10/5/2020 09:10

Pandemic Anxiety and Depression

It was one of those nights where I never got to sleep and kept waking up. My body was too exhausted to move and so I tossed and turned all the time. Rationality, or at least logical consistency, fled from my dreams.

In the middle of a pandemic it is hardly surprising for a person to experience some emotional side effects. The activities, relationships, and contacts around which we build our lives are disrupted by attempts to disrupt the transmission of the infection.

The stress of life comes from change, from the need to give attention to every activity because the orderliness of life has broken down. Can I can ride my bicycle? Yes, but stopping at a restaurant for lunch in the middle of the trip is inadvisable, possibly dangerous, perhaps impossible. The library will loan me books and movies but pickup is restricted and may require an advance appointment. Friends will converse but we have to think about how to arrange every meeting.

Each week is different, too, because the disease moves around the country, its prevalence increases, and our knowledge about it changes. What was right last week may not be the best practice next week and no comfortable normal pattern emerges. This affects everyone every day. It is hardly surprising that we tend to experience anxiety and depression.

A touch of anything else can set us off even if we've been coping fairly well: a little indigestion, an internet failure, a mechanical breakdown and suddenly we feel as if we are tipping off the edge.

So I was not surprised last week when I spent an entire night sleeping poorly. I tried to reassure myself; after all, I said, you have nothing to do and nowhere to go so if you don't sleep tonight you can sleep tomorrow morning or all afternoon or whenever you are ready.

By dawn the need for sleep was overtaking the need to worry and random, dream-like images floated through my head. I was beginning to relax in spite of myself. Then suddenly a new image coalesced in my brain and all the anxiety of the night broke out again: What am I going to do? How can I survive?

Truly we are living in strange and atypical times when such emotional discomfort can be evoked by the imagination of a white plastic patio chair.