Coronavirus and the chaotic response to it has elicited feelings of anxiety, betrayal, anger and fear.
Our 3-year-old son, Khalil, is exactly as reasonable as he should be, which is not at all. He is scared of things that aren’t all that risky ― like the sound of the washing machine ― and completely unfazed by things that could actually harm him ― like jumping enthusiastically under a countertop.
It’s not his responsibility to worry about everything. He should tell me when he’s hungry, tired or needs his inhaler, but I’m the one who should make sure we have enough food and that he’s getting enough sleep.
His dad and I pay attention to him and to his world; that’s our job. His job is to grow, learn and play. As he gets older, we will start trusting that we have taught him the lessons he needs to keep himself safe.
As adults, we are primarily responsible for our own safety, of course, but we also repeat early dynamics with our employers, doctors, the media and elected officials. We rely on authority figures to tell us what we need to know. Just as Khalil can’t keep track of his asthma medication schedule and whether he’s had enough fiber, I can’t track hurricanes, multilateral trade negotiations or pandemics.
Over the last few weeks, many of us have been confronted with the fact that the systems we thought were in place are not. We’ve had to sift through all available information about COVID-19 ― the disease caused by the new coronavirus ― and make our own decisions, something we aren’t prepared to do. When it comes to public health and epidemiology, we are all basically toddlers.
As a friend said recently, we assume the roller coaster is safe because “they” are making sure it is. However, we’ve all found out that in some very critical ways, the roller coaster of national response to a devastating pandemic is not safe at all.
I have a disability that makes me particularly vulnerable and, more concerning, my son has severe asthma. Minor colds have put him in the hospital multiple times over the last few years. Witnessing the ineptitude and dishonesty at the top has not just angered us, it’s been deeply frightening.
I’ve noticed that my emotional reactions, though justified, were initially outsized and unmanageable. Self-reflection and conversations with friends, therapists and professors have helped me identify some of my own responses and establish coping strategies while we are still very much in the midst of the crisis.
In a recent (online) social work class, my professor, Dr. Elizabeth Anable, mentioned she is noticing that her therapy clients are upset about the pandemic but that they are further distressed because our government’s failures and confusion were bringing up earlier parental traumas. We spoke after class about her observations.
She explained that traumatic childhood events serve to couple a broad range of experiences with specific responses. That coupling occurs deep in our brains and bodies ― being triggered isn’t a conscious decision. In this case, we are collectively triggered. Our reactions to a president who has failed to tell us the truth about something dangerous are linked by our bodies with moments in which we were scared, betrayed, lonely or confused as children. keep reading.....