My Hoosier step-father used to have a slew of wonderful sayings, but one of his favorites was:
Never mud-wrestle with a pig. You can’t win. You get dirty. The pig enjoys it and the spectators can’t tell the difference.
We used to call this time of year “the dog days of summer” but right now, I’m calling it the “mud-wrestling season.” Pretty much everyone is miserable one way or another. I’m afraid this will extend throughout 2020. I don’t know, but that certainly looks like a possibility.
I started the Pandemic Journal series of articles for a couple of reasons. Initially, to inform, then to discuss in the context of what our ancestors went through. I expected the Covid experience to be relatively short-lived, a couple of months that seemed like years, and these journal articles to be short-lived as well. I thought we would all isolate and wear masks and get this monster under control. But that’s unfortunately very clearly not what has happened.
And now, school in person in a few days? Oy!
The sheer magnitude of this monster Covid-storm that has overwashed us, combined with the length of time and some degree of hopelessness has combined to create what I’m referring to as pandemic fatigue. I don’t know if that’s a real word or not, but it should be.
Not only are we actually physically exhausted because of the constant emotional upheaval of pandemic+politics, the second of which I’m not going to touch on at all, but we’re tired of being at home. We are grieving our “former lives,” not to mention all of life’s stressors that still occur but may be exacerbated by job loss, income loss, insurance loss, and of course, the virus itself.
It’s like normal life is still trying to take place under the unrelenting cloud of Covid. For example, people are marrying, graduating from school, having babies, and dying.
My cat is dying too, slowly, making our family extremely sad. Layers of grief on layers of grief. Still, we distance, trying to clutch as much of pre-pandemic life as possible while staying safe. For example, when the time comes, probably in a few days, we won’t be able to be with our beloved Phoenix when she crosses the rainbow bridge, assisted by our kind vet. There’s no need to expose him or us, no matter how much we want to be in the room with her. I can’t help but think of all of the Covid victims dying alone too, and their families.
Some people aren’t continuing to distance and are paying a hefty price. Many are taking chances that really aren’t necessary.
My methodology for making these decisions is really simple. What’s the worst that can happen?
- If I wear and mask or stay home when I didn’t need to, nothing truly bad happens. Am I happy? No. Am I at risk? No. Am I risking anyone else’s health? No.
- If I don’t mask and distance and get Covid, I can spread it to friends and family, I can die, kill others, or live with horrid debility and/or incur massive bills. We still don’t understand the extent of what this virus does to human bodies or long-term effects. My friend went to the ER for Covid symptoms, tested positive, was not admitted, went home only to receive a 12K medical bill a month later. The Covid test itself was free, but the rest was not. She had already lost her job and has no insurance. How is she supposed to pay that bill?
For me, the decision pretty much makes itself. The gray area is introduced when defining “necessary” and that line-in-the-sand is different for everyone, or at least different in every state with so many disparate and inconsistent levels of “rules” about what can and cannot be done.
Not to mention, “can” and “should” are vastly different things.
Thankfully, I can go outside and sit on the deck and walk around my yard, but those aren’t options for everyone.
However, it’s still difficult for me, sitting by myself, seeing photos of places I’d like to be and people I’d like to see – but I can’t. Especially if they are seeing each other and I’m the odd man out. I can’t help but think, “just this once,” but that’s exactly how this disease is spread. You only get to be wrong once.
Try not to think about what you’re missing. Try to be positive. Take a deep breath. Try not to cry, again. Here, have another garden picture.
My situation is better than a lot of people who don’t have a deck to sit on or a yard to walk in. They live in multi-generational households where they can’t distance or in apartment buildings. Some people are exposed because their family members are essential workers.
Some people are exposed because they are cautiously optimistic and venture out when they probably shouldn’t. Some have simply thrown caution to the wind. In a pandemic, everyone’s decisions affect everyone else. Six degrees of separation on steroids.
For some time, people on social media were saying that they didn’t even know anyone who had contracted Covid, so it didn’t exist where they lived or was being exaggerated. I don’t really hear that much anymore. I have cousins who have died. One is in intensive care as I type this. Close friends have it and others have had it. Yet another friend’s mother died. One of the places I obtained carry-out is now closed due to an employee testing positive this week. It’s killing people in the nursing homes here as well. There’s no doubt, it’s every single place in America now. No one is safe or exempt.
By now, Covid has directly affected almost everyone, and I’m not referring to financially through shutdowns and job loss which some would argue were political in nature. (I’m not touching that topic either.) I’m referring to the virus itself.
And anyone who is looking clearly understands what’s coming. Our only prayer is if by some miracle everyone magically starts to wear masks and stay home. And indeed, I mean everyone, because only “some” people wearing masks didn’t work before and is why we are where we are right now – with an epidemic spiraling out of control.
And yes, a vaccine, IF it works, and IF it arrives by year-end will help immensely, but we all have to survive that long. Many won’t. We’re at 153,314 deaths from Covid today and most models have us hitting 200K within a month. I’m afraid to look at the projection by year-end.
