I am a worrier and I overthink — it’s my default setting. Not thinking about it and not worrying are not options for me. I literally know no other way. It’s problematic and frustrating. At times it is debilitating. It costs me a lot of time and means I am almost always in a constant state of fear and alert… anxiety. I tie myself in knots, going round and round and over and over everything and anything, again and again.
I’ve been told that this makes me hyper-aware, vigilant, and careful. I’ve been told that it is a self-safety mechanism that protects me from the outside world and all its potential dangers… I’d beg to differ — this is probably only true to an extent, and then it becomes limiting, entrapping, and just plain difficult. All I know for sure is that my brain does not cope well with heightened societal anxiety. My sense of “grounding” and my basis of “normal” anxiety levels are lost.
Coronavirus terrifies me. As someone who worries about things that do not even exist and have never happened, my brain does not cope well with “real” threats. This becomes increasingly challenging when society as a whole is, essentially, being told to be fearful, suspicious, and hyper-aware.
Let’s just allow ourselves a moment to view Coronavirus from a fairly chilled position: You’re in good health overall, the virus still feels a long way away. You watch the news, you take in the government advice, but on the whole, your life is pretty normal, as it used to be. Now, if you are a “normal” level of anxiety type of person, this is probably okay. You wash your hands more, and better, you use a hand sanitiser, you cover your mouth if you cough, and you are generally more “aware.” You do not become obsessed, or overly fearful. You have the absolute bliss of being able to take it day by day.
And then things step it up a bit (a whole lot). Italy is in lockdown. Trump bans flights from Europe. Ireland closes schools. So now, as a “normal” level of anxiety type of person, you may start to worry a bit more about the Coronavirus. This thing is real. And no one really knows quite what it’s going to take, or when it’s going to stop. You start to worry about the elderly, the vulnerable, and the capacity of the health system.
The focus, on the whole, tends to be economical and based on the practicalities and potential disruption: Should we be working from home? What about childcare if schools are closed? What about upcoming exams? And what about the holidays we’ve booked and paid for? Just how drastically should we be changing our lives right now? And does our government have a clue what it is doing? These anxieties are very real. They’re being discussed on the streets, and in empty supermarket aisles. The impact is huge.
As an anxious person, my fear around Coronavirus, ironically, isn’t so much about becoming ill. Instead, my fear is around my grandparents getting sick, and what that could mean. Secondly, my fear is the impact something like Corona would have on my mental health — which is fragile at best. I fear uncertainty.
The concept of “taking it day by day” is not one I can deal with, especially when it comes to the Coronavirus. I need plans and routines. It is, on a fundamental level, what keeps me alive and how I manage my anxiety. Moreover, I need contact with health professionals, as “check-in points.” I am reliant on public transport. I spend as much of my time “out of the house” as possible, because I need to keep busy and focused. My eating disorder makes the prospect of sitting around all day truly terrifying and affects my food shopping habits — both of these would be complicated were I unable to leave the house.
I cannot bear the thought of being in self-quarantine. It is bad enough not being able to escape my own mind, let alone be stuck in one place indefinitely! I have a weakened immune system, and I know that getting sick massively knocks me. Moreover, I have spent time in hospitals, and the thought of being stuck indoors for long periods rings far too close. I need fresh air and I need to be around people. Every day I do not spend in the world, it becomes that bit harder to be in the world.
On a fundamental level, the driving anxiety is the fear of the unknown. No one knows when it will end – open-endedness is another massive fear of mine. And, I guess, to an extent, that’s somewhat more “manageable” if your “base level” or “starting anxiety” isn’t already peaking.
For the time being, in the here and now, I am trying to continue as “normal.” It is all I can do. I am trying not to become obsessed with following the news too closely. I am being mindful of what I am touching and I’m using even more antibacterial gel than usual. Moreover, I am trying to trust that the government and the health organisations know what they are doing. I am trying to remember that phones are a thing and that my fear of phone calls does not have to trap me. I am trying to remember to breathe, even though doing so fills me with fear. One day at a time. I can do this.