By Dr. Marc Sheckter, FIT for Active Living
I work in outpatient rehabilitation at Saskatoon City Hospital, so I’m not on the front-line in the fight against COVID-19, like the emergency room and intensive care unit nurses and physicians who are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. But, like everyone from my patients to my co-workers to my friends to my family to me, we’re in it deep and we’re in it together.
As I write this, the first doses of vaccine are being administered to Saskatchewan health care workers. It’s the beginning of the end, but only the very beginning; the home stretch still feels very far away.
I am a psychologist, about to enter my 20th year of clinical practice. I’ve thought about the psychological impact of the pandemic on me, specifically, and my community more generally. I want to share a few of those thoughts with you.One of the most powerful and unpleasant feelings we can experience is fear. I see it in my patients with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or panic, or health anxiety. Fear makes us feel vulnerable, as if we’re under the control of something which threatens us and which we can’t master. It is the most human of responses to avoid that which makes us afraid, whether flying (don’t fly), deep water (stay away from pools and out of boats), or the dark (use a nightlight).
But there’s no avoiding COVID-19. The virus is everywhere.
Among those who reject mask use and social distancing, anger appears to be a common reaction. They’re angry at government for infringing on their freedoms, or at public health officials whose daily pleas for compliance with mitigation measures are seen as alarmist, or at science for “flip-flopping” on its approach to the pandemic (remember the early days last spring, when there were conflicting messages about masking).
I think their anger is understandable, not because I agree with the focus of their anger – government, public health, science – but because I understand the psychology of their anger. Anger can be summoned. Anger can make us feel righteous, and powerful, and in control. For some, anger at the “forces” that might constrain us is far more palatable than fear of the virus that might sicken or kill us.
Here’s the rub. The virus is uninterested in our anger, or our fear for that matter. It’s interested only in our cells.
What do I want?
To visit my 82-year-old mother, who lives in Edmonton, and who I’ve not seen since Thanksgiving of 2019.
To hug any number of my coworkers, who are much more important friends than I ever realized pre-pandemic.
To shake the hands of my patients, a practice that dates back to graduate school.
To welcome any of my daughter’s friends into our house.
And so much else…
But I do none of these things, because the pandemic has made them unsafe.
I love Canada, my country of birth, and Saskatchewan, my adopted home province for over a quarter century. I don’t think it’s possible to love your country and your province without feeling love for your fellow citizens and residents, for what are Canada and Saskatchewan largely beyond the people who call them home? I can think of no greater act of patriotism or civic duty than masking, social distancing, limiting contacts, and hand hygiene. I might be saving the lives of people I’ll never meet, who have their own families and friends, and who will accomplish their own great things, through these simple acts. And they might be saving mine in the same way.
At this time last year, few if any of us imagined a life like this. And it has been an awful year. It would feel so good and be so easy to “cheat” on the rules just a little, just once or twice.
Hard as it might be to imagine,
by this time next year, this awfulness will be behind us.
But we have to get there first, healthy and alive.
So for now keep at it.
And when the pandemic ends, as it surely will, you can look in the mirror and know that you were a part of something great.