefit to be present, be brave, check for blind spots, and consider the whole in a crisis.
A world on pause is surreal. Being present in this time is pretty incredible, especially in a city like Oakland. The streets are so quiet. Less road and sky traffic. The clouds are oil paintings of heaven. Every person I pass takes on a new mystical presence. We eye each other from a safe distance (about 10 feet if I have anything to say about it, I’m not playing). I am filled with curiosity, empathy. Pets are somehow cuter than before, a source of innocent joy. And nobody told the blossoms to pipe down. They are glorious and extravagant. I have, when I let myself, found time to daydream, get lost in a song. My body has been called to dance, to find new streets to run down in an adjacent neighborhood that are less crowded than my normal routes.
Isolation is teaching me what kind of interactions I long for. The types of connections and conversations, how important touch is.
I kept myself so busy before, and I’ve had enough experiences where touch felt bad, that I just sort of avoided that fact. It’s a controversial topic in normal times, hard to talk about. I’m spending time now considering what I truly want, fantasizing about platonic and sexual connection. How I can cultivate touch in a healthy way when it’s safe to make physical contact again? It’s kind of painful now to recognize it, but I know learning this about myself will make for a much happier future. ‘Normal’ life didn’t give me a lot of time to get lost in thought and consider who I am.
The insights are really interesting.
This is certainly the time for bravery. Just being present with the impact of this on people I care about requires it. And letting myself and others be human is brave. We are all figuring this out together. It’s really a time to support those who are making good-faith efforts to help, despite the mistakes and impossible decisions we have to make along the way. It’s moving to witness so many brave actions from people right now, and to try to gather that strength in myself.
Initiative is brave, but I think it’s important to also give ourselves a little time to process the impact. This is not going to be fixed in a day, and it may take some time for the right ideas to be thought of, planned out and implemented. The panic makes it feel like now is the only time to act but this is a weird crisis that calls for patience and clarity.
Check for Blind Spots
Checking for blind spots is uncomfortable, but so important. I didn’t take an immediate, debilitating hit from this, but I seem to be surrounded by those who did. I feel almost compelled to give all my savings to the hourly workers who just got laid off. But one of the things I like most about the stupid emergency fund I built up last year is knowing that I won’t have to ask for help from others, at least not for a while. I’ve never had a resource like this before. Had Corona Virus hit even a year ago I would be in a much scarier place financially. How much do I give? Can I afford to? How much do I save for the coming months with so many unknowns still? How do I chart a course that aligns with my values and does the most good?
Consider the Whole
If there was any debate whether we are a society impacted by the actions and well-being of others, we can thank the Corona Virus for solving it. Universal health care and social support for all people is a public imperative. Humanity can only be great if we take care of each other.
There’s a financial incentive for capitalist entities to get us to practice individualism and greed, and that needs to be dismantled and legislated against. Nobody needs a gazillion dollars while others have nothing. But this experience also makes me realize that taking care of each other in a sustainable way requires serious individual effort. We have to be taking care of ourselves as well. In good relationships, we don’t expect other people to make us happy. But we can have consequences for bad behavior.
We must put in work to be healthy and set boundaries that cultivate respect and virtue in our social contracts, on every level. Government is not a distant reality show, it is a reflection of its citizens and we need to start treating it like one. A thriving population of happy, healthy people is the real goal.
Health insurance is both something we all deserve in a strong society, and something we cultivate with our own choices. We can’t wait for a disaster to start caring for ourselves and others. We need to preempt the shock if we want to survive it.
If we prioritized our collective wellness, we would not be in such an extreme and terrible situation.
I hope we take this opportunity to let go of destructive behaviors and beliefs, to commit to the work of rebuilding our world in a better way. There are marvelous options available to us with our resources and ingenuity, its just up to us to dream them up and get there together.
There will never be a better time than now.