The shutting down of our ‘normal’ lives was sudden and complete. Regardless of when restrictions went into place it was a matter of a week or so between our governments talking about possible steps and the ordering of closures. The life we knew and were accustomed to was gone, replaced with confined isolation and fear for our ability to sustain ourselves on multiple levels. We heard about it happening in far flung places but were certain it couldn’t ever happen here. And then it did.
In the space of a few days we were suddenly quarantining ourselves inside our homes only venturing out to get supplies, or a bit of exercise, and staying double arm’s length away from those we encountered.
The initial adjustment consumed most of our attention. The shock of the jarring change, the uncertainty of how long it was likely to last,wondering what life would look like on the other side, and the very real concerns about how we were going to support ourselves and our loved ones now that we were unable to earn a living in the manner we were used to.
Some of us we were fortunate enough to have governments which acted swiftly and decisively to provide financial supports for people and businesses and whose approach was direct, consistent, and truthful. Not everyone was so fortunate and many were left scrambling without clear mechanisms of support or any certainty about which sources of information to trust. Simply adjusting to our new circumstances consumed all our time and energies.
Then as time passed, we started to find a rhythm. We adjusted to the new set of realities and began to work with them. Some of us had more dire circumstances to deal with, most especially those working on the front lines providing health care, but the adaptability which is our strongest trait as a species kicked in and we focused on getting through the next couple of weeks.
While the fears drove some us into fits of panic shopping others began doing their best to find the silver lining. Jokes began to circulate about it always being ‘wine-o-clock’ or due to the lack of broadcast sports men were discovering they were actually living with someone known as a wife. Inspirational Tweets, videos, and hashtags started trending urging folks to make the best of the sudden windfall of free time reminding us of all the great things people have achieved during past quarantines in history.
True, it was a form of productivity shaming but it was mostly unintentional. The goal of it all was to reframe our situation to look more like a mandatory vacation. If we were able to treat it as ‘time off’ then it wouldn’t seem so scary and the typically dreaded but implied ‘return to work’actually served to reassure us our previous lives would likely be reasserting themselves before we knew it.
Then the restrictions were extended, and extended again. Teachers shifted from offering some stop-gap homework exercises to attempting to finish out the school year online, those without sufficient access to online resources began falling through the cracks. Celebrities who had been trying to lift spirits and stay connected but unused to the weight of the circumstances or the desperation in their fans began to slip up, making profoundly tone deaf remarks about how unfair it was they were eating cereal at home or shrugging at the fact people were going to die.
Trips to the grocery store became stressful exercises in anxiety, we began to truly lose track of what day of the week it was, and even the simple act of getting dressed became a surprisingly draining effort.
And the news coming from our governments, those of us fortunate enough to have governments providing clear and consistent information, spoke of potential further extensions. We were warned of a likely slow and gradual return to regular activity which would need to incorporate and accommodate for ongoing distancing and safety practices.
The novelty wore off. We understood the measures which had been taken were necessary to try and control the spread of the virus, at least in the ideological sense, and the videos and postings of front line health care workers pleading with us were very compelling. But most of us were not coming into direct contact with that kind of life-or-death emergency and our resources, both financial and emotional, were dwindling. We had done our part, it was time to see some results for it.
The pithy quotes about going through all this to make sure nothing happened had been reassuring and wink inducing at first but ‘nothing happening’ had developed far more ominous connotations. And besides, the sun was starting to come out. The better weather was calling to us and what could be better than both a symbolic and literal emergence from hibernation? The measures were all necessary, and we adapted to work with them, but it was time for something to start happening. We haven’t been living we’ve just been existing, and barely at that by the feel of it.
And that is where we are now, though some reached it far more quickly than others. We are chomping at the bit. We did what we had to, we adapted and became able to function in our new circumstances but they are not the ones we want nor anything like the ones we were working towards before all this started. We had plans and goals and obligations and it is high time we started getting back to them and in many cases, where sufficient and ongoing support is lacking, the need is near desperate.
We need to be able to do something about our lives and circumstances, something demonstrable and measurable. At one level to re-instil at least some sense of power over our lives but also to offer us some glimmer of hope that there are solutions to be found and ground to be gained. We are craving resolution, even partial resolution, to the point we almost don’t care whether things get better or worse as long as they change. We’ll take heaven or hell, just no more limbo.
