This is a very strange time we’re living through. COVID-19 has torn across the planet and is throwing harsh light on each country it hits, and here in the US has accentuated our very deep inequalities and glaring inefficiencies. Conversations regarding the wealth gap, minimum wage, healthcare, and the general representation of the people, conversations that some have been trying to get the government to have for many years, are now unavoidable. Every day this crisis puts us in new territory, and no one has a rule book for it. The people who are meant to be in charge of getting together a rulebook for this have so far left us in the lurch. It somehow manages to be simultaneously frightening, infuriating, and unsurprising. Possibly just as sobering as our government’s bungled preparation for and response to COVID-19 is the complete dismissal of this pandemic by so many citizens. Last weekend, polls showed (source) that out of 83% of concerned Democrats, only 47% were very concerned about the virus, and only 56% of Republicans polled had any concerns, big or small. Many people are still complaining about the closures of bars and cancellation of events, and many employers disregarding the directives to cut workforce numbers down and have everyone with the capability start working from home. Many nonessential retail locations remain open, and I know of at least one office where the company’s official protocol is still essentially “keep coming into work, just wash your hands and cough into your elbow,” a mitigation strategy that is at least a week behind the reality of the situation. Possibly the most frustrating of all are the people spreading lies that this is all a hoax (deployed to benefit wildly different players depending on who’s spinning the conspiracy theory), and that the 130 US deaths so far are fabricated, the 8,200 people currently sick all just paid actors. That kind of behavior would be reckless and reprehensible enough if ours was the first country battling COVID-19, but to discount the people struggling with this virus the world over reveals a potent kind of hateful ignorance. While the details seem to shift every day and there are very few facts we can be sure of (one of the reasons for the rapid-fire propagation of lies), here are two that go without question:
The only way through this is together. Now is the time we need to really be a global family, and love each other enough to keep our distance, and prioritize our peoples’ wellness over the economy, over personal gain, over corporate loyalties, and over our desire for normalcy.
There is a strong and understandable urge to act like things are normal. People want to keep going out for a beer, checking out a show, having friends over for dinner. They want to hoard enough daily supplies that they can keep reality out on their doorstep indefinitely; the thought of even lightly rationing toilet paper or hand sanitizer or peanut butter feels too unjust, too unAmerican. Some even want to keep going to work, just for a semblance of normalcy that allows them to ignore the millions of people, across industries, whose jobs are at least on hiatus, if not gone altogether. This delusional, albeit enticing, downplaying of the situation is the most dangerous response a person can have, and a guarantee of thousands more getting ill.
It's going to be a very painful lesson to learn,
but we are going to figure out how to grow in terms of how we get through a pandemic
and how we take care of our people,
both during times of crisis, and in general.
The fact of the matter is that our old normal is gone, and trying to sustain it will hurt more people. Even once we finally get this under control and begin moving onto other things, this crisis has laid bare the inadequacies of our government and our capitalist system, and that's not something we can ignore. Ultimately, between the huge number of deaths with which we are going to have to contend and the inevitable economic damages that are already resulting, we are going to have to build a new normal, rather than try to get back to where we were. But here's something important: that isn’t only a bad thing. Part of why we’ll never return to normal as we knew it is because we are going to learn things from this pandemic. We’ve already learned that our current systems for dealing with major health crises are abysmal and need correction. Even without the flamboyantly inaccurate and contradictory messaging coming from the president during this time (source, source), between cuts in funding of our emergency programs and the CDC (source) and a general lack of preparation for something this size, we've learned we need to do things very differently. It's going to be a very painful lesson to learn, but we are going to figure out how to grow in terms of how we get through a pandemic and how we take care of our people, both during times of crisis, and in general.
Another slim silver lining of the new normal in which we find ourselves is that we're going to have to learn how to sustain communities without the structures we are used to. This is a wild experiment in how we interact when our socialization has to move almost completely online, and my hopeful little hypothesis is that we'll prove not too shabby at it. I even think that, ultimately, we may lose a bit of our interest in being dicks to each other on the internet when that's where so much of our genuine interaction has to live now, too. For some folks it may feel a little less anonymous and a little less fun to shitpost once online forums have become primary sources of communication. I don't deny that it's going to be a challenge, but I think we're up to rethinking how we hold communal spaces. Seeing the resultant creativity that has already sprung up as fitness instructors and artists and zoos and groups of worship and SO many others find ways to gather online and keep each other moving and thinking and laughing and being, I'm delighted and humbled by such resourcefulness and community-mindedness in the face of devastating unknowns.
