When the solution becomes the problem

How do you handle fear? It’s one of the most basic human emotions, and something that we all experience from time to time. Right now, I would guess that more of the world than usual is feeling it on a regular basis.

I don’t know if there’s a “right” way to handle fear, I only know my way: planning, control, and facts. When I’m scared about a new medical test or a current flare or even something not health-related, I deal with it by focusing on the facts, and making plans for what might happen. That allows me to feel in control, which in turn reduces the fear. It’s not perfect, but mostly it works.

Right now, that’s not possible. We have few facts; this is a disease that didn’t exist in humans just a few months ago. The facts that we think we know, keep changing. It also depends on which experts we ask.

Making plans makes things worse. One downside to being a planner is that I’m great at looking 10 steps ahead. I read a lot, so I understand a lot about the world, not just in terms of the pandemic but in general. On top of that, I’m smart. I’m also a logical thinking, very left-brained. Put all of that together, and I have some very clear ideas about where the world might be headed. I have multiple scenarios in mind, based on what actions are/aren’t taken and what so-called facts turn out to be true or false. None of them are good, though some are worse than others. Unfortunately, so far my predictions (made 2 weeks ago) have been accurate.

Not only is making plans very difficult, but there’s another wrinkle: they don’t help. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make the situation in the world any better. There is nothing I can do to make it so that I can sooner see my family or my friends, go out socially, date, have sex. Nothing.

The best I can do is make plans to keep myself alive and healthy. So far I am doing that through day-to-day actions. There are no long-term plans to be made. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing: staying in my apartment, carefully cleaning the groceries that my neighbor brings to me, leaving my mail to sit in the corner of my home for a week (I’m cautious and also not that interested in the mail.) My “plans” involve planning meals, ordering extras of my prescriptions in advance, choosing ebooks to download, and texting friends to stay in touch. Those are not long term things.

Looking at “facts” is not only unhelpful, it’s incredibly stressful. It makes me feel a lot worse. Ditto for making plans. I never tell anyone my predictions because I don’t want to upset anyone, but they aren’t great. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. But in the meantime, having those thoughts in my head only makes things worse. Even as I type this, I am being careful not to think about anything in detail.

So what’s the answer? For me, it’s focusing on the day-to-day. As a planner, that has always been incredible difficult. I thrive on thinking about the future, not only to handle fear, but also to increase excitement about fun things to come, to work out solutions to problems, and more. Avoiding thinking about the future is taking a real effort.

I like reading the news, but right now that’s stressful. Still, I don’t want to avoid the world, and there are other things happening. So I am reading the headlines every day, and trying to only read articles that are not pandemic-related. I am not succeeding 100%, but the reduction has still helped immensely.

When family and friends talk about the pandemic, it’s hard not to get drawn in. I have always been political, so it’s hard not to get sucked into conversations about the way our politicians are handling things. But since I hugely disagree with almost everything they are doing, yet have no ability to change it, this upsets me again. Whenever these topics come up, I try to change the subject. Again, I do not succeed 100% of the time, but any reduction is helpful. I am trying.

Focusing on the day-to-day can be especially hard when so little else is happening. When I talk to someone and ask, “What’s new?” they don’t have much to say. I am trying to focus instead on question like, “What have your kids been doing to stay busy?” “What are you reading right now?” “What shows or movies have you been watching?” It helps a lot to have something else to talk about, and it gives me ideas of shows and movies to watch. For my part, I tell them about the books I’m currently reading, the bird that’s building a nest outside my window, or anything else I can think of on a neutral topic. I ask about their families and tell them about mine.

This is hard. There is nothing about this situation that is easy for anyone. I am alone, and not being around other people is hard. Others are with families that are crowding them and they need time alone. Yet others are in unhealthy home environments are need to leave but can’t. We are scared. Kids aren’t learning. People are losing their jobs or becoming overworked. There’s a lot of stress out there. So yes, it’s damn hard.

That’s why I am focused so much on taking it one day at a time. It doesn’t fix anything in the long term, but it makes this manageable for me in the short term. For now, that needs to be enough.

And one more thing: when I need to, I have a good cry. Because that’s ok, too.

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