The Collective Covid19 Pscyhodrama

From China to Spain, the ups and downs of the Covid19 pandemic have been brewing since the early part of the year. Like France, who recently closed all restaurants, or Disneyworld and Disneyland, the rest of us are starting to sit up and take notice.

What comes along with governmental efforts to take hold of the crisis is the collateral damage of our personal and public lives.

Children are out of school, many parents are now working from home, and that puts us out of the germs of strangers but into one another’s proximity.  Mix in the cancellation of concerts, theater performances, birthday parties and even casual get togethers and you have a cauldron of emotion that we are unlikely to have been monitoring.

Everyone, as my friend put it, is pretending that it is business as usual. When in fact nothing is as normal. (There are definitely bits that are working and we should celebrate/cherish/nurture those).

Disruption is Coming

What we could do is come together to freely admit that daily life as we know it has changed (if you’re reading this and the movie theaters, schools and flights are operational in your city, brace yourself). The ripples of this will go far beyond anything we have seen in the last seventy years.

So how do we grapple with borders closed to tourists (26 countries in the usually borderless Schegen part of Europe) or increasing closure to incoming flights in international airports (Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan)?

People can’t bury their deceased relatives, from Covid19 or other causes, and depending on timing, students might not be able to take career defining exams for university.

Amidst all this roiling emotion are the basics: sleep, mindfulness, gratitude, and grounding exercises.

I heard while driving to work something that struck me as a useful paradigm on the BCC Worldservice podcast. Our emotions (and those of our families, colleagues, and friends) are going to cycle throughout the duration of this seismic moment in contemporary history. British writer Tim Parks, who is currently in the lockdown taking place in Milan, summed up the roiling bubble of thoughts into three major categories or stages. These resonated with me because of the way they mimic the waves associated with culture shock: Elation into  frustration then despondency back to elation. Repeat.

PS if you don’t already listen, I highly recommend this concise 30 minute daily download of all things world news, not just Trump’s America.

Strap In, This is Going to Get Bumpier

Here are 3 stages I’ve adapted from Tim’s overview of what we are all likely to experience (or are already experiencing).

Irritation: Don’t be surprised by a kneejerk petulance as your independence is curbed. The cancellation of highly anticipated events is surely a letdown (ask anyone in Italy, France, Spain, Qatar, China, or South Korea). But so is the suspension of swim lessons and school, outings with friends, or gym closure. In fact, the smaller but more routine a task you can no longer complete, say stopping by the gym on the way home, the higher your irritation might run.

Irritation can mutate to frustration and aggression at interruptions to daily routine. When we involuntarily lose access to the things we’re attached to, the aftermath is not pretty. Particularly if the pressure is to pretend that everything is okay.

Anxiety mounts with the repetition of phrases like closed “until further notice” or “the foreseeable future.” How can such phrases be so final sounding at yet so generic at the same time? So remember to digital breaks and go analog. Think of what you’d do dry and safe after a hurricane or earthquake. Sit tight, let professionals do their job and break out board games, books, even movies. And yes, if you’ve had enough of learning about it tell your friends/family/colleagues no more Covid19 chatter.

Resignation: We accept the closures after a certain critical mass of incidents in immediate proximity. In the worst case scenario, we surrender to extreme measures when there are a large number of deaths due to the epidemic. There’s a lot of relief to be had in this stage as I can attest to. After a decade of hard work I wrote a one woman show and was accepted to a comedy festival. In January, being super organized, I began applying to venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Now the show is postponed indefinitely, my flight to the comedy festival cancelled, and the Fringe (as it’s known) seems safe in August (but then again, maybe not). Cancelling the tickets and giving up scheduling the show brought a sense of relief because I knew what the outcomes are. There’s no maybe hanging over my head.


Unlikely as it sounds, there might even be a bubble of excitement as we begin sharing with friends and family our own part of a major crisis that is now evolving into a worldwide drama. Or better yet, when you’re the informed one and realization begins to dawn on friends/family/colleagues in another location of what is coming.

What’s it like where you are?

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