This is not a very uplifting subject. With the current pandemic some of us are coming to grips with fear in a deeper way than we have before. What level of personal risks are we willing to live with? We are forced to choose between work and health, vacation and health and sending our kids out to school where they can get sick and bring the disease home. I have this theory, that doesn’t seem to be supported by research, that each of us has a set point or threshold of fear.
My theory hypothesizes that the pandemic with 175,000 deaths and over 5.5 million cases in the US poses a threat to ourselves, family and friends. This fear, which causes anxiety, which causes depression, which causes fight or flight. And break down from that fear is different for each person. There are some independent variables like some people don’t understand the risk from the virus. And when you see one of those people who have come off their potential deathbed and say “This virus is REAL!” with a deep seeded fear in their eyes, you know they just didn’t understand the risk.
And then there are the levels of knuckleheads that New Jersey’s Governor referred to. They just believe they are bullet proof and it can’t happen to them. It was demonstrated by the rock group Smash Mouth mocking the coronavirus at the Sturgis South Dakota biker rally. As their song “All Star” says; “You’re not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
I hope the readers don’t assume that Governors who are pushing the kids back into the classroomwith inadequate safety precautions and the opening of churches with no protection are just people who are not “scaredy cats.” They are pushing people into harm’s way and they aren’t taking the risks.
We have reason to be afraid as we still don’t have enough testing and may be the last developed country to get the virus under control. It seems our strategy is to throw money at pharmaceutical companies and say “Fix This”.
I feel sure you can increase your threshold for fear. I wonder if the reason the “greatest generation” was so great was because they went through WWII. After experiencing that level of personal risk everything after that must have beendownhill. My four tours to Vietnam developed a sense of “it is what it is” and surviving through it.
I still remember coming on the ship’s bridge for my mid-watch and seeing the new scoreboard; “69 and a wake-up to PH”(our return to home port, Pearl Harbor). There is a cost with living with that level of fear/anxiety/depression, as even today with an all-volunteer military we average 20 military suicides a day.
That effect may translate to the pandemic as we are all experiencing depression but when the virus is brought under control and we still have the economic aftermath and high unemployment it may fester. Suicides have risen 35% in the US since 2000 and the increase accelerated after the 2008 financial crisis. It is very possible that we will see it continue to increase in the next few years.
What is this fear? It is common knowledge that when people are asked, they usually say they are more afraid of public speaking than of death. Think about it, that means that when you are at a funeral most of the people there would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
The most depressing insight I have seen about fear is the story of the Evangelical Bishop Carlton Pearson. He is one of the great gifted preachers of my generation and he came to the conclusion that the Bible was not the inspired word of God, but the inspired word of Man about God. And that God would not torture the innocent non-believers who never heard the gospel.
Carlton realized that we are all loved by God with agape, an unrequited love that saves us all. There is no hell. When he brought this insight back to his mega congregation the effect of taking away the fear of an everlasting damnation… Well, watch the movie about his experience on Netflix “Come Sunday”. You can guess it didn’t go well.
The book on mental illness (DSM-5) has fear as a disease, a phobia, which fall into five broad categories:
• Animals, such as a fear of spiders, dogs, or bugs
• The natural environment, such as a fear of heights or storms
• Blood, injury, and injection, such as a fear of needles or medical procedures
• Situational, such as a fear of flying or riding in elevators
• Others, such as a fear of vomiting or choking
So during the pandemic people with phobias are saying;“I told you so!” Seven to 9 percent of Americans experience a specific phobia in a given year, and women experience phobias twice as often as men do. When we have one phobia it is common to have multiple fears: three-quarters of those diagnosed with a phobia have more than one.
An uplifting story to me was a telemedicine visit this past week and the doctor asked the patient how she was doing and she said; “I’m good” and he said; “No you’re not! You’re depressed. We are all depressed- the pandemic, the economy, the politics!” And she said; “Well, yes; but other than that I’m OK.” And they laughed.
It is said; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Then our country is going to become very strong. The pandemic should “only” kill about the same number of Americans as obesity does every year.Let’s hope we understand what others are feeling, build our coping skills and become stronger. This too shall pass.