It's the second spring of the pandemic, and it's... not all better. Time to break down how bad it is and how good it can be if we can get through this year’s spring fever. Case rates of Covid-19 are far higher this March than they were last March when the big lockdowns happened, and the infection rate is roaring upward because people are losing their minds faster than they are getting vaccinated. Italy is going into its second Easter lockdown, and the United States has made a clear collective decision that the mindless consumption of novelty products and services matters more than human life. As a nation, despite the refreshing progress and signs of hope coming from the new White House, we're done pretending to care about each other. We still haven't agreed that childcare and elementary schools are more important than bars or that real children's childhoods are more important than adults' rights to party like Florida Man. Our culture of overwork and gross consumerism means that our lives aren't worth living if we're not willing to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of wage slavery and wasting most of our puny paychecks on disposable garbage, addictive substances, and numbing activities that make us so sick, poor, sad, and crazy that we can't help shopping for magic pills and chintzy gadgets that promise to alleviate the existential suffering of our pointless existences. Whew! (If this triggered you, scroll to the bottom of this post. I'm not kidding.) I still believe that we can rise above death cult capitalism, but we're not all going to make it there at the same time, if ever.
Think spring! Spring is here. Suicide season. Don't lower your guard; watch yourself and your family closely, and hold each other in care. This spring, the madness of crowds flouting public hygiene and human decency standards does not provide a mental health respite from the stress of quarantine, it makes everyone's mental health worse. And there's really no other upside either. Spitting on and sexually assaulting restaurant workers is not supporting the economy. Screaming about "freedom" while spraying your fellow citizens with face juice droplets is not public service. The return of FOMO and all of its glamorized stupidity is not therapeutic. Acting like everyone needs to make a choice between 100% isolation and 100% anarchy is not a useful decision-making framework. And none of that matters to anyone whose brains have been pickled by internet conspiracy theories. This spring, the world is a minefield for morons and a torment to the aware, who witness the tragedies unfolding and can't stop them.
This spring does bring us closer to a possible end of the pandemic with the rollout of vaccines and the hope for herd immunity. But I believe that also means we are now facing the big boss bad guy at the end of the game. I expect a large number of people to flame out tragically, right before they get to the finish line. It's frustrating because it's so preventable and pointless, and yet it's inevitable because our society was already sick before Covid-19 came along.
The dangerous wave of "spring fever" rising with the temperatures is not relieving our mental health crisis, it's amplifying it. I fully intend to enjoy this spring and every pocket of joy I can find in it. And that means doing my best to keep myself and my family alive and well and protected from the growing mobs of people who are losing control.
A whole lot of people need a whole lot of help right now, while trying to find a therapist has turned into The Hunger Games. Covid-19, reckless behavior, self-harming behavior, and aggression are all on the rise, and I have personally known people who have died of all four in the past year. Meanwhile, collective trauma caused by police violence, domestic violence, gendered violence, and racial violence against Asian Americans and other scapegoated groups has boiled over. Smoking, drinking, and opiate abuse have spiraled. And, because of all that and more, traffic deaths have risen by almost 25% per mile driven in just one year as people not winning their battles with substance and impulse control problems have taken over the roads.
No 2021 road trips for my family, thanks!
On top of considering apocalyptic traffic fatalities and outbreaks of mass violence, parents have additional burdens on making ethical decisions about what we can do this year because our preteen and younger children cannot be vaccinated until maybe 2022. Even if our children themselves aren't at high risk for serious illness, they can spread the virus around and help keep American society's new variant factory churning out tougher viruses that could potentially win the arms race against vaccines. And our understanding of "serious illness" should honestly extend beyond sick feelings and hospitalizations, because children infected with Covid-19 who aren't aware of experiencing any symptoms are showing serious heart, lung, and blood vessel damage and then long Covid syndrome. As a mother, I can't imagine any mathematical equation showing that skipping one more birthday party will somehow harm my child more than putting her at risk for organ damage.
