By Pauline Kerr
As measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 continue, we are all conscious these are not normal times.
Hoarding toilet paper? Shunning neighbours? Calling the authorities because three or four teenagers were seen walking together? Definitely not normal.
Humans did not evolve as solitary creatures. Our survival as a species depended, and continues to depend on our ability to communicate and co-operate with others. And yet our physical health is now dependent on actions that most of us find highly unnatural – avoiding contact with others of our species, maintaining a physical distance between friends and neighbours, isolating ourselves at home. This is behavior that in happier times would raise alarms about a person’s mental health.
Add to that the real fear of contracting a potentially deadly disease, combined with worries about one’s personal financial situation and that of our entire country. There are all kinds of other stresses, not the least of which is trying to work from home. Many of us have become quite familiar with the experience of an important phone call getting interrupted by a child wailing that he has to go to the bathroom.
Continuing on that theme, the ongoing toilet paper shortage is quickly becoming the symbol of this pandemic.
Enforced social isolation is clearly making some folks act strangely. Instead of preparing for the possibility of being quarantined for two weeks by buying some acetaminophen and an extra jug of orange juice, they are behaving like paranoid survivalists, the kind that stockpile weapons to defend their stash of food, water and toilet paper from the neighbours when the zombie apocalypse hits.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the zombie apocalypse. It is a virus that makes people sick. In some, the illness is so mild people may not know they have it; in others, the illness is so severe it can kill.
Serious illnesses, especially highly contagious ones, require strong measures to keep them from spreading. But most people realize that keeping a safe physical distance from others does not mean sitting at home with the drapes pulled, counting one’s rolls of toilet paper.
It is a proven fact that isolation is not good for one’s mental health. To weather the efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 means we need to work harder at maintaining contact with others.
It goes beyond smiling and waving at people, posting friendly messages on windows, phoning friends and sending out greeting cards.
It means being mindful some people can handle stress better than others. Folks who are already under a lot of stress from battling addictions or mental illness have needs most of us could not even imagine. They require extra help the entire community.
Bravo to the people who have come up with creative ways of helping their neighbours through this – posting a big sign in the front window thanking the letter carrier and delivery people for their efforts, having the kids colour pictures of rainbows to put in windows, walking the dog past the home of the family in self-isolation and maybe even dropping off a tin of homemade cookies for them.
Around the world, people have been coming up with wacky, heart-warming ways to entertain and connect, be it singing on the balcony, playing the violin outside a nursing home, dancing on the front lawn, or even coming up with new COVID-19 jokes.
Some important people have been criticized for doing the latter – COVID-19 is no laughing matter.
We know that. This is the perfect time for some light-hearted silliness to take the edge off – wearing a funny hat or costume on the next walk around the block, decorating the lawn with Easter eggs, plastic flowers, giant rabbits, pumpkins, Christmas lights – anything to make people laugh.
COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. But walking around grim-faced and hoarding toilet paper will only add to the stress we are all feeling. A new COVID-19 joke, on the other hand, might be just what the doctor ordered.