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