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Shame and Anger in the Time of Pandemic

Tea2

...thoughts from home quarantine

By Christy Corp-Minamiji

I had to take a Facebook break for a few days. My rage meter was spiking equally at the “It’s no big deal; I’m going to do all my usual shit” posts and the “PEOPLE ARE IN THE PARK!! HOW DO I REPORT THEM?!?” posts.

We all know this, but weird stuff happens when we are afraid. We dig in deep, often to the positions that most fuel our guilt, shame, and anger.

I get it. I’m a stubborn perfectionist. You ain’t seen digging in until I’m on a rant or feeling betrayed.

But, here’s the thing. Nature (aka a virus, let’s call it SARS CoV-2) really doesn’t care about our thoughts, emotions, or opinions. It doesn’t give a shit about politics or the economy. It doesn’t care about graduations or weddings. It doesn’t really even care about toilet paper. It just wants some cells to attach and replicate. Human cells.

I spent 15 years of my career thinking about diseases in populations — first in vaccine research then in livestock medicine. And the one truth about population medicine is that the comfort of individuals is irrelevant in the face of disease.

We’re well beyond individual needs and comfort now. Ask Italy. Ask Spain where an ice rink has become a morgue.

And yes, that means I’m saying all the things you’ve been hearing about social distance, isolation, flattening the curve, etc.

It also means I’m saying, hold back when you want to lash out, when you want to shame someone for doing it wrong. I get that urge. It’s an individual comfort thing. It’s the desire for control when faced with something over which we have little control.

But, as Brené Brown says, you can’t shame people into changing their behavior. Only solid info and compassion are going to get us to a place of looking beyond our own fears to the health of the population.

Things are going to happen over which you have no control. You’re going to feel guilty, angry, terrified, even hateful.

I get it. I like to think I was ahead of the crowd in social distancing and caution. My kids certainly thought so — yeah, guys, I know I’m a pain. But, here I am, officially on home quarantine with a cough and chest congestion. No fever yet. Could be allergies, could be “just a cold,” could be COVID19. There’s no way right now to know since I am privileged not to be a high risk patient.

When the cough started, I felt deeply ashamed. What had I done wrong? Was I a hypocrite? I’d been going on for days about flattening the curve, and here I am, sick. Finally, yesterday, I remembered.

The virus doesn’t care. No virus cares. The pollens don’t care either. And my lungs have absolutely no opinion on how good a person I am.

So, it’s uncomfortable, even for an introvert, not knowing when I’ll be 72 hours symptom free, not knowing when I get to go for walks again, not knowing how long until my kids can come back. But, my comfort matters way less than the population. So, I’ll sit here and sip my tea, and pour myself a cup of compassion.

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