Fear seeps trepidation creeps
Through my bones
Chilled from within
Cold-blooded — numb
Internally, eternally(?) frozen
The calendar marks the seasons
But the climate remains the same
A year of upheaval, uproar
Distrust, mistrust of each other
Outbreak, Outcry for
At long last
Faith warms dawn transforms
A hibernating heart
Awakened — free
Inwardly, outwardly joyful
Liberated from its stalemate
The break of day kindles spirits
Fair weathers’ watch resets, renews
Potential, promise for us
Release, Revelry for
*Poet’s Note: One of the first blooms of Spring, the crocus is often viewed as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and hope.
Is society prepared for the psychological aftermath of a global crisis?
The experts may dispute when it will happen, but there is a light at the end of our pandemic tunnel.
It could be the end of Summer, Thanksgiving, or even 2022. One thing history teaches us — we will see the other side of the crisis.
The question remains, however, how will we handle it? Will we experience post-traumatic euphoria or PTSD? Will we explode like confetti canons into socializing or double-down on our agoraphobia?
Our post-tunnel vision is yet to be seen, but there are some clues.
Rip-Roaring and Raring to Go
Considering the constant barrage of doom and gloom over the past year, it is only natural for us to cling to the hope of reliving the fabled Roaring 20s. Bursting from the constraints of the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the 1920s is often held as the icon for post adversity exuberance.
Even prohibition couldn’t dampen the spirit of the generation. The “danger” only made it more exciting. Quite simply, they were happy and having fun.
Or were they?
It was a decade of prosperity and dissipation, and of jazz bands, bootleggers, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, bootleggers, and marathon dancers. It was, in the popular view, the Roaring 20s, when the younger generation rebelled against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of speculation. But the 1920s was also a decade of bitter cultural conflicts, pitting religious liberals against fundamentalists, nativists against immigrants, and rural provincials against urban cosmopolitans.*
The BBC recently reported on who is most likely to experience lasting mental health problems in a post-pandemic world. Like with the virus, itself, those who have preexisting conditions are the most vulnerable.
OCD — Particularly those with contamination or cleaning compulsions.
General anxiety disorders — Threats (such as those of variant strains, etc.) whether real or imagined can heighten the condition.
Chronic loneliness — Those who deliberately detached from the outside world to feel a sense of safety may find it difficult to reenter it.
Past trauma — The stress of living in a COVID-19 environment — even after things are opened up — can retrigger PTSD-type worries.
Fear of the unknown — This is especially challenging for those who face an ongoing drop in income or unemployment in industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as travel and entertainment.
Noting the numbers rising of those experiencing mental health difficulties as a direct result of the pandemic, researchers on now focusing on how existing disorders may exasperate the situation and how long the effects will last.
Joshua C Morganstein, MD, from Centre for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Maryland, explains that understanding the risks is essential to provide interventions and prepare for future public health emergencies:
Stress is like a toxin, such as lead or radon. In order to understand it and how it is affecting a society, we need to know who is exposed, when, how much and what effects were caused by the exposure.
How do we go about decontaminating an entire population?
With an infection rate already passing 113 million worldwide, one has to wonder if life can ever get back to normal. Why would anyone take a chance of contracting a disease or even death just to hit a happy hour or go dancing?
…the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic was quickly followed by a manic flight into sociability. The Roaring Twenties saw a flowering of parties and concerts. The 1918 virus killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced, but it did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize.
People are fed up with being pent up. They are tired of being alone.
Hope springs eternal
Despite the negative impacts of the pandemic, the aforementioned report by the APA states that 71% of those surveyed feel hopeful about their future.
Since the Roaring 20s, the U.S. has had numerous cataclysmic events: The Great Depression, WWII, and 9/11, to name just a few. Not to mention the plethora of natural disasters including the Dust Bowl, the Northridge Earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina. Boom to bust, war to peace, destruction to rebirth and back again: it’s the natural ebb and flow of history.
If these events have taught us anything, it’s that the human race is highly resilient.
Researchers are taking note of this rebound phenomenon in their investigations. In Sweden, the Centre for Psychiatric Research in Stockholm is studying the impact of the pandemic on individuals with already diagnosed mental health conditions. The hows and whys the majority of people are able to overcome their anxieties is a big part of the project.
Nitya Jayaram-Lindström, operations manager for the Stockholm project, explains:
We also want to understand factors that contribute to resilience, which is as important to understand as the risk factors.
Gaining insight into how a population is able to bounce back after a catastrophe is essential to create interventions for those who don’t.
Return to the land of the living
From Wall Street to Madison Avenue to academia, the nuevo Roaring 20s is the hot topic.
People will be happy to go out again, to socialise (sic). This will be like the Roaring 20s, there will be a fiesta in makeup and in fragrances. Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life.
What typically happens is people get less religious. They will relentlessly seek out social interactions in nightclubs and restaurants and sporting events and political rallies. There’ll be some sexual licentiousness. People will start spending their money after having saved it. They’ll be joie de vivre and a kind of risk-taking, a kind of efflorescence of the arts, I think.
It seems no matter what the risk, the basic human need to whoop it up (and make a little whoopie) is irrepressible.
