It was about 15 years ago, to the month, that my house burned down. It was Palm Sunday and I was immunocompromised. It was the tail-end of the SARS epidemic. My entire family was at church. I was the only one home.
While I sit here and write this, confined to the top floor of my apartment building, I can’t help but think about the panic I felt that day. I can’t help but think about how trapped I felt, and how, to some extent, I am trapped now.
Then I relax my shoulders a little bit. I have to remind myself that I am not six years old anymore and that I am out of harm’s way. It used to take a lot to get me down off of that ladder — the one where I let my post-traumatic stress overtake me mentally, emotionally and even, the hardest to control, physically. Although now that I’ve gone to therapy and more time has passed since that day, I have gained more perspective; I know I am safe.
In a time when we are experiencing a pandemic — a deadly strain of coronavirus has overtaken the world — we must practice empathy more than ever before. We must ease our own personal anxieties the best way we know how, while also trying to understand the impact this virus has on our neighbors. We must realize that many who are truly struggling stay silent, but we still must not be ignorant to their pain. Context and perspective go a long way during a time like this.
With that said, there’s a reason why literally everyone in the world feels so anxious — just look to my story. Everyone has their own chronicle of havoc, whether it be that of a Baby Boomer’s generational trauma from World War II, a Gen Xer’s battle with conspiracy theories, a millennial’s plight from the housing crisis of 2008 or general stories that hit closer to home, like mine. Only a select few are coming out of this pandemic completely composed and there is a sense of solidarity in that.
Anxiety and fear are contagious, and there is little to do as humans to escape those feelings. This is a period in time where we lack control, and that fact alone is scary. Yet, we must remember that this time is transient. It’s not going to last forever and a sense of normalcy will return. There is an end in sight, just as there was with every other catastrophe. As a world, as human beings, we will learn from this.
For the time being, most of us are isolated to our homes, and for some of us this is an easy request. For others, it may mean re-entering a toxic household or a blunt to finances. Recognizing this disparity is key but does not dismiss any other suffering — this should only elicit more compassion and care. All of us are down but we still have the ability to lift each other up, even from afar.
Because of this, there’s no easy solution to stress and anxiety caused by social distancing. I could easily recommend taking up a new hobby, cooking more, working out, checking up on friends and family, practicing acts of self-care and self-reflection, but while these are productive and healthy tasks, they are Band-Aid solutions to a much more daunting issue. Education concerning the importance of social distancing is imperative in order to ease the stir-crazy effects staying inside can induce. We are all part of a larger effort to protect the public health and there is some unity in our solitude to find in that.
When my family was suffering, my community in a tiny New York town swiftly gathered around us to lessen our burden. My neighbors housed us for nearly a month, family friends brought us clothes and general living supplies, and most importantly, provided us with emotional support. My community lifted my family in ways that astound and humble me to this day. In the past few weeks, I’ve been looking to model their behavior as someone who has been fortunate enough to have a safe place to seclude in.
The best way to combat this virus is to listen to public health officials working around the clock to find the best solution to COVID-19 and ease its devastation. As a community, the best way we can combat this virus is doing our civic duty by staying inside and by lending a hand in anyway we know how. It can be as simple as joining a Facebook group that aims to help those severely disadvantaged during this crisis or be as complex as spearheading policy change. There is no limit to what can be accomplished during this time.
Resorting to bigotry, racism or egotism out of a fear of the unknown is injurious to our journey back to good public health — no person is immune to this virus. This is an unprecedented time when questions are boundless and answers are limited, when milestones that cannot be replicated are being taken away from us, when people are dying rapidly from a malignant virus. We must stick together as human beings now more than ever. Remember, there is an intangible amount of comfort in solidarity.
Adriana Zraly is a junior writing about mental health and well-being. Her column, “Piece of Mind,” typically runs the last Wednesday of every month.