Comparably, we're going to have to learn how to entertain ourselves and each other in increasingly creative and collaborative ways, and, gooood golly, we've already seen that when it comes to the ingenuity of the under-stimulated, we're hardly in short supply (source, source, source, source). This unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes and truly global experience is making our online selves a little goofier, a little punchier, and maybe even a little bit more fun and kind with each other. There's never been a better time to go online and pick up a new hobby, learn a new skill, watch or read or listen to something you maybe wouldn't have before, and share that experience with others. In fact, I'm going to link some resources at the bottom for different ways to keep our minds enriched during this.
Lastly, and, either best or worst of all, depending on who you ask, we're going to have to get more comfortable with our selves and our thoughts. I feel pretty strongly that that's a silver lining, but I know it doesn't feel that way to everybody. A lot of folks already have real concerns about boredom, about loneliness, and especially about what to do with themselves once they may not to be able to tangibly quantify their productivity anymore. That need to feel like you're adequately hustling, like you're "making the most" of your time is really hard to shake off, and for folks grappling with either being out of work completely, or simply being out of their workspace, and the looming uncertainty of how long this will last, I recommend first and foremost that you take four really big, really deep breaths. I don't care if it feels silly, it will help. Secondly, I want you to try to get a better perspective. Even the best case scenario moving forward will still include huge amounts of people both in the US and the world over losing their jobs. This uncertainty you're burdened with is being felt by many millions, and it is a better use of time and energy to make sure that plans we create to move forward don't leave anybody behind, rather than to agonize over our personal futures, which we so largely can't currently control. This is unlike anything most of us have experienced, and we need to take the energy that is so easily poured into anxiety over the rent and bills we can't pay with the job we maybe-do-or-don't/maybe-will-or-won't have (very easy to worry about, I know), and use it instead to look after our own and one another's wellbeing while DEMANDING that our government take care of us.
So my best advice for not getting buried
underneath these understandable anxieties
is to let yourself feel them but then
let them go.
We can worry ourselves sick over what will happen next, and we will if we're not careful, but all the worry in the world won't change the outcome. But thoughtful action will. Clarity and transparency will. Patience will. Kindness certainly will. So my best advice for not getting buried underneath these understandable anxieties is to let yourself feel them but then let them go. Don't be afraid of the things you're going to feel over the next days and weeks spent in these extraordinary circumstances. Let yourself feel them. And then let anything outside of your control go. Stop letting it take up so much space in your conscious thought. Take some of that energy and spend it instead on keeping yourself healthy, making sure you're eating enough and moving your body around and going outside for fresh air. Read a book or learn a new skill. Return to an old hobby you loved. Do a dramatic reading of a play, even if it's just for yourself. Check in with your loved ones and talk about how strange all this is and what it makes you feel. Create online spaces for neighborhoods and communities so that those at risk can ask for help and those with plenty can help those without. And keep informed. Burying our heads in the sand now is not how we make sure those most at risk in our society don't fall between the cracks, whether in terms of getting food, or being denied testing kits, as might be happening in California, or when we finally start to figure out how we're going to take care of the individuals and small businesses whose finances COVID-19 destroys.
Which isn't to say that any of those things are easy, and that staying informed isn't trickier than ever. The misinformation and dramatization of facts can make trying to figure out what's actually going on incredibly overwhelming and time-consuming. I watched an informative press conference with my county executive yesterday that, frustratingly, showed up in local news as panicky and exaggerated headlines misrepresenting the situation, claiming a far worse shortage of test kits than is really the case (do we still need more? Well, yeah. Everyone does. But we don't yet seem to be as bad off as worse-hit cities and towns, and had an additional shipment sent in yesterday). I can't do anything about the fact that all publications, no matter the size, still seem more preoccupied with click-baity headlines than with disseminating facts. But I can suggest that before you read any news coverage you check in with the well-updated map of the outbreak that UVA has set up. I've found theirs to have the most up-to-date numbers, and that having an accurate gauge of the current situation before I start reading articles helps me better process the information.
I think what will also help us all process the information we're receiving and the situation we're in is just plain, old time. It's going to take time for us to start to accept and deal with what we're likely in for, and that's reasonable. And as long as we're all actually socially distancing and employees aren't at nonessential jobs (whether by force or by choice), we're going to have lots of time to do that. I think as long as we truly isolate ourselves physically, and keep in mind that this is very serious, but we will get through it together, we'll be alright. It's going to be weird and it's going to be tough, but we'll be alright. And, please, if you hear anyone downplaying this, or claiming none of it is real, please try to help them understand it's real, and it's about cooperating to keep each other safe.
