– Good day to you!
It is Wednesday, April 22, 2020. After months of preparing to open my private practice and writing down notes for blog articles on little scraps of paper, I’m finally sitting down at the desk in my creative studio (an old woodshed my wife and I converted into a space for magic and fun!). I’m saying hello to an old friend of mine, my trusty laptop on which I typed my dissertation. And I’m finally going to write the first article for The Quiet Contemplation in earnest.
Despite my enthusiasm to begin writing this intro article, I must note this cannot be the introduction to the blog that I originally intended. You are reading this article at some point in the future, maybe a month or two from now. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely still affecting our everyday lives. However, the present day is sadly the explosion point COVID-19. We have lost 47,750 of my countrymen and women here in the United States as of the first-draft writing of this sentence. To put the magnitude of what we face in perspective, when I grabbed my laptop to come out to type, we were at 47,634. I’m only writing the second paragraph.
Update: As of posting the article, we have lost
I would be remiss in writing a blog about psychology and motivation to exclude commentary on the devastating effects on mental health that we as a people are suffering on a global scale during this grave time. Consequently, as noted above, this cannot be the introduction I planned.
I’m reminded of the documentary that accompanied the All This Time DVD of Sting’s concert at his home in Tuscany from 2001.
I was fortunate enough to have filmed Sting for a project of mine after we struck up a conversation in Central Park one day. He’s an incredibly thoughtful and insightful man. His concert was set for September 11.
The documentary crew captured Sting and his band rehearsing for the performance to be held that evening. During rehearsal, someone came in and alerted them about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Everyone immediately crowded round the television and watched in horror, as did millions of people around the globe, as the towers fell.
Sting and the band discussed whether or not to continue on with the concert, ultimately deciding to indeed play that night to show the terrorists responsible for the attack they had not succeeded in their ultimate goal of paralyzing the people of the world. Before he sang, Sting mentioned while this was supposed to be a joyous night, it could not be the joyous occasion he had planned.
On the other side of the world in New York City, while Sting and his band watched the television, yours truly, a then resident of the city that never sleeps, stood down at the World Trade Center watching through his camera lens, filming the catastrophic event as it unfolded.
You see in those days, my first life I call it, I was a filmmaker. I watched on the news that morning as the second plane hit, after which I grabbed my camera bag and sped downtown on foot as fast as I could while a stampede of people raced in the opposite direction as the towers fell like something out of a Michael Bay disaster flick. Ash rained from the sky, blanketing everyone and everything. Papers flitted through the dusty air high above where the towers once formed an indelible
section of the New York skyline. Pieces of the building lay scattered on the ground. Off to the west there was a horrific rumbling. This signified the end of 7 World Trade Tower, which was reportedly struck by fiery debris from the North Tower and resulted in its collapse. Plumes of smoke rose into the air when 7 dropped and added to the shattered landscape of downtown New York.
Capturing the devastation as it unfolded through the lens of a camera provided a distance for me. I filmed the aftermath. I interviewed terrified people throughout the remainder of the day. But I never felt anything. No fear. No anxiety. Chaos surrounded me, yet I experienced no emotion. Panicked New Yorkers unable to yet comprehend the magnitude of what occurred whooshed by me. Many weeping. All scarred.
I was scarred. I just didn’t know it.
The first post-9/11 disaster movie, at least that I can recall, was released a few years laters in a particularly cold and windy January. Cloverfield is a scifi/horror film about a colossal monster who descends upon New York City and leaves death and destruction in its wake. The monster levels the city in that movie. I wept in the theater while watching. I wept on the walk home. I called my then wife after leaving the theater, having difficulty telling her what I was experiencing while I attempted to speak through a trembling throat. It was the aftershocks of 9/11 finally coming home.
The New Monster
Many years have passed and I’m happily living my second life. Yet a new monster has descended upon us. I’m not prone to anxiety, though it has certainly sprinkled in on various moments in my life. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has rattled me. I’m having difficulty sleeping. I feel unfocused. We’ll discuss bullet journals in a future article, but it’s all I can do to check off the boxes in mine each day. I rarely succeed in accomplishing all the tasks I’ve outlined. And that’s the reality of our new world.
Anxiety has spiked at an extraordinary level, and how could it not? We are not only facing a virus of which we have no control and no vaccine, however, in this last month alone 26 million people have lost their jobs and the economy has been shattered.
Update: As of this posting:
jobs have been lost
At best, we will be in a deep recession, though many analysts predict another Great Depression.
