Do you all remember back when this whole pandemic began, our newsfeeds were filled with reports of people singing to each other on the balconies, offering to purchase groceries for the elderly, people holding up signs offering items for free – or asking “how can I help?”. Celebrities were offering free concerts online, businesses were offering a reserved senior hour at the first hour of the day, and we were all obviously united with an unspoken sentiment of “How can I help YOU?”
We all had at the forefront of our minds, how can we serve each other in ways that will make this whole scary situation a little easier to endure. It was beautiful, it was enriching, it was empowering, and it felt GOOD to be in a world that was so committed to looking out for one anothers well-being.
Somewhere along this journey we’re walking together in, we turned on to a cloudy road filled with fear and confusion. While so much good is still happening in the world, many of us have fallen into the stage of grief that leaves many feeling the emotions related to anger and fatigue. I’ve seen people express feeling anxious, claustrophobic, afraid they’ll lose their mind or be trapped, and feeling a great sense of injustice and inability to trust people in roles and positions of leadership.
There is an understandable concern about mental health. We all need sunshine, we all need to ensure our bodies are healthy and strong. Many people are feeling the symptoms of depression and anxiety for the first time, and it is scary (I 100% understand!). I have heard people say that, “A human being can only go so long without a REAL hug, and being close to others – we can’t go on forever being alone, we need to see our families!” I agree!
I wish I had the answer. I wish I better understood how we keep each other safe, while being physically close again. How do we find a sense of a satisfactory ‘new normal’, that feels like the ‘old normal’, and still have those feelings like we had in the beginning when this all began and we were singing to each other in the balconies?
I feel the most disappointing part of how things shifted, was that with that shift in the dynamics of this pandemic, came a division in some of our relationships. Feelings being hurt, and friendships being considered over – over the topic of ‘to wear a mask or not’. I was so confused, not to mention overwhelmed by the tension building up on this topic over the course of many weeks, that I wanted to understand why this piece of cloth turned into a political debate. What happened to the comradery of ‘how can we unite and work together to beat this pandemic?’ I asked myself, “Am I looking at this wrong? Am I missing something?”
Psychology Today wrote an article back in May, around the time that the topic of masks began to boil over. They identified a clear shift in perspective in the way people were coping with the stress of having to stay indoors, businesses closing, people losing their jobs, and understandably feeling a great deal of concern and sense of loss. Not only have we collectively been grieving the loss of normalcy, but many are grieving a loss of a job, losses of loved ones and others to the virus, the inability to travel and see family who live far away, and it’s all become too much. They are feeling a loss of control over life itself. Because this year is also an election year, it became easier for people to express their feelings into politics. In a, possibly subconscious, search for a sense of control over ones life, people saw an opportunity to make a statement with the request to a wear a mask…
“In a similar way, face masks are tied to the political conflict over our response to the coronavirus. Those who lean left politically tend to see the virus as a more dire threat; those on the right are more likely to downplay its seriousness or compare it to less deadly strains like the flu, often following the lead of conservative politicians.Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. “Why Are Masks Triggering Conflict and Rage?”
Accordingly, masks may be seen as a marker of political loyalty, triggering feelings of us-versus-them. A politically liberal person may assume that someone wearing a mask is “on their team,” while those who don’t wear masks must be Fox News-watching Republicans. The anger they feel is not simply about the mask, but about believing the non-mask wearer is a certain type of person.
On the flip side, the politically conservative might interpret calls for masks as politically-driven efforts to play up the seriousness of the coronavirus. Being asked to don a mask then becomes not just a request to protect the health of others, but to give up their worldview and political allegiance. It may feel like asking a Red Sox fan to put on a Yankees jersey.”
The root of this new division, driven in more aggressively due to political tensions, is fear. Fear of losing freedom, and fear of losing loved ones.
“The rising number of cases and deaths has put people on edge as they worry about their own health and that of their loved ones. Those who work in healthcare or whose family members do may feel the fear more acutely. The elderly and other groups at greater risk for a poor outcome with the virus also tend to be more concerned about it.Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. “Why Are Masks Triggering Conflict and Rage?”
At the same time, COVID-19 has had alarming effects on the economy. Millions of people are out of work, and many businesses are likely to fail. Countless people are worried about their ability to survive.
In light of these anxieties, masks may trigger our fear that someone is trying to block our pursuit of happiness—either by not wearing a mask and threatening our life, or by making us wear masks and taking away our liberty. (Some people also don’t like masks because they panic when wearing one, due to claustrophobia or feeling like it’s hard to breathe; others find masks intolerable because of conditions like autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing issues.)”
I know for me the concern I have about not enough of us wearing masks is just as Seth said above, the concern of the elderly and those who are immunosuppressant or have compromised immune systems. I saw a quote from a friend not long ago who said:
“I’d rather wear a mask and find out it’s ineffective than refuse to wear a mask and find out I could have prevented putting someone’s health/life at risk by simply wearing one.“Rachel R.
I know that I am young enough, and as far as I know I don’t have any underlying health conditions, so I have a great chance of surviving the virus if I should catch it. Our best medical and science experts have encouraged us that this is the best way that we ALL, collectively as a team, can work together to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. No expert has said that it will prevent the virus from spreading, but it will greatly reduce the risk and slow down the spread. Thankfully most of us don’t have to wear them all day, every day (I really feel for those who do have to wear them all day at work. Because they are uncomfortable). Most of us have only been asked to wear them for a short period of time while we’re in stores and large crowds where social distancing can’t easily be done.
