I’ve been trying to make sense of the insanity of humanity during this year of isolation and loss. Of course, a pandemic will do unusual things to all of us. Stress, anxiety, confusion, anger, sadness. All to the extreme. The end results are groups turning against other groups, individuals lashing out at other individuals, political parties retreating to their corners and ending civil dialogue, countries going it alone, the breakdown of connectedness.
When living beings experience threat and danger, they can either fight or flee. This is on full display in the US. The activities in the public square, the peaceful and violent ones, are about fight. Fight the injustices, fight the long and painful discrimination, fight the system. Fight the encroaching “others”, fight the progressive cultural trends, fight the shifting sands. One camp wants to face the truth of the past to create a different future. The other wants to create a future that looks like the past. Both groups fear extinction and are fighting for their survival.
Those that are in flight mode are hidden from view. You won’t see them in the streets or in any public forum. They are hunkered down in their homes struggling with the same fears about how to survive. Depression, suicidal thoughts, addictions, deteriorating mental health have put these people on the edge of extinction as well. Each day challenges their inner resolve to make it to the next day.
These individual and group worries, fears, resentments, and fragilities existed long before this past year. Our history, institutions, divisions and discord are woven into the fabric of this country. The pandemic just blew the lid off. The stress released the expression of what was just below the surface. Indignation and rage over the mistreatment of people of color was met with the eruption of verbal and physical violence against people of color. The insistence on letting science guide us out of this crisis was met with rageful denial of science. The march for all people to share the same rights and access was met with legislation to prevent just that. Concerns about the liberalization of cultural norms was met with derision.
The expression of these worries has been wrapped up in political, constitutional, or philosophical language. It is a fight for democracy as defined by each camp. But this craziness is more about unstable mental health expressed through the lens of isms. One group personalizes their pain and points to our history and institutions as the root cause. The other side expresses their pain by raging at individuals or social trends. Each group is battling to dominate the other, thus regaining a sense of control and equilibrium. From that desired place, the thinking goes, hope will return, and depression will lift.
Sadly, winning the fight will not bring calm or reestablish good mental health. Fight begets more fight begets more fight. To resolve the emotional crisis, we need to stop looking outside ourselves and turn inward. And that feels scarier to most of us. That feels like a dark, bottomless pit that may take us into corners we’d rather avoid. Fighting provides energy and distraction from the true source of our anxieties and fears. As they say in AA, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” We can’t make the virus disappear, but we can wear masks and get vaccinated. We can’t stop the changing demographics, but we can shift our point of view about it. We can’t persuade others to follow our political leanings, but we can listen better to our differences.
These world events are most certainly overwhelming and distressing. They are wreaking havoc on our well-being. Most of us vacillate between fight and flight on a daily or hourly basis. It is challenging to rediscover a healthy homeostasis. And being isolated is compounding the panic. Ordinarily, being with loved ones or engaging in shared activities (work, exercise, vacations) pulls us out of our depressing moments and we feel better. Now we are gathering on screens and platforms that amplify the darker, scarier, crazier elements. We are swamped by too much questionable input. But sitting at home, in front of our screens, we are ranting into space to alleviate that sense of impending doom. Again, anger is fuel. And if you are worried about sinking into a hole, anger can jettison you out of it. It sure beats getting sucked under.
I can’t claim to know how to resolve the macro issues our country faces. For sure, it’s hardly surprising that the primordial ooze that is the underbelly of the United States has been unleashed in recent years. But I do think we need to reframe this moment so we can move forward. We have all, individually, gone crazy. For some, the response was to fight, to assert power, to scream from the mountain tops, to howl at the moon. For others, the response was to retreat, to crawl back into bed and pull the covers up. Neither of these are visions of great mental health.
So, the sane response would be to take personal responsibility to get right. Stop going down kooky rabbit holes that don’t pass the commonsense sniff test. Stop screaming at people. Get a grip on your anger. Find healthier energy sources. Get medications if the darkness is pervasive and persistent. Stop threatening or inflicting violence on others. Come back to reality by focusing on factual information, science and moderation. Stop trying to assert power over others and start sharing again. Learn methods for calming yourself. Stop seeing everything in absolutes and extremes. Remember that living is all about nuance and kindness and generosity. Find ways to reconnect in caring, humane ways.
We must stop being crazy. We must remember that we are all just human beings. We are made of the same stuff and want the same things. We want to love ourselves, be loved by others and feel a sense of community and connection. We each need to rediscover our own humanity and recognize the same in others. That’s the only way back to sanity.