Digging deep within ourselves to find strength
In the last several weeks I’ve heard from numerous people — “I feel like I’m going crazy! I just can’t stand it anymore!” The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health. Just when we hoped that our communities and our lives would open up, albeit in a reduced fashion, we hear that the infection rate is growing, not stabilizing or shrinking as we hoped. Many states and counties are returning to more restricted regulations.
It’s the uncertainty that gets to us. We don’t know what to expect. We grasp at any good news and feel discouraged when we hear bad news. One article tells us to be careful about public toilets while another article tells us not to worry—just wash your hands a lot. One day we hear that children are not likely to be vectors of infection and then the next day we hear about a study that suggests they can be. Some school districts plan to open in the fall. But what will that look like? We don’t know what to believe. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to plan.
My daughter calls me from Southern California, trying to decide whether she should send her 3-year-old to day camp. The infection rate is surging in California, but she worries about the social-emotional development of her daughter. She has no time to herself, taking care of her daughter and 5-month old son. Her husband is working from home—in a stressful work situation. She’s feeling trapped. She doesn't know what to do.
We’re also coping with massive economic uncertainty at the same time. What will happen to restaurants, bars, stores, tourism, aviation, and the companies that serve them? Will I have a job? If I don’t, will I be able to manage? What help can I expect? It’s a perfect storm of uncertainty, lack of predictability, and potential threat. No wonder our nervous systems are on overload.
Being a glutton for punishment, I read John Barry’s riveting story of the 1918 flu epidemic — “The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history”. It’s not light reading, but it provides a powerful historical context for our current events. Our 20th century forbearers went through an even worse time. Antibiotics hadn’t been discovered yet. And unlike this current pandemic, young adults were the most likely to get seriously ill, due to their stronger immune response. The pandemic lasted almost two years before it ended. Our 1918 ancestors struggled too. Sadly, doctors and nurses died in droves. But like our current front line health care providers, they were heroic in their dedication. Cities that were the most successful in wearing masks and social distancing did the best; World War I made everything worse. It was a more perfect storm than today’s typhoon.
What did I learn from this history lesson?
It’s time to dig deep within ourselves. There is a time in life when each of us must dig deep within ourselves to find our strength, our resilience, and our ability to persevere, even when we feel we can’t go one step more. Yes, we can. We can put one foot in front of the other. And then take another step, until we come to the end of this pandemic. We have to reach inside ourselves and pull out the best we can be. It’s inside each of us. If you want to read on of the greatest survival stories of all time, check out “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson or watch the movie. It’s a tone poem to digging deep.
Be your best person. The entire world is in the same boat, although disconnected in space from each other. This is the time for us to be our best — kind, loving, caring, compassionate, community minded, and patient. It’s the time for us to be our greatest selves.
We can do it.