Accepting a Pandemic

We've read it everyday: Times are tough.

We read it from home.

We've felt it.

It can be hard to work everyday at the full capacity you're used to. You could feel that a global pandemic is impossible, that it shouldn't be able to happen in this day and age.

That it's all unfair.

If you have felt any of these feelings, then this article is for you. The articles I've read about handling the personal challenges of quarantine have mainly talked about "what" you can do. Some people may read about pomodoro timers for the first time and it'll give them a big boost in productivity, but I've always found the deeper "why" to be much more useful. That's why here I'm going to help you with shifting your mindset.

Throughout every troubling thought in this article, I'll be tackling them with one practice: Acceptance.

This comes largely from reading a lot of Stoic philosophy lately. In it, a key piece is to live in accord with nature. Essentially, taking whatever life throws at you, accepting it, and seeing what you can do given the circumstances. Why is this useful? Well, once you accept that something is the case instead of fighting against it, your strong feelings begin to ease. One of my favorite metaphors for this comes from Zeno who says "imagine a dog with its leash tied to a moving cart. The dog has two choices: run with the cart, or resist the motion of the cart. There is only one end result for the dog, it will move along with the cart. However, the dog will choose whether along the way it simply runs alongside the cart or is dragged across the ground."

Acceptance rarely comes easily. It's not common for us to flick a switch and suddenly choose to accept something without information that helps us see things differently. So next let's untangle some common feelings people are experiencing.

First, let's tackle the thought "this can't possibly be happening." It does seem crazy to think that a virus could cause the entire world to be shut down. We like to think we're invincible and something like this would never affect us personally.

For me, it was useful to hear the comparison of the 1918 Spanish Flu. It infected 500m people, with a total of 50m deaths. Those numbers are staggering. But the most important number here is 1918. That's only a little over 100 years ago. Putting it that way, I found myself thinking "of course something like this could happen to us! That's not that long ago!" Sometimes, we look at history so detached that we fail to recognize that history happened to real people just like you and me. Meaning we too could live through the next monumental, historic moment. Hopefully this helped you move the needle towards accepting that this can be a real possibility. You don't have to get all the way to 100% right now.

Next, let's tackle the quarantine thoughts. These have a wide range from "quarantine is an overreaction" to simply "I'm tired of quarantine." Here, we start to believe that modern medicine should be advanced enough to stop this quickly. That a virus couldn't possibly be this problematic.

We need to first agree on what gets us out of this. From what I've read, it's really 1 of 2 things: a vaccine or herd immunity (when enough people in a group have a disease such that it can no longer effectively propagate through that group). A vaccine takes 12-18 months to develop and validate through trials. Herd immunity comes at the cost of lots of lives as coronavirus would require roughly 70% of the world to be infected with it. That's 5.3 billion infections. This would mean hundreds of millions of deaths if everyone was infected at current quarantine pace.

What do I mean by that? Well, the biggest concern with coronavirus is not the virus itself. It's the overwhelming of the hospital system. By quarantining, hospitals are able to keep up with the new cases. If we had all 5.3b cases within a few months, most coronavirus cases would not get any treatment. Let alone all the non-coronavirus hospital visits that would have nowhere to go.

Looking at this, I'd much rather quarantine until a vaccine comes out. I'd at least like to try for a vaccine, or slow the spread such that herd immunity comes with a much lower cost of life.

Accepting the way we get out of this, helps me see purpose in staying at home. I see it as less of an "infringement on my rights" and more of a noble act. I see that it will go on for a longer time than many of us wish, but there's a reason for that, and that's that this doesn't go away just by quarantining. It's just that quarantining gets us to safety a lot better off.

Lastly, let's tackle our low energy levels. No matter what level of acceptance you have for this situation, at times it can still weigh on you. Heck, even without a global pandemic in the background, sometimes we're just straight up tired. This can often lead to feelings of guilt. "I should be getting more work done."

This negative self-talk is something that I've experienced all my life. Not realizing how much more the thought itself was bringing me down than the initial cause.

This is when it's time to remind yourself that it's okay to not have energy. Sometimes, a couple of hours of work is all that you can put in. That's okay. Many people around you are experiencing the same challenges. In fact, appropriate rest is actually required to be at your most productive level so in a way you're taking the best course of action possible.

I personally have noticed a shocking difference in accepting low energy states. I'll feel like I have nothing left in the tank, catch myself turning negative and tell myself "oh, it's okay to be low energy and just watch TV." And with that weight off my shoulders I'll suddenly go clean the dishes or read a book. Something that I never would have done while weighed down with the thought "wow, stop watching TV you're wasting time." Somehow accepting being tired made me accomplish more. But, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, I accept that I'm tired and I continue to watch TV. The key difference here is that I watch TV guilt-free. So regardless of the outcome, I'm a lot better off accepting where I'm at.

Hopefully something in here resonates with you and helps you find peace during this time. If not, well I accept that only writing the post is within my control, not what the readers get out of it.


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