Updated: May 1, 2020
We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down. - Eleanor Roosevelt
I will find a way through it.
According to the news, it's bad. Economies are crumbling. Hundreds of thousands will have no jobs to return to. The aftermath of the pandemic will likely have worse fallout than the pandemic.
I will prevail.
It's not a physical enemy. It's worse in some ways. Covid-19 is hard to describe, assess, or predict. It is like an alien for whom we have no description, and no real idea of it's power. It is terrifying.
A few days ago, I was threatened by a thug on a street near my condo. He was sitting down, and apparently got upset because I walked by. As he stood up, my brain sprung into action. Step 1, quickly assess surrounding area for any article that could weaponized (a chair, a piece of steel on the ground, a bicycle). Step 2, assume a submissive posture, yet one poised to perform an explosive blow (elbow to the nose). Step 3, assess the threat level (he's huge, 6'8", 300 lbs, wearing a jacket that could hide a knife or a gun. He's walking toward me slowly. His steps are certain, not stumbling). Step 4, ACT - run away as fast as I can.
The conflict ended there. I'm a fairly fast runner, so it was a good plan A. I had nothing to prove, and no one to protect, so getting some good cardio seemed like the best choice. Fortunately, my instinct was correct. It was unlikely for someone his size to be fast and he made little effort to catch me.
But something odd occurred to me later as I remembered the encounter. I was smiling. I honestly don't know if I was smiling during the threat, but I remember feeling good.
I study and practice neuroplasticity, and I think something positive was happening in my brain. While I can't be certain, I think it was relatively good for me to see an enemy that I could define. I knew it's size, height, and level of threat. I had an accurate idea of how long the threat would last. I knew my options. I could grasp the threat.
Covid-19 is terrifying because it is intangible.
In my work, some my clients suffer from anxiety and depression. I also have several good friends who suffer with these disorders. I empathize with them. I am sad that they suffer in such darkness. Most of the time, they do not suffer from what actually occurs, but what they fear might occur.
Unfortunately, it seems that our world is training us to think this way. That is, that we tend not experience the horrors of actual events, but rather, the horrors of what might occur.
In the present crisis of Covid-19, we are constantly under the barrage of bad news, and more recently, prophetic forecasts, foreboding calamity that will last years if not decades. Visions are conjured of a dystopian Earth, scorched beyond repair.
As a student of the brain, I am forced to ask what our brains are learning. I am constantly looking through a lens that asks what experiences are teaching us, as individuals and as a species. How are local and global events shaping us?
It is important to me that we came from powerful stock. Humans are the best survivors on the planet, but what happens when we change our minds, and start to believe we are not? My concern is that we cease to be the powerful beings we are.
This concern is exacerbated by the way we medicate anxiety and depression. While there are certainly times that medicine may be necessary, it is over-prescribed and the disorders are often misdiagnosed. Incorrectly, it is generally assumed these are lifelong disorders. Counselor oversight is not required and timelines are not recommended for taking medications. Additionally, the weaning off period for many of these medications can last years due to the side-effects, such as painful "brain-zaps" patients experience.
This treatment of depression and anxiety is based on assumptions that are in direct opposition to what we are learning about neuroplasticity. Essentially, we are discovering the brain is made for change! Yet, we seem to be teaching the most damaging lie possible to the human brain: It is acceptable to experience irrational fear of imaginary threats. So it is with Covid-19.
I am NOT suggesting that Covid-19 isn't real and awful. What I am saying is that our reaction to the present pandemic may be less than human. To assess this, I am compelled to ask: Are you afraid today? If so, what are you afraid of?
What you cannot do is live in fear of the possibilities or the awful things that might occur. You are incredibly strong, resourceful, and intelligent. You are an incredible survivor, and you will get through this, as well as whatever this life throws at you. This is what it means to be human. This is the other truth we do not hear nearly enough.
Stand up, stand strong, and know the only thing we have to fear is fear itself (Franklin Delano Roosevelt).