Stolen from The Book of Faces: Essential Workers Heading in to Work
In the first post of this two part series, I discussed how my own challenges affect my willingness to do simple things like go to the grocery store or to Lowe's, and without a number of people performing basic economic functions, I would not have the ability to remain home.
While the virus is now showing early signs of abating, a few things are evident from this disruption. SARS-CoV2 will still present a significant danger until there is a vaccine, and the mental health toll with be extreme. But why? With "only" 0.2% of the population that has been infected, why is this going to exact such a heavy toll and who is shouldering that burden? Short answer to the second part of that question is that we all are, but in different ways.
There are essentially two groups of people: those who can stay at home and those who can't. Then these two groups are located in in two basic places: places that have been hit hard (NYC, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle) and those that haven't.
Also lifted from the Book of Faces: A Texas nurse posted about the physical toll of wearing PPE for 12-hours a day for weeks on end.
The Good Fight
Before we dive into these four groups, we're almost obliged, at this point, to acknowledge the folks on the front lines of this biological battle: our first responders, healthcare workers and their families. In many ways, their struggles will be similar to those of veterans and their families for the past two decades: a very small sliver of the population carrying a huge burden for society, and the aftermath of the trauma they face will be felt for decades to follow. Some will not survive this war.
If we throw money at anything after the pandemic is under control, it needs to be grief and trauma counseling for those staring at this invisible menace every day.
The one thing we cannot do is cheapen their sacrifices with Bud Light commercials and fake patriotism. They'll need the same thing that GWOT vets need: someone to listen to their stories, and someone to actively care about the circumstances that lead to their trauma. (For vets it is foreign policy; for healthcare workers and first responders, it is emergency preparedness and healthcare issues.)
Those who can stay home in areas not heavily affected
My family and I fall in this category. Cases in our area are slowly ticking up, but not at the mind-boggling rate of NYC. Folks in this category may have a hard time rationalizing the need to stay home vs. the temptation to take "one more trip" to the store. For many, the crushing isolation will outweigh the invisible (and currently improbable) dangers posed by the virus. The loss of identity, the unchanging scenery, and the exhausting of everything ever produced on Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime can be mentally debilitating. We covered some tips to deal with Groundhog Day - the Quarantine Sequel. But more so than even the fourth through twelfth seasons of Stranger Things, the people waiting this out in their homes and apartments need empathy.
Those who must work in areas not heavily affected
Let's be 100% honest here. The people in this category are probably the most frustrated. The economy has been upended, and they either have to carry an extra burden because they have co-workers who quit out of fear or they are underemployed. Many folks who are still working are making less money than the folks now having to file for unemployment, unless they are a waiter/waitress. Food servers are getting especially hard hit because their tips aren't counted for unemployment pay purposes.
Store and service industry workers are having to take ad hoc measures to protect themselves from increasingly belligerent customers, and then there is also a virus.
But the disruption is still due to something that seems obscure and abstract. It is easy to understand why many people would view the media with disdain for "blowing this out of proportion".
Small business owners, local farmers, cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship all feel the impact of mandated social distancing due to a threat that is "somewhere else". Combined with the erratically heavy-handed responses of some governments (Rhode Island hunting for New Yorkers...), the threat of government over reach and the economic devastation is more destructive than the virus.
Anger and despair will be quite common. What do folks in this category need? Empathy.
Those who can stay home in hard hit areas
Your friends, neighbors, local barista, someone you know is probably in the hospital by now. COVID19 is no longer some media hype story. It is a fact of life.
For many bunkering in their townhomes and apartments, the urban devastation is just on the other side of the front door. Every time a grocery delivery arrives, there also lies the potential to bring in an uninvited guest.
On one hand, these folks are probably very thankful to be able to stay home. On the other hand, it is hard to avoid the unmistakable feeling of being trapped with your own home as the cell.
In addition to the isolation, anxiety and loss of self, they are dealing with fear, and more than likely, grief. If they have a loved one in the hospital (for any reason right now), visitation is not an option. So in addition to dealing with grief, some people will have to forego the closure of saying goodbye to those that they lose.
The way that people are being forced to endure their loss without being able to perform our much needed rights and ceremonies to say goodbye harkens back to how families of 9/11 had to endure their pain. Their loved one was there one day and the next they weren't.
At very least, they'll need counseling from a professional. The thing that they need from friends, family and even total strangers is empathy.
Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs
Those who cannot stay home in hard hit areas
We wrap up this post with the unsung heroes of our society: the customer service workers, delivery drivers, trash collectors, truck drivers, mechanics and tradespeople.
In some weird, karmic way, COVID19 has put a huge spotlight on the folks that society often takes for granted. Executives, engineers, lawyers, bankers, brokers, and other people often regarded as the model for successful professional life are now deemed "non-essential". Really, essential and non-essential are terrible misnomers, but the fact remains that in "safe-mode" society needs certain people to keep the lights on until things get back to "normal".
Really, the distinction is based more on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. The people at work outside of their homes provide the basic needs for society. They are the foundation upon which all else is built, and in the hardest hit of areas, these bandanna-clad, garden-glove wearing dragoons are keeping society on life-support while medical workers keep the afflicted on life-support.
The people who are still at work in these areas probably feel that they have no choice but to keep going. Maybe they don't realize the weight that they carry. Maybe a handful do know. Regardless, there are some people that put on their shoes and head to work, fully aware of the dangers of being infected. They go to work with empty shelves reminding them that the world is not normal. They changed their daycare arrangements because their normal childcare is closed; maybe their spouse had to stop working as a result. It may be hard for them to see the end to the madness around them. Maybe other quit their job, or worse got sick. They may wonder if this is the day that they get infected. They go to work anyways. (I think there is a word for that.) Society's faint pulse continues.
Still, regardless of why they do what they do, they will bear a mental cost in addition to the economic costs. Hopefully, they'll be able to get the counseling they need. The harsh reality is that they probably won't. However long the social distancing measure continue, there will be someone who has likely had a very bad day in a long string of very bad days. When a cashier is taking extra steps to sanitize her station, or a clerk is trying to calmly explain to you that the Charmin sold out three weeks ago and he doesn't know when it will be back, have patience. Have empathy.
When the sun rises
At some point, this pandemic will pass. Society will find a new normal and it may be very different from what the old normal was. One thing that I truly hope comes out of all of this is a recognition that everyone is impacted by the pandemic either very personally, or as a result of all of the other disruptions to their life and livelihood.
It is really easy to succumb to anger, fear, and resentment. They are some old toxic friends of mine. But now that everything is turned on its head, and we don't know what tomorrow brings, we have an opportunity to influence what society looks like when the new day comes. We're all sharing collective trauma as a result of Pan Doh Ra opening a box of bat flakes for breakfast. The little prize at the bottom of that box. The prize that can get thrown out with all of the other garbage if we aren't careful is empathy.