People are hurting. People are terrified. People are dying alone because their loved ones are not able to be with them in the hospital during those precious closing moments of their lives. I’m tearing up just writing this. I cannot imagine the depth of pain one must experience knowing their wife/husband/father/mother is dying in a hospital, doctors and nurses swirling round as they try to keep up with the new cases flooding the halls. It’s a cold, lonely way to die.
The Totality of COVID-19
We unfortunately live in an age in which science and medicine are denied by a select but very loud few, which leads to further confusion, chaos, and the extension of what might have been contained had those in charge acted appropriately when the pandemic began. The mounting death toll does not even begin to explain the entire narrative of COVID-19’s devastation.
I’m struck by the exclusions in the daily reporting of death for any given day. The collateral damage appears to have been entirely ignored; those who have died because they’ve been turned away from overflowing hospitals or haven’t been able to receive proper care even through telehealth. These people did not die directly from the virus, however, they were indeed casualties because before the pandemic, they would have received the needed attention and medicine to save their lives. These deaths are related to the virus akin to a person suffering from second hand smoke.
And then we come to my wheelhouse: mental health. The collective spike of anxiety is sure to claim deaths down the road either from suicide or the deadly effect that sustained anxiety can have on the immune system, a topic on which we will go into depth in a future article. Finally, there has been a massive surge in alcohol sales; a reported 55 percent increase a few weeks ago (Bremner, 2020). This is likely a result of people attempting to blot out the pain, self-medicating with the very substance that leads to further mental health decline, and consequently, furthers the chance of immunosupression.
We look around the world now and so much has changed. The NBA was the first major sport to suspend the 2020 season after a few players tested positive for COVID. Soon after, the NHL season was suspended, and the MLB season, set to begin a week later, was postponed. Rock concerts and social events have been canceled. Movie theaters shut down. Non-essential retail stores have been put on the sidelines, and I’m not sure when you’ll be taking your wife out for date night at a restaurant or a wine bar.
I recall the halcyon days of yore when I would peruse a book store for hours and I wonder when I’ll be able to do so again safely.
My weekly outing is a hunting and gathering pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s to top off our supply of fresh veggies, fruits, fish and meat. I also grab sunflowers and champagne for my wife because although I cannot take her to a wine bar, I can take the wine bar to her for date night. However, a Trader Joe’s run does not look or feel like it had even 5
They open the doors between 8am and 9am only to seniors. I arrive at 830am to stand on line and wait to be let in with the rest of the young-ins’. Only 50 people at a time are allowed to enter and shop, and when the rest of us wait outside, we stand on pieces of tape spaced out 6 feet apart per CDC recommendation. I stand on line, mask on my face, medical gloves on my hands and wait patiently for my turn to shop.
One’s eyes are swept toward massive drapes of clear plastic hanging from the ceiling between the customers and their cashiers at checkout once inside the store. We are no longer allowed to assist in bagging our groceries.
The most basic activity has been altered during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes picking up a prescription for my wife at the pharmacy in our hospital. It was tents, tables and temperature taking outside before I was allowed to enter the building. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a sticker that read “thriving” on it, placed with pride on my t-shirt. We live in a science fiction movie.
COVID-19: Genesis of The Perfect Storm
It is these images and memories described above that are now burned in our brains, stored in our collective unconscious, as Jung would say. And it is these very images, these long-lasting, life-changing vignettes in our mind that spark the genesis of anxiety. This is the topic of our time.
The other day we heard of a top ER doctor in New York City who took her life after facing a month of non-stop horror at her hospital. While she worked on the front lines and watched the virus claim its innocent victims as they died alone on a daily basis, millions of us have been glued to social media and the television watching the death toll mount and hearing the stories of those we’ve lost.
We know all too well it could be us or the people we love adding to that dark statistic.
This has led so many across the world to feel hopeless, just as the ER doctor must have felt. The number one predictor of suicide is hopelessness, after all. The relentless stream of horrific news about the pandemic, the loss of jobs, and the collapsing economy has created the perfect storm for the collapse our collective mental health.
So this brings us back to the main event, the topic of this very blog: psychology and motivation. I envisioned The Quiet Contemplation as a place where we all gather. I write some ideas out, offer up a guide for you to work on whatever it is you’re going through and seeking to explore, and then pass it your way right here in the articles. And of course, you get to write to me, down in the comments section or by email if you’d like, and share what you came up with.
It’s in times like these when the sharing of ideas on the how’s and why’s of life become all the more important.
So I hope you’ll check in every now and then to see what I’ve written for you. I’ll be covering virtually every topic related to psychology and motivation, as these are the very foundations of my life and that which keeps the fire burning for me. Til we meet again…