For those, of excessive privilege or not, who let fear drive them into willful ignorance, blindness, and denial any disruption or inconvenience has been viewed as a virtual act of terrorism imposed on them by factions of the government they don’t like. That picture is far easier to face than an invisible virus which cannot be yelled at, threatened, or argued with and does not care which party you voted for or which rights and freedoms you believe in. It is also an atmosphere in which fear mongers, bullies, and opportunists will salivate and flourish.
And it is fear which is driving the bus. Pure, simple, incredibly powerful fear.
Yes, the economic impact is a real and serious crisis. We require money in order to support ourselves, to provide basic food and shelter never mind health care in countries where it is predominantly privatized. If people are unable to make a living they are unable to spend it, even for basic supplies, and without that financial input business can end up being forced to close permanently leaving people without jobs to return to.
A functioning economy is vital to supporting our way of life but we need to be wary of letting our fears push us into grasping at the idea that a healthy economy will somehow immunize the population. There are ways in which governments can mitigate the economic impacts of necessary shut downs, if they are willing to look beyond the profits or losses of the next five minutes. Assuming they are stable, organized, and well managed enough to do so.
If we are willing to take the hit, painful as it may be, in the short term we can enable the shut downs to sustain long enough to ensure the costs don’t wind up being ceaseless and far more catastrophic in the long run.
Our impatience is understandable. We have been trapped in isolation with near total uncertainty and it has sapped our stamina. Our fears are just as real and present as they were at the start, fears those who have already succumbed to them or who have excessively personal agendas are all too happy to stoke to feel powerful, but we are running out of fuel to combat them.
We are at a point where we would rather have something happen than nothing.
We are now actually facing one of the main mechanics of addiction. We are in normalcy withdrawal and our inner voices are willing to spin, mitigate, justify, or downright distort anything they have to if it will gain us even a slight taste of familiar functioning life. Those voices tell us as long as something happens whatever comes next can’t possibly be as bad as where we are now. If we don’t start doing something will anything ever change? What if things stay like this for another six months or a year or two years…
Our fears always know exactly what buttons to press. The best thing we can do is take ten slow deep breaths and take a good open-eyed look around. Things are happening around the world, true impactful things, which bring cause for tempered optimism and hope.
Even the places most tightly locked down have, for the most part, only needed to maintain that level of restriction for around three months before being able to start relaxing them.
The entire global scientific community is focused on developing treatments and vaccines bringing a far more accelerated pace to the process than is typically seen.
Governments which are well run and genuinely focused on the wellbeing of their citizens are able to guide their nations through the crisis and into recovery.
If proper measures are taken and sustained for the right amount of time health care capacities are not overrun and death-tolls are far, far lower.
Functioning life is being found on the other side of this in places both heavily hit and those which have managed to keep their curves flattened.
The vital caveat? The shut-down may have been sudden but the relaxing and returning is, and must be, a slow and gradual thing.
Vaccines take time to discover, develop, and manufacture. One could be discovered tomorrow, that doesn’t mean we will have seven and half billion doses ready by the end of next week. And returning to or functioning lives will take time because a great deal has changed and our circumstances aren’t where we left them.
Think of it like a boiling pot of water. It takes a great deal of energy to bring the water to a boil and once we reach the boiling point that energy doesn’t just suddenly disappear. You can reduce the heat slightly and the water will stop roiling and bubbling but the water doesn’t instantly revert to room temperature. It would take very little re-added heat to return the water to a rolling boil. Shove your hand in and you will still get burned. The longer you let the water sit the cooler it gets and the safer it becomes for your hand. We need to be conscious and cautious about adding more head back into the mix. Even if the water has cooled all the way that does not prevent it from being stoked to a boil once again, and again, and again.
Our impatience is natural and understandable but we must not let it push us to undo all the work we have done thus far. Resist those inner voices trying to persuade you skip the last few steps and get moving now. Our delays come with a cost but rushing things has the potential for much more disastrous consequences.
Maintaining the slow and steady pace when a finish line feels so tauntingly within reach can be painful and aggravating. But the last two push ups, when are arms are already burning, do far more to build our muscles than the first two we started with.