Expecting the Worst Helps Me Deal with Coronavirus Fears

fears anxiety coronavirus

Graphic via Desirée Tapias

By Yehudit Mam

April 25, 2020

We are living in an unrecognizable world. If we name our fears, maybe we can do something about them.

It’s been over a month into staying at home, and I wake up every morning with a knot of anxiety. Strangely, it dispels when I look at the empty streets out my window. The quiet streets and the untouched storefronts of my New York City neighborhood are reassuring. My fellow New Yorkers are sensible people. We are obeying orders. We understand that our most precious freedom is the freedom to be alive. We look for one another by getting the hell out of the way. 

Coronavirus is an invisible enemy and its destruction is hard to grasp. We read and hear about the chaos in hospitals and nursing homes but we don’t see it unless it hits close to home. 

I am by nature a catastrophic thinker. The idea is, when you expect the worst, you can deal with it when and if it happens. Hence, I am naming my fears to be better able to face them. Feel free to add your own. 

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Around mid-March, my sister’s primary fear was that the internet was going to collapse because everyone would be at home, streaming up a storm. Soon, things got truly scary as we learned that COVID-19 can be far more vicious than the flu. But this fear we can do something about. Stay home as much as possible, wear a mask in public, maintain social distancing (let’s be real, six feet no es nada), wash our hands maniacally. This gives us a measure of control and helps keep others safe. 

With everything closed and everyone off the streets, the homeless are in a desperate situation and they have come up with a solution for safe donations. They attach a wire to a cup so that you can give money while observing social distancing. If you see a homeless person, be kind. It could be any one of us. This leads me to think of the millions of people who have suddenly found themselves without an income. Will they be evicted from their homes? Will this be like the Great Depression? I hope this won’t precipitate a Third World War. 

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Will rising crime turn New York and other major cities back to the days of rampant mayhem? I sure hope not. The fact that people are buying guns like it’s going out of style is not very reassuring. On the other hand, no sign of looting yet, which is a comfort. 

Living in the richest and most powerful country on earth soothes me not. As we are finding out, under our version of extreme capitalism, we’re pretty much on our own. People better not get sick, because if they lose their jobs, they will be further bankrupted.

Instead of keeping our public institutions and infrastructure in good health, the Republicans have been strangling them to death. We can see the effects of their wanton destruction in a compromised CDC or the appalling spectacle of states and hospitals fighting for basic supplies. About this, there is also something we can do. Now that we are at home, if we can, let’s support local Democratic candidates; let’s start thinking how each one of us will mobilize to overturn the Republican chokehold on our country. 

A month ago, this was not a fear that crossed my mind, but now it’s giving me the shivers: very stupid people, some of them armed to the teeth, are willing to die (and kill) for their right to get a haircut. They have defied the orders of responsible governors, and our deranged president is encouraging them to revolt against their states.

We have to keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans are safeguarding themselves, and that, even if the media makes them look like legions, they are the lunatic fringe. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t rend my garments if these “freedom fighters” all get sick as long as they don’t take healthy nurses and doctors with them. I am in mortal dread of human stupidity. 

My darkest fear is that this is a perfect opportunity for Trump and his enablers to continue dismantling our democracy. They are doing their best to chip away at it: Wisconsin’s Supreme Court forced people to vote in person (which backfired spectacularly), Trump lies that mail-in ballots are fraudulent, Attorney General Barr condones the political persecution of people who are doing their jobs. Our constitutional rights are under attack and November is a long way away. 

Finally, I have some less urgent but no less profound fears. What will happen to the leisure and culture that we enjoy together in parks, cinemas, museums, concert halls, stadiums, and restaurants? This may seem banal, but it is what keeps us civilized. We will eventually go back to some semblance of normality if our government can finally get its act together on massive testing. But what will normal look like? 

As for what we can do ourselves, let’s use our fears to our advantage. Let’s imagine a better normal. Let’s use this time to reflect on what each one of us can do for a cleaner environment, a stronger democracy, a better safety net for all Americans. We are not powerless. We can turn this around. Let’s change our fears to hopes. 

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