I don’t say this judgmentally, we’d have to be crazy not to be feeling a bit crazy right now. We don’t talk about it much, but we are all stretched to the breaking point from two years (and counting) of a politically weaponized (talk about insanity…) highly infectious pandemic that began toward the end of the angrily divisive reign of a malignant narcissist troll, who came to power in the final act of a well-organized, almost complete, decades-in-the-making radical right wing coup that now defends white mob violence, justified by bold, insane lies. The shit storm blows not only here, but there and everywhere. We puny earthlings are facing scary uncertainties related to interlocking global crises, as the great state of Texas sets new records for Christmas temperature (a balmy 82 degrees F) and rolling back constitutional rights.
The newspapers and TV don’t dwell on the cascading crisis of mental health, an unaddressed epidemic of anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief, loss, fear, moodiness, hopelessness, anger and aggression as deadly as any of the other crises facing all of us these days.
Every so often an article is published laying out the scope of our observable epidemic of mental health troubles. The New York Times found, after surveying more than a thousand therapists, that therapists are starting to burn out (though the survey didn’t ask that), like Covid overwhelmed doctors, nurses and hospital staff, and are very concerned about their freaked out patients (and, presumably, the masses of freaked out mental health deniers). Read the Grey Lady’s article to find out Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Right Now. The survey respondents reported that demand for therapy has surged, waiting lists are long, medication needs have increased, children’s mental health issues are intensifying, couples are struggling, the outlook for 2022 remains bleak. Here’s a slice:
While there were moments of optimism about telemedicine and reduced stigma around therapy, the responses painted a mostly grim picture of a growing crisis, which several therapists described as a “second pandemic” of mental health problems.
“There is so much grief and loss,” said Anne Compagna-Doll, a clinical psychologist in Burbank, Calif. “One of my clients, who is usually patient, is experiencing road rage. Another client, who is a mom of two teens, is fearful and doesn’t want them to leave the house. My highly work-motivated client is considering leaving her career. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise and fatigue.”
The Washington Post recently chimed in with an article called The pandemic has caused nearly two years of collective trauma. Many people are near a breaking point. The article begins:
An airplane passenger is accused of attacking a flight attendant and breaking bones in her face. Three New York City tourists assaulted a restaurant host who asked them for proof of vaccination against the coronavirus, prosecutors say. Eleven people were charged with misdemeanors after they allegedly chanted “No more masks!” and some moved to the front of the room during a Utah school board meeting.
Across the United States, an alarming number of people are lashing out in aggressive and often cruel ways in response to policies or behavior they dislike.
“I think people just feel this need to feel powerful, in charge and connected to someone again,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Fla., who said she has faced harassment.
Most people I know are near the breaking point, not that my circle is given to busting up tyrannical restaurants, assaulting flight attendants or giving Nazi salutes at school board meetings. I’m closer to the breaking point than I like to be. Are you as calm and dispassionate, and filled with gratefulness and occasional joy, as you like to be? If so, my hat’s off to you, though I’m also leaving the door open in case you suddenly pick up a weapon.
Then, as we know, since fear and uncertainty are such terrible emotions to sit with, many turn to anger and the certainty of righteousness a good, boiling rage always brings. Check out this Washington Post headline (and the article is a gift to you from the ever generous Jeff Bezos) Anger at Covid drives GOP lawmakers in Red States, which has since been re-titled: Anger over mask mandates, other covid rules, spurs states to curb power of public health officials (tendentious subtitle: Republican lawmakers pass laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health.)
And really, who among us does not have the right to be fucking furious at a persistent disease that keeps morphing and spreading, with deadly effect, among people who find it as enraging as being told what to do? And, also, you know, as bad as the disease itself, and as infuriating — fuck those fucking so-called public health official Nazi fucks and their goddamned liberty-infringing “mitigation strategies.”
It is good to keep in mind, as we walk through this shattered landscape we are all living in today, that we are all at a breaking point and every one of us needs to treat each other with an exceptional amount of mercy. Few of us are at our best during prolonged, draining periods of terror and uncertainty.
Yes, crisis is supposedly viewable as opportunity (I think that Chinese ideogram meme has been debunked) but it is also a high wire act we’re forced to perform, without a net, over broken glass and everything that ever caused a nightmare. Remember very few of us were ever taught how to deal with fear, with anger, with terror. We learned by example: pretend to be fearless, deny anger (and attack the fucking accuser) and as for terror, the word speaks for itself.
This horror show too will eventually pass. Most likely. Denying the scope of our mutual suffering helps nobody. Of course, the mainstream right-wing/corporate bloc in the Senate will block debate on any proposed government efforts to fund mental health care, or any kind of health care, for that matter ($100,000,000 in this year’s military budget for bands to play John Philips Sousa marches is one thing — your fucking personal problems are another).
Being aware of the fearful situation we are all in, as we try to understand the suddenly intensified insanity of everyone around us, can only help. It certainly can’t hurt. And every little act of mercy, and everything else that doesn’t hurt, tends to help.
Reminds me of what a kindly old drug dealer told me, many years ago on a Greyhound bus in Boston, after I declined his offer of a selection of drugs. Seeing my crutches on the seat next to me, and my bandaged foot, he asked if my foot hurt. I told him it did. He handed me a single percoset, on the house, which I thanked him for. “Enjoy it, baby. Like I said, if I can’t help, I don’t hurt” and he smiled, heading up the aisle to his seat.