In case you're feeling a little overwhelmed or lackluster over some of the grim forecasts being made (or, hey, maybe you're just bored!), I'm listing some ways to use your time that will keep your brain from fogging over during this unusualness. I hope you find something you like!
The Arkells are giving music lessons over on their Instagram
The Cincinnati Zoo is doing live "Home Safaris" with a different animal each day
Wool and the Gang is putting up a different stitch tutorial in their Instagram story every day
Behind the Bastards: A podcast about the worst people in history! The episodes' subjects range from goofy to infuriating, so some episodes are darker and some are lighter, but it's always fascinating and well-worth a listen. I especially recommend the many episodes on L. Ron Hubbard! (5a: In addition to BtB I would HIGHLY recommend Evans' other podcast, It Could Happen Here, a 10 episode podcast focusing on what civil war in America might look like, whether it's likely, and how best to prepare without going into lunatic prepper territory)
Evans also puts out a podcast with the folks behind Some More News and Even More News called Worst Year Ever. I highly recommend all three, as they do a good job of combining news and humor. They're also upping their content during this.
Open Culture has a mammoth amount of resources available, including a large selection of old movies (lots of Hitchcock and film noir!).
A Beautiful Mess rightfully pointed out that one of the best things to do when you're stuck at home more than you'd like is make and keep your home a place you enjoy being. They'll be posting projects we can easily do at home, and they're holding crafting contests to win gift cards to small businesses!
On that note, not to be rude, but, uh, clean your house! It's a way to get your body moving, it's a distraction for your brain, and it's a tangible task to accomplish. Plus it'll make your home a space you feel good about, which is so imperative during isolation and social distancing.
Meditate! I know that's my solution for everything, but that's because it's so good for everything. Seriously. Give yourself time to space out, time to let your brain rest, and time to process your feelings and let 'em go if they don't serve you. Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer are all great resources, but they're the tip of the iceberg, so I recommend googling around, or just plopping down and zoning out to some music if guided meditations aren't your jam.
This illustrator is posting tons of really cool DIY projects that can be enjoyed with or without kids
Free Code Camp is offering thousands of tutorials to learn how to code for free, at home
Modo NYC is offering several free classes online every day!
Organize your home! Marie Kondo your clothes! Reconfigure your pantry! Seriously, if we're all going to be home so much, this is a perfect time to streamline your home and figure out what things you truly do and don't want around your house.
Learn something new! Skillshare offers a gargantuan amount of tutorials on a wide range of skills, and there's a free trial!
Go for a walk. Please, pleeeeaase go for a walk. It will do so much good for your body and your mind. Especially on a sunny day, a walk in the fresh air does a LOT for our health (especially our respiratory system) and a LOT for our mental health.
On a related note, if you can, foster a rescue dog! Us being stuck in the house all day is pretty much a doggo's dream come true, and lord knows it'd make your days more fun and cuddly.
Read! Read read read. I just blazed through the second and third books in this series, and it was a fantastic escape from COVID-19.
Check out this compilation of virtual tours of 12 different gorgeous national parks
Children's illustrator Mo Willems is hosting a Lunch Doodle livestream each day
Keep to (or start keeping) a healthy schedule. If you already had a regular schedule you liked, make sure you keep to it, and if you've never really been able to have a regular schedule before, now is a really good time to develop one. It's good for the body and the brain to have a rhythm in our day to day, and when we're at home all day it's dangerously easy to lose track of time and start sleeping or eating off-schedule. Consider keeping to a schedule a large facet of self care (because it is!).
Daydream and brainstorm. I know this is a little vague. But I have a feeling it's going to be incredibly important and incredibly healing to continue spending time thinking about the future. We don't know what the world will look like in a year, let's be honest. We don't know what our cities, our systems, or our daily lives will look like as people and businesses work to rebuild. So instead of thinking about what you want the future to look like in terms of material or financial metrics, think of the more abstract facets: daydream about what you want you future to feel like. What do you really value and how do you want to make your life reflect that? That kind of work is not only meditative but will be wildly helpful to consider once we eventually start moving forward from this.
Enjoy! I hope you find something on here that brings you a little relief from the stresses of this epidemic. I am thinking about you, no matter who you are, and I'm thankful we're all in this global family together. We will be alright.