Here’s to staying positive and testing negative
This tongue-in-cheek toast traditionally has referred to STDs. However, it takes on a whole new meaning in a modern post-pandemic world.
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
— George Orwell, Animal Farm
I, along with the rest of the world, live in fear of COVID-19. But, unlike most of the population, I am petrified of the aftermath. How will society view me — someone with a dysfunctional immune system — and others like me, once we completely emerge from our cocoons? Will I be shunned and segregated? Or will I be forced to isolate myself to “protect” my physical health? What will be the cost to my mental health?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the systemic disease that has chosen to take up residence in my body. This parasite, as I choose to visualize it, can affect any organ and/or any joint at will — often spreading its tentacles in multiple areas simultaneously. My immune system is hyperactive. It goes to eleven and beyond when triggered, wreaking havoc in the process. People with RA are more susceptible to catching a virus, developing infections, and experiencing cardiorespiratory complications. In other words, I’m poised to hit the COVID trifecta.
So, what’s a gal like me supposed to do when restrictions are lifted? Proponents of herd immunity want everyone out and about so we can all catch it, recover, and develop antibodies. That is all well and good unless you’re one of the individuals most likely not to survive such a grand Darwinian roulette.
I realize I am not in the majority. We need to reopen our economy, get kids back in school, and restart society again as soon as possible for it to survive. It would be unrealistic (and selfish) of me to expect anything less. I just wonder if it will be safe for me to go out and play. Will I even be permitted? Is becoming a recluse my mandated future? Human contact reduced to the afterglow of a digital screen.
Currently, I am unemployed. My chosen field, travel and events, has not only been shut down by the pandemic — it has been decimated. In all likelihood, it will be one of the last industries to recover. I am but a single droplet in a sea of millions that will be seeking new employment once our first crisis wave is over. It is illegal for an employer to inquire about medical history, but how long will that protection last? Italy and Germany are considering issuing COVID immunity certificates. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN the idea “has some merit” and is “being discussed.” All things being equal, won’t the candidate most likely to weather an outbreak be the more attractive option? I can envision a world where my economic future is regulated by my health condition. Ala Willy Wonka, I could be barred from entry to the factory unless I possess a golden Corona ticket.
Even if I can find employment, will it be safe for me? Restrictions are being lifted across the country, but the guidelines for those of us with autoimmune disorders are still in place. Web MD and Arthritis.org both advise avoiding travel (that’s a boost to my career), staying home as much as possible, and forgoing physical contact as much as possible with anyone outside your home. “Healthy” agoraphobia will be in control of my social life for the foreseeable future. Left behind while the general public moves on.
Our new world rests on order. The danger is disorder. And in today’s world, it can now spread like contagion. — Tony Blair, 2003
Apple and Google are ready to roll out their COVID Tracker app. Health agencies and the like will be able to use it to verify an individual’s COVID status. If you encounter someone who has tested positive within the last 14 days, you will receive an alert on your phone. Privacy issues aside for the moment (as of now, it will be up to the user to enter his/her COVID status), they have yet to minimize the number of false positives to an acceptable level. That’s reassuring. Can you imagine a chorus of viral emergency alerts blaring as you are walking down the street? People could be dodged like COVID zombies — their uncleanliness determined by Bluetooth.
The coronavirus has also recharged the call for a Unique Patient Identifier (UPI) system. All citizens would be issued a code, similar to a Social Security number, that provides access to their personal health database. Your entire medical record available within a few keystrokes. Proponents of UPI say it will make it easier for doctors to make diagnoses and provide proper treatment to patients. Citing security and confidentiality issues, opponents are wary of having such records under the control of the Federal government.
As a patient that has had been under the care of multiple types of physicians due to my condition, I can see the convenience of such a system. No more lugging charts from office to office or trying to remember all your past surgery dates and previous medications when filling out forms. The worry lies in how all that collective data will be analyzed. Will pre-existing conditions predetermine the quality of care? Will classifications based on antibodies and immunities ultimately determine our employment, housing, or recreation options?
That’s All Folks
I’ve read my fair share of dystopian novels. Set my eyes upon hours upon hours of post-apocalyptic tales. Perhaps they’ve altered my world view — sowed a bit of paranoia into my fertile imagination. Prompted me to foresee an ominous hierarchy at every turn.
There is no doubt I am overthinking. It’s been my stress reflex even before we were forced to steep in our own thoughts for months on end. I would like to think of my musings as a fine Earl Grey: Bold and rich, with a touch of aromatic citrus. More likely, they are like the gooey remnants remaining in a teacup forgotten on a desk for at least a week.
In reality, it’s the uncertainty of it all that sends my fears into a category 5 tailspin — whirling around me like the Tasmanian Devil. Oh, how I long to be Tweety Bird — projecting wide-eyed innocence, while always having the upper hand. Being ready for every contingency is what has always provided me peace of mind. Having some sense of control — even if imagined — is what settles me. The uneasiness resides in getting prepared for uncharted territory. Society’s next blueprint has yet to be drafted. Will I be deemed suitable for inclusion or cast off? There is nothing to but sit back and wait.