To My Coronavirus Cohorts: An Essay

The summer before 7th grade, I read the book Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Ansderson, which is about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Since my parents live in the suburbs of Philly, it happened a little too close to home for comfort, albeit 200 years prior. I remember reading about the way the city slowly emptied, how people became very hesitant around each other, how people were isolated within their homes with little help, and how food was hard to come by. It’s not really close to what we’re experiencing now, with how widespread it is as well as how our communities are adapting - thanks scientific advances! Nonetheless that book is the first thing I thought of when the coronavirus started to sweep across the US. It has stayed on my mind since, drawing the parallels, marking the differences, realizing the changes occuring in me the same way the protagonist changed, slowly adjusting to a new way of living, never to be the same again.  

 It can’t be denied; in some way this pandemic has affected your life, and you probably don’t enjoy this much. If you’ve found a hobby, great! If you’re one of those who’ve become banana bread connoisseurs, even better, send some my way. But even if people aren’t sick or have much fear about getting sick, living in a pandemic isn’t easy on your nerves; this is a strange world we are in, and people react badly in scary, unknown situations. I am no exception to this. It’s been an absolute whirlwind of emotions for the last few weeks. At the one month mark of quarantine, I think I’m finally beginning to make sense of how I’m reacting. It’s been a lot of grief, and it’s because this is my worst nightmare. 

I mean this quite literally. I’ve always been scared of the unknown, because I have no power, no way of being in control to prepare. Tied in with fear of the unknown is fear of a national or worldwide historical event, such as a world war, or a pandemic. All my life I’ve been privileged to be safe and healthy. I’ve never once been in an instance where I feel my life has been in danger, and I am so thankful, yet so naive because of that. I’ve realized how lucky I’ve been, even with the pain and problems I have had. But because I’m an anxious person to my core, I’ve been silently waiting for the shoe to drop.  I’ve maintained a lot of horrible fantasies about how it would go down, maybe WW3, or that inevitable robot takeover, the fall of American democracy, alien invasion, giant tidal wave, I’ve had all the vivid dreams. Besides fear of injury or suffering to myself, I couldn’t ever really put a good name on what else scared me about such mass traumatic events. It all made a little more sense when I learned about cohort effects. A cohort is any group that shares social or historical experiences, and cohort effects are ways that psychologists study how people have been affected by said social or historical experiences. 9/11 is an example of an event that caused a cohort group affected by it; people from all walks of life were brought together through nothing else but loss and fear. I was scared of having something happen that was history book worthy happen, worried for the psychological effects that there would undoubtedly be, and for how life would never, ever, be the same.

It’s kind of silly and sad to put into words, but sometimes I feel like I'm suddenly running on new software that I never accepted the update for. There’s no way I can go back to the old software, except I can’t figure out how anything works and I hate it.  This feeling sucks and I’ve come to realize when I feel like this I’ve become depressed. I began to recognize my procrastination, lethargy, higher than normal levels of anxiety, feelings of hopelessness as a pattern of depression. Recognizing when it was happening was difficult for a long time, but since I have gotten older it’s been better. I acknowledge what I’m going through, and start to gain perspective about how I know that this will pass. This isn’t a self-help article, simply what I’ve gone through and how I’ve noticed that I help myself through depression. 

Just a week or so ago it finally all clicked for me that this pandemic and the resulting isolation in quarantine actually has really affected me. For the first few weeks I was considering myself okay, a little bored during the day but overall alright. As the weeks went on I wasn’t adapting the way I thought I was, and I was so scared and focused on how the world has changed that I wasn’t functioning well day to day. I wasn’t ready for this pandemic. Or for the way it affected my life. Safe to say that none of us really were, right? But I was thrown for such a loop because I couldn’t accept reality. It was staring me in the face that this was a big enough event to go down as a major trauma event, something that would be remembered in history in a similar way to other events that shaped past generations. 

 As soon as I had that thought though, I corrected myself. Because despite the millions of deaths worldwide, this event is not the end that I was making it out to be. Life is adapting in lots of ways, and the power of a video chat is still strong enough to uplift your spirits if you’re looking for a social outlet. There have also been reports of better environmental conditions as there are less emissions being produced due to quarantine and the closure of many industries. Restaurants in my area have been coming together to support each other, as well as working with the community to send food donations to local hospitals. Other industries are raising money to donate to food pantries, homeless shelters, and even fundraising to donate gifts to the countless bored children. Here I’ve been worried we would all be falling apart when in some ways the world is coming together more than ever. 

I can no longer ignore the ways the word has changed, and I am finally ready to accept that this world has changed. But the change isn't quite the nightmare that I expected. I’m not going to now be one of the people urging everyone to get a hobby, or be super productive, because everyone is going through this differently, and it may take some people longer to adjust. Some may not gain insight on how they really felt about it til months after the fact. However I will be able to say, hopefully and faithfully. that this will pass, and that what we need to do is focus on how we can all strengthen our relationships with those we love, people within our communities, and around the world.