I have never experienced anything like the effect Covid 19 has had on all of us. There are times in my life that have been scary, and day-to-day living has been altered, but not like this. Most of us don’t have a frame of reference for Covid 19. I was young, but I remember the fear of nuclear attack towards the end of the Cold War. Y2K generated a lot of anticipatory fear, but the smart folks of the world remedied that. 9/11 ramped up fear, uncertainty, and certainly generated world-wide changes that continue today. I’m not proclaiming Covid 19 as worse or better than the other events I mentioned, but it does set a new social-behavioral precedence for every living person on Earth.
People that know I am a mental health therapist often ask my take on various things that we are confronted with in society. I have been asked my opinion on mass shooters, terrorists, sexual abuse, substance abuse and addiction in general; a little bit of everything. There are actual experts way more qualified than I am in those fields, but several people in my life still seem interested in my take on the darker side of contemporary life. Nobody has asked me my opinion about Covid 19 from a mental health perspective, yet. Once again, I’m not qualified to give an informative answer because I am right in the middle of it. I haven’t had the luxury of being well outside the perimeter of a given event; like a mass shooting. The perimeter or “blast zone” of Covid 19 is global. I couldn’t possibly render an objective, informed opinion on the toll this has taken on mental health worldwide, so I’ll just share my personal experience.
First and foremost, I’m lucky enough thus far that my loved ones have not been directly impacted by the disease caused by the Corona Virus. I assume my luck to be short lived, based on the forecast of the epidemiological prognosticators. As of March 26th of 2020, I have lived in a bubble that has been free from the virus. That gives the illusion of being outside the perimeter of the disaster; akin to being on the outside, looking in. Most of us were on the outside looking in to disasters such as the Twin Towers collapsing or the Columbine High School mass shooting. There are a lot of people in my personal life still fooled in to thinking they are outside the perimeter of this growing disaster. Lots of scoffing and eye-rolling at those of us taking heed of the advice of epidemiologists. I absolutely understand this skepticism, as I’m usually right at the tip of the skeptical spear when the media tells me to be afraid of something. I still grapple with competing thoughts that generate ambivalence, i.e. “I’m not falling for the media’s bullshit.” and then minutes later, “Brace yourselves!
… and then, back to, “Nah, it’s probably bullshit.”Unfortunately, the psychological buffer provided by “being on the outside looking in” to this particular disaster will be short-lived. We are all within the perimeter of this growing disaster; Covid 19. While I do recognize my own ambivalence about the seriousness of Covid 19, my wife and I are erring on the side of caution. We have both let fear and anxiety guide our behaviors; albeit in a fairly measured way. Letting fear guide behavior sounds bad, and a good chunk of my career is spent helping people work through irrational self-limiting fear.
With that said, tuning in to what’s driving the fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is a survival response. Fear tells us to make changes; to be prepared. My wife was on top of this pandemic well before it ever came to the United States, so we saw it coming. Fear allowed for us to prepare. Fear led to hitting the grocery store well before everybody else. Yes, we got a reasonable amount of toilet paper. Despite the financial hit, fear encouraged me to temporarily shut down a lot of our company’s services so as to not contribute to the spread. Fear has led to me consuming massive amounts of data on Covid 19. Feeding my need for the most up-to-date knowledge temporarily abates that fear. Fear led to my second firearm purchase, and then fear of my inadequate knowledge of how to win a gun fight led to my mass consumption of information on laws, tactics, and home defense preparedness. While consuming all this information, I quickly realized those Doomsday Prepper-type folks are sitting pretty right now. My observation of the “Prepper’s” preparedness juxtaposed with my overall reliance on the luxury of living in a First World country generated more fear. Yet again, I’m trying to use that fear as motivation to access needed knowledge and make arrangements for the worst case scenario.
I have definitely experienced some of the downsides to fear as well. I was two hours in to a YouTube rabbit-hole consisting of survivalist and self-defense videos when I hit pause on the video I was watching, rubbed my screen-strained eyes, and had a good laugh at my own expense. I was rewatching a video made by some Green Beret bad ass called something like, “How to RELOAD on the RUN!” What is this, Mad Max? Not quite. Entertaining, to be sure; but productive? No.
Fear has also turned me in to a fat-boy. I wasn’t eating great the last few months as it is, but my diet is worse now more than ever. Food provides comfort. The more fat and sugar in the food, the more comfort that food seems to generate. Oreos are becoming a problem. I need to make better food choices.
Fear has also led to me resenting those people with a cavalier, dismissive attitude towards Covid 19. Resenting the “it’s all media hype” people in my life is not helpful if they pick up on my resentment. If I let my irritation color my interactions with the less-worried loved ones in my life, what are the chances they’ll come around and see it my way? Not very good. People push back and become defensive when others angrily accuse them of not behaving a particular way. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, therefore, force-feeding somebody the moral virtue of “social distancing” predictably leads to the rebound effect of toilet-seat licking Spring breakers “bravely” posting their exploits to Instagram. Fear is at the core of my impulse to give those folks a Purell-soaked slap across the face; but that isn’t effective.
So, what is effective? What can we do to mitigate fear, remain productive, and not lose the core of who we are? What can be done to retain normalcy and generate productivity as we upend our lives in this global call for social distancing? The answer is to reestablish your routine. How do we establish a routine when so much has changed? We are being called upon to stay home. This has wreaked havoc on all of our day-to-day routines. Our employment routine has changed. Work is different, now. Leisure is different. Family events are different. Everything familiar has been upended. When all that you know is topsy-turvy, fear becomes our default setting. The unpredictability and lack of answers tend to make fear the lens through which we process our daily reality. Fear becomes the scaffolding upon which we construct our plans for the future. Ultimately, chaos is what we fear.
Order is the antidote to chaos. Structured routines and behavioral patterns create the foundation of order. Find some way, small as it may be, to plug a routine in to your life. This routine needs to be something that helps you feel happy and productive. This sounds obvious, but is tough in our current Covid-climate. If you know me or have been a reader of Killer J for any amount of time, you probably know I like lifting weights and love submission grappling/jiu jitsu. Well, as you know, everything is shut down. Two of the things that bring passion and enjoyment to my life are now more difficult to accomplish. If not for my belief in the value of establishing a routine, it’d be easy for me to rationalize my inability to train jiujitsu with my friends as “non essential” and just wait until this blows over. I’d be miserable within a week.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to establish a routine in spite of these barriers. This routine has been made possible with a little bit of ingenuity on my end, and a whole lot of generosity coming my way from friends, family, and complete strangers. My good friend Arlo owns a gym (Competitive Edge Fitness), and he let me borrow mats and a Kettlebell. My parents contributed further by letting me scavenge some of their home gym, which provided me an Olympic bar, a flat bench, and roughly 200 lbs. in weight. Legendary jiujitsu coach, John Danaher, rounded things out for me. In response to this Covid 19 pandemic, he released a free, four volume video on solo jiujitsu drills for all of us rendered unable to train together. My wife and I now have the ability to keep with our routine of going to the gym, and even better, she’s actually started to get on the mat with me and learn jiujitsu!
Although we live in uncertain times, routine provides us solace, normalcy, and fun. Our future success depends on it.