How Do We Become United Again?
I think it’s helping each other shift back our perspective to working as a team. A team who desires to serve one another, when we all shared a common feeling of concern, and want to help lift each others spirits.
I think one feeling we can all share in common is the feeling of fear; of the unknown of when this will be over. We all can agree that this is uncomfortable, it’s scary, we wish we knew more and understood things better. We wish we had more tangible evidence and clarity of a sense of what to expect for our future short-term and long-term.
We all can share in having felt the feelings of depression and anxieties. We all probably could admit to better understanding the importance of mental health. We all agree we need as much sunshine as we can get. We all could probably improve our diets, and need to get outdoors more. We need that feeling of closeness to others, and spend time with those we love and care about.
So how can we find a happy middle ground where we STOP the division, and we put an end to this argument over a piece of cloth we wear on our face when out in public? How do we keep the social distance, while feeling close to one another?
I think it begins with bringing back the signs that were being held up, and posted all over social media earlier this year that said:
“How can I help you?”
I feel we ALL could do a better job at assuming less, and serving more.
If we can put down the current lenses we’re wearing, look at the world with a commitment to see it differently with fresh eyes, I believe in all of us to become reunited in working together to help each other through this difficult time. We’re all experiencing the same storm, but each in different boats. We can lift each other, and help each other find safety in this storm.
Maya Angelou once said:
“Every storm runs out of rain.”
It’s true. There will be an end to this. Just like historic events in the past, there came an end, and it’s up to each of us, and our contributions to this new history being written, how the story will end and what our future will read about its ending. We can come together, united, stronger, wiser, and more loving people. I believe in us!
Who Are We Listening To?
With a quick Google search we can all easily find opinions and research evidence from countless doctors and scientists, experts in their field of study of how the behavior of diseases and viruses grow and spread, that proves that the simple act of wearing a mask and social distancing has been the best proven evidence of slowing the spread. Now, having said that, there are some doctors and health experts that feel differently. While I for one am trying to leave myself open to learning other options beyond what the majority of experts are saying, I feel the best all of us can do is keep the frame of mind of how can we work together as a team to help find a solution to this pandemic we are living through.
Some are tired of listening to doctors and scientists; they are feeling a lack of trust in the system (with all the documentaries out there, I get that)… so they lean on their faith in God to help find a solution. On June 24th, 2020, several faith leaders gathered together in Utah with the Governor to pen a letter to all of their congregations, asking everyone to re-unite together in an effort to put an end to this pandemic. The letter said:
“Over the last several weeks we have seen alarming increases in COVID-19 infection rates in the state of Utah. The state epidemiologist has identified the lack of masks and social distancing as key factors responsible for the increase. As faith leaders, many of us have seen the effects of this virus on vulnerable persons in our congregations. COVID-19 has caused so many disruptions in people’s lives including mental, physical and financial stress.– Deseret News “Faith leaders make an appeal to Utahns: Wear a mask to protect your neighbor“
We, the under-signed faith community leaders, appeal to people of faith all over the state to wear masks and practice physical distancing, sacrificing a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives. We recall that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. One cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.
We pray for the end of this devastating pandemic. However, the reality is that our actions must accompany those prayers. Please join us in continuing to take action to prevent the further spread of the pandemic by wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distancing.”
In the same Psychology Today article, Seth mentioned sacrifices of comfort that had to be made in times of war in the past:
“Everyone has had to make sacrifices during national emergencies, like military service during times of war. Our forebears gave up their freedom to eat chocolate during World War II so that more of it could go to the soldiers. Wearing a mask could be seen as a patriotic expression of self-sacrifice, as you do your part to defend our country from a microscopic invader. Wear it with pride as you hold onto your liberties.”
I’d like to circle back to my friends comment, because I feel it’s the best that any of us can do as we choose to move forward:
“I’d rather wear a mask and find out it’s ineffective than refuse to wear a mask and find out I could have prevented putting someone’s health/life at risk by simply wearing one.”Rachel R.
Moving Forward United
Your feelings of frustration are valid.
We’re all feeling uncomfortable.
We’re all grieving for the same, similar, or different reasons – but we share a common feeling of loss.
We all want this pandemic to end sooner than later.
We all desire the same feeling of wanting peace and safety in our homes and in this world.
We can find solutions if we renew our commitment to listen with a desire to understand rather than a desire to respond, look for ways to help others, and allow each other room to grieve and feel the difficult emotions. I think we could all agree that we’re all just trying our best to understand and find ways to cope.
I’ll end my thoughts here with a plea for us all to work together and become united again. We did it before, and we can do it again. We’ve all been feeling a lot of intense emotions, and grief and loss can sometimes bring out the ‘ugly side’ that we all have, where we act out, react, and say things we can find ourselves regretting later. If we can find it within ourselves to forgive others (and ourselves), renew our efforts to find ways to serve each other and look out for our neighbors, I do believe wholeheartedly that united – we can put an end to this pandemic and division in our Country, and across the world. We can write this chapter of history with a happy ending we can all be proud of. I believe in us!