Josh Freed: Getting mentally prepared for the second wave

Welcome to COVID-19, Wave 2, which looks to be less deadly than Wave 1 but may be more turbulent psychologically.

How? Let us count the ways.

For starters, during the first wave the days were getting longer and brighter, so we could literally see light at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s getting darker and chillier each day.

We were already obsessed by 24/7 weather before COVID-19, as legions of people studied satellite and radar images before daring to step outside.

“Sorry dear, I can’t go for milk. There’s a heavy cumulonimbus thundercloud front moving in from the northeast that might take out Hampstead!”

But in Wave 2, COVID-19 has a new weather twist. We now know the safest way to see our family or friends is at a distance — outdoors, where the virus dissipates more quickly.

So our entire social life depends on the weather. Get it wrong and you’ll be stuck under a tree, in a park, in a thunderstorm, with no open cafés or restaurants for refuge.

As COVID-19 pushes into fall and winter, I suspect the weather forecast will have a new feature:

“The outlook for today is sunny but cold with a 20 per cent chance of freezing drizzle and an 82 per cent chance you can meet friends and adult children outside. But a hazardous senior citizen alert is in effect, so if you’re over 75, remain home alone.”

As well, in Wave 1 we were told not to wear masks because they were useless for anyone but healthcare workers. But In Wave 2 it’s against the law not to wear masks indoors, while more and more people wear them on the streets.

It’s getting hard to identify anyone. I could bump into my brother at the supermarket and never know.

It’s also getting hard to understand people in our first language, let alone our second, as we mumble into our masks. This could set back bilingualism by decades.

Yet another element of Wave 2 is COVID fatigue. The one thing you can say for Wave 1 is that it was new and exciting, in a harrowing, terrifying way.

No one knew anything about COVID-19 and we were all scared to touch our groceries, or mail, or even our shoulder, which had touched an elevator wall that someone else’s shoulder might have touched.

We were frightened of our own shadows — for all we knew we could get COVID-19 from them.

But in Wave 2 we’re already exhausted and bored with almost everything COVID-19: the isolation, the social distancing, the inability to touch those we love.

We’re bored with the government TV briefings that seemed novel at the start. We’re running out of decent Netflix shows to watch.

Some 20 per cent of us are suffering from depression and the rest from repression.

Adding to our COVID-19 tension is the imminent U.S. election, which raises or lowers our blood pressure with every new poll.

People usually look at their phones about 100 times a day, but between COVID-19 and the election it’s now more like 1,000, because something unbelievable is always happening.

Yet no matter how unbelievable any day feels, you will look back on it as practically peaceful, a week later.

“God, I’m nostalgic for last Wednesday. In retrospect it feels almost … normal!”

There are two different strategies for dealing with all this COV-election tension.

Type 1 shuts out all news, noise and information so they can keep a sense of balance and well-being. They listen to mental health experts who say: “Just think about today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.”

This type finds inner stillness by focusing on the moment, not distractions like COVID-19, or who’s president. If you want to become like them try this exercise:

Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as the wooded glen. Let your inner harmony be as a thousand water lilies.

There, isn’t that better? … Hmmm, what’s that rising from the water?

Uh-oh. I think it has orange hair.

Type 2s like me have the opposite strategy. I follow the news on 50 different platforms, because the more I know, the more I feel I’m in control of the situation, even though I’m not.

I know the number of new COVID-19 cases everywhere from B.C. to New Brunswick and exactly how Quebec’s daily cases compare with Ontario’s, every hour.

I follow every U.S. election poll from Ipsos to YouGov to Zogby and know if Biden’s up by 7.2 percentage points in Pennsylvania, or trailing by 1.3 in Georgia.

Somehow not knowing all these things makes me less calm and more nervous, because I imagine worse possibilities:

Maybe Washington has declared war on California? Maybe Biden’s been infected and rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center, where Trump’s own doctor is treating him?

Maybe the election won’t be over when it’s over and it will be a neverendum election and …

Anyway, I have to go catch up on the news. I want to know what’s happening tomorrow, today.

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