Parents and caregivers of people who cannot be vaccinated are in a special web of catch-22 situations right now. First, there are many caregivers who don't have the ability to stay home and provide 100% of the care, so risk calculations are complicated. I am fortunate not to be in that situation--I can stay home 24/7 because I can work from home until I get vaccinated, and I have a spouse who can do all the errands.
And because of this privilege our family enjoys, we were able to make the choice to send our daughter to one last season of in-person education at her beloved elementary school, where they are following a thorough, tight set of safety protocols that give us the confidence that the benefit she receives there is worth the tiny risk. And at the same time, the risk of in-person school is nonzero (especially as community spread blows up in our area due to sportsballing and binge drinking establishments reopening under pressure by deranged idiots who would rather plot to kidnap the governor than go another day without their sports-and-drinking binkies), so my family has the responsibility to be even stricter about minimizing our exposure to other people outside of school. It's not fair, but it's unavoidable: My daughter has to give up a portion of her actual childhood because of mentally stunted adults throwing toddler tantrums. It enrages me, obviously, so I am trying to focus on other things so I don't have to dwell on it.
My solution: Think small, slow, and savory.
My family and I have learned new skills over the past year that will help us carry on until it is safe for us to resume non-essential public activities. We've become better cooks and home designers, so it's never been nicer to spend time at home. And we believe in science, so our nearest dear ones outside of our household are starting to get vaccinated! Soon our daughter will be reunited with her grandparents, and we might be able to enjoy dinners or beers with a select group of friends from 100%-vaccinated households by this summer. We are focusing on and looking forward to quiet, simple joys and quality time with a trusted circle of family and friends. We are setting aside fantasies of travel, parties, concerts, and festivals for the next year because we don't want to waste any emotional labor on setting ourselves up for disappointment or unnecessary tragedy. Why would we do that when this year could provide a sweet time of quiet, renewed intimacy with those most important to us?
With the new tools of vaccination and economic stimulus at our disposal, we can expand our lives a little bit this year, and we can have a 2021 that is better than 2020 was. But only if we keep our optimism tempered with realism and patience so that we don't smash into this spring like a bug into a zapper.
Below are my lists of how I am behaving the same or differently this spring compared to last, based on what actually has and has not changed since then.
what I'm still doing, just like last year:
- making my own espresso at home and watching the sun rise from my front porch
- "escaping" through novels and foreign films instead of physically traveling
- cooking and baking wonderful dinners in my own soon-to-be-renovated kitchen and my beautiful backyard with rustic fire pit
- going on family bike rides on walk/bike trails through beautiful nature settings, separated from motor traffic
- allowing my daughter to socialize with other kids outdoors, with masks on
- getting all the sleep I need, having blissfully forgotten what FOMO even feels like
- wearing comfortable, worn-in clothes
- taking 15 mg of CBD oil on nights when I feel anxious
what I'm doing differently:
- hiring professionals to complete repairs and renovations to the house
- socializing indoors with my vaccinated parents and a few other 100% vaccinated households
- walking my daughter to in-person school and hoping that this time, schools will be prioritized over non-essential entertainment and leisure industries as community infections spread
- gardening more extensively
- catching up on routine medical, dental, and optical appointments that I skipped in 2020
That's all! I've come to enjoy the simpler life that the pandemic forced me to adopt, and my home life keeps on getting better as the world outside continues its meltdowns. I prefer to let that nonsense run its course before I resume too much interaction with it. Maybe if we can all keep our expectations humble and hold onto a little bit of chill, we'll give ourselves the chance to accept this spring's gifts and new pleasures without tripping over ourselves and ruining everything at the last minute, wasting all the efforts of the past year.
Meanwhile, if you suspect that you or someone you know might be suicidal, please take it seriously. Spring is the time when suicidal thoughts and feelings can become most dangerous. Mayo Clinic offers this advice on how to support someone and how to protect yourself when you care for a person with suicidal thoughts.