Can you put into words precisely and thoroughly what you’ve been through psychologically since Coronavirus struck and the lockdown happened? For a long time we were not able to go outwards so instead we went inwards and I’m not sure a) that we’re always aware that we did and b) that we’re always aware of what we encountered there.
When speaking to people at the moment I’ve noticed the difficulty they sometimes have in expressing their feelings about what they’ve experienced. It’s almost as if they’re feeling things that can’t be expressed. I too have had a dim sense inside me that there are things going on that I can’t get hold of, let alone put into words. It’s rather weird. I’m wondering if Covid-19 which affects us physically in odd ways may be affecting us emotionally in odd ways too.
The unpredictable killer
So although there are certain very clear emotions about aspects of the experience relating, for instance, to illness, death, loss of employment, loneliness and so on, there may be less clear emotions too. Coronavirus is a very strange illness indeed. It affects people quite unpredictably. People of a hundred and three can survive it while healthy thirty-year-olds can die. It infects some people then leaves them forever while infecting others only to return at a later point. Blood samples from those who’ve contracted it can look completely different from person to person. It doesn’t harm most children but it can cause a potentially fatal inflammatory response in a few that is not Covid-19 but is linked to it. There’s so much we don’t yet understand.
It’s almost as if the illness has put its strangeness into us rather like people can put their own moods into us so that we feel happy, sad, angry or whatever just as they are. Obviously Coronavirus is not a person but its strange characteristics, the lack of a vaccine or a cure and its sheer menace have necessitated drastic measures across the world which have also had a profound effect on us. I’m thinking chiefly of the lockdown.
If I try and break down the psychological difficulties people are currently reporting, they include anxiety, depression, nervousness, insomnia, anger and irritability, vulnerability and stress – to name but a very few. But I have a nagging feeling that there’s something else too that is far more intangible. That’s why what I’m saying is so imprecise.
A quantum experience?
I’m not a doctor or a scientist but I’m tempted to wonder if this bizarre Covid-19 is to normal medicine what quantum physics is to classical physics. I have used words like ‘strange’, ‘weird’, ‘odd’ and ‘bizarre’ to describe the phenomena we’re coming up against. Well, the quantum world does those things like nothing else. Weird quantum processes abound such as virtual particles whose velocity or location can be measured but not both together. Or electrons that behave differently depending on whether or not they’re being watched. These things go outside what we can grasp intellectually. At least at present. So how do we deal with a major experience like Coronavirus/lockdown that doesn’t fit our usual way of thinking? How do we deal with something we don’t understand? How do we deal with something of which we may not even be aware? What has actually been happening to us in these months?
There is a disturbance in the force
Two final thoughts come to mind. They may or may not be partial answers to that last question and they themselves are questions. Firstly, could it be that the disruption to social contact that has occurred has affected us in a way that is far deeper than we imagine? That same quantum physics is pointing to the interconnectedness of the universe. If correct, that would mean that we are all – literally – connected to each other, all part of a whole. Could the lockdown, social isolation and social distancing have disturbed that in some way?
Were our ancestors better prepared?
Secondly, as we know, we’re not the first generation to be exposed to a killer disease for which there is no cure. The Spanish flu of the early 20th century is often cited in this respect. But the medieval and Reformation periods were also – among many others – swept regularly by illnesses such as the plague or the sweating sickness. These were terrifying conditions, some of whose varieties could kill by lunchtime a person who was symptom-free at breakfast time.
But our ancestors, petrified though they must have been, were used to lethal epidemics in a way that we’re not. They were part of life. Might it be that, for all the lack of medical knowledge of those ancestors, in one sense they were better prepared for what befell them than we are? Might it be that something has been lost to our collective memory? We’re simply not used to a killer disease that could take out any of us individually and we’re not used to one that wipes out over fifty thousand of our fellow citizens almost at once.
Henry VIII and Coronavirus
Neither are we used to a virus that requires us to re-organize the whole of society in order to try and cope with it. When Henry VIII was besotted with Anne Boleyn and spending huge amounts of time with her, she went down with a potentially deadly illness called ‘The Sweat’. Henry’s reaction was to be off like a shot until she got better. Ungallant though he was, the point is that he knew exactly what to do in such a situation because society was used to upping sticks – those who could afford to anyway – and moving from place to place to keep ahead of the latest bug. We’ve had to develop that flexibility overnight. Hopefully with more compassion. But have we lost something from the past?
As I say, I’m only asking questions in all of this. Answers on a postcard.
© Brian Shand 2020