Oh yea, and because pandemic stress wasn’t enough, we’re now having pandemic+politics+hurricanes too. In Florida of all places, already a Covid hotspot, with Hurricane Isaias projected to make landfall today with high tides making things even worse there and up the east coast over the next few days. Batten down the hatches.
2020 promises to be the year we all want to forget.
The Common Thread
There is one common thread in all of this though – and that is that everyone is super stressed. If you just thought to yourself, “that’s an understatement,” you’re right.
We are all looking up at the contrails of planes in the sky and thinking about what we aren’t doing that we want to do. Where we were planning to go, but now can’t. Activities we want to do or events we want to attend, but can’t. Who we long to see, but can’t. Who has died and we’ll never see again. We can’t even attend funerals.
There’s a lot of loss, for sure.
I’m hoping that I can do some of these things in the after-time, and that there will be an after-time. Some days, gratitude to be alive and hope for the future is all we have.
As a result, people have more time for social media, are commenting more, and are “less nice.” Yes, I know that’s an understatement too. Everyone seems to have their knickers in a knot just now.
“Less nice” often translates into hurtful commentary to or about others, when no comments would suffice. When a “negativity leader” emerges, more people pile on. Of course, that just raises the stress level of everyone involved, especially the person being bullied. Adrenaline and stress hormones flood bodies, causing people who feel they are under attack to have a “flight or fight” response – and in an electronic world, that means either disengage and go for a walk or “fight” online as a keyboard warrior.
No one wins and the exchange is simply ugly and hurtful. Have another flower picture.
Take a deep breath and count to 10. Have some lilies.
Now we’re at the point where my Dad’s mud-wrestling with a pig commentary comes into play.
Seriously, no one is going to even consider anyone’s point of view because they are too busy “talking and typing,” to listen, even if they had once been inclined. And that’s assuming there isn’t any other agenda or issue in the mix. Yea, more flowers…
Maintaining an Even Keel
When people are stressed, especially for a long period of time, like pandemic fatigue, it seems to bring out either the worst or the best in people. It also dramatically affects mental health. Here are some thoughts and ideas, aside from flower pictures, that you may find helpful. I try to think of these when I see people reacting, and when I consider my health and behavior as well.
- People who already suffer from depression or other mental health issues may need to have their medications adjusted.
- People who never previously suffered from depression may be suffering from it now. Here’s a list of symptoms to watch for. If this might apply to you, make sure to exercise, get enough sunshine and disengage from triggers, like social media if that’s affecting you negatively.
- People who had borderline mental health issues pre-pandemic may have crossed over the edge due to any number of stressors and need medical assistance now. You may be viewing the results of that on social media, or seeing it in the behavior of family members.
- Doomscrolling. I didn’t even know this was a “thing,” but apparently it is, related to the consumption of news which is almost entirely negative (what news isn’t negative today,) and I’m guilty of it to some extent. You can read about doomscrolling and its effects, especially during the pandemic, here.
- To address doomscrolling and negativity, I’ve done a number of things:
- Unfriended or unfollowed people who bring pain or unpleasantness into my life. Unfortunately, there have been more than I would have anticipated and some that were shocking. I will discuss any topic. I will not tolerate attacks, disrespect, condescension, or hatefulness, directed toward me or others. If there’s any good news to this part of the equation, it’s that the pandemic has unmasked many people for their real selves, many of whom I’ve found very disheartening and disappointing. That discovery adds another level of grief, but their removal from my social media feed removes the chronic negativity issue.
- Focusing on people who are positive by nature. That does not mean they are Pollyannas, irresponsible, or unconcerned about the pandemic, but it does mean they are not pushing conspiracy theories or constant negativity by default. I don’t mind seeing some negative things, because that is our reality right now, but I also want to see pictures of your kids, your cats, your lunch, a flower, your family tree, your new t-shirt, your Amazon order, something, anything that feels “normal.”
- Find ways to support others, to the best of my ability. You already know I made masks, and have a few more to make over the weekend. I also make care quilts, but right now, there is no way to make them fast enough. I’ve also been making quilts to keep for myself, because they make me feel good, and right now, I’m important too.
- I do feel that as a responsible adult, I need to stay current with what is occurring. However, I’ve located a couple of non-inflammatory daily summary sources and I have specific times of the day that I check social media.
- I’m limiting my work time because my “default” is to work more and more and sit in front of my computer longer and longer each day. Unfortunately, at this point, I can never catch up, so that just makes things worse. I receive hundreds of emails every day, many asking questions that the sender thinks will “only take a minute,” which is a compliment, but nonetheless incorrect. (I do offer Quick Consults, here.)
- People with addiction issues are relapsing. Addiction doesn’t only mean alcohol or drugs but includes other compulsive self-medicating comfort disorders. Eating comes to mind, but there are many more. Counselors and support groups are available online – just google. Is buying quilt fabric an addictive behavior? Asking for a friend😊
- People with mental health issues are really struggling, and they are not always who you think they might be. When you observe someone acting hateful or awful towards someone else, it’s one of a few things – an active choice meaning their real personality is showing through, a really bad day (that excuse doesn’t work for repeated incidents) or a mental health issue. Regardless of which it is, you don’t need to engage with or tolerate their behavior. Some days my mantra is “just keep on scrolling.”
- Sometimes when people are silent, it’s not because they can’t or don’t want to “defend themselves.” It’s because they’ve chosen to be kind and not act hatefully or hurtfully. Attempting to hurt someone else is never beneficial and “winning” in that manner doesn’t make someone a good person or a winner. I always remember who behaved that way. Silence does not equate to “losing.” Losing one’s composure publicly is rarely a good thing.
- Develop a self-imposed embargo policy. When I’m angry, my personal rule is that I don’t reply for 24 hours. If I’m still angry, it’s 48 hours. By then, it seldom matters. This has saved me a lot of grief over the years and probably a lot of embarrassment too. An embargo doesn’t mean I’m silent to my family or close friends, it just means publicly.
- People don’t have to engage in every fight they’re invited to. There’s no requirement to take the bait. Generally, bait is a sure-fire sign of danger. Ask any fish!
- Each of us chooses how to behave, both on and offline. Choose to be kind, or silent. You never have to regret that choice.
- Sometimes, kindness is simply keeping my mouth shut. Having said that, I do feel from time to time that I have a moral imperative to speak truth to power, understanding that it will likely cause me to become a target. Still, I always say what I have to say respectfully. I will not engage in the “nasty girls” game. There is a fundamental difference between a difference of opinion, a movement for change and a war. If people choose to target me after I speak truthfully, so be it – it’s probably a sign of effectiveness. Still, it takes courage to speak, knowing what will likely be forthcoming. I’m grateful to people like John Lewis, John McCain, William Tully Brown and Rosa Parks for their courage and inspiration. One day I’ll write about attending Rosa’s funeral visitation. John and Rosa peacefully spoke, stood their ground and have inspired me repeatedly over the years, especially when I’m frightened. If or when we are attacked, we can always choose to be kind and be silent, taking into consideration the situation. Silence is sometimes more powerful than words. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Words, however, can cut like a knife, so choose wisely. People are already hurting.
- On the bright side, when speaking truth-to-power, you immediately discover who your friends are and who are fair-weather acquaintances of convenience. That holds true as well for when bad things happen in your life and you need help. Those who step-up are gold! The rest weren’t really your friends and culled themselves. Be grateful.
- I always weigh my behavior based on how I would feel if a potential employer or my granddaughters as adults saw what I said. Am I being my best self? How would I feel if one of my granddaughters posted what I was about to say? How would I counsel them?
In other words, never mud-wrestle with a pig. You can’t win. You get dirty. The pig enjoys it. The spectators can’t tell the difference.
Besides that, if I do perish in this pandemic, I don’t want to be remembered for being hateful. I may not be able to control this pandemic, or what others say or do, but I surely can control the substance of my own legacy.
When will the Pandemic Journal series end?
Truthfully, I don’t know. This might be the last article in the series, because this seems to have become a way of life, not a temporary glitch.
Of course, by now, I thought I would have already written the “victory” “we’re free again and it’s over” article. I thought I’d be going to genealogy conferences and quilt retreats, but I’m not and everything this fall and much of winter has already canceled or simply wasn’t scheduled.
I don’t know if or when this plague will ever end. As we enter into the days of diminishing light, the fall and winter in the northern hemisphere, I expect the pandemic to worsen, along with its associated challenges.
I don’t want to write negative articles or those that only serve to depress already depressed people.
One positive aspect that I’m seeing is that some people’s obsession is genealogy and with more time, they are really focusing on uncovering those ancestors. This is one kind of addictive behavior I heartily endorse!! I’ve been the recent beneficiary and I’ve been able to gift others as well.
I hope that you think about the life and times of your ancestors, the situations they encountered, the decisions they made, and how plagues and pestilences influenced, affected or ended their lives. Perhaps fear of a viral enemy that seems to be overpowering us sheds light on their lives before the days of modern medical care.
Now you can understand the ever-tightening fingers of fear that clutched their hearts as the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death because of what it did to the bodies of its victims, engulfed their world. Ironic, isn’t it, that Plague doctors wore masks then, thinking that the beak filled with aromatics would filter out the offending disease particles present in “bad air.”
Today, we know masks work and greatly improve the chances of staying well, yet not everyone wears them.
I hope your ancestors bring you comfort, in their presence or their absence that causes you to have to search for them. Perhaps we can think of this grey and difficult time, retrospectively, after the storm has passed and the sun sets on this chapter of our lives as the time of great genealogy breakthroughs. Perhaps our ancestors will serve as a pandemic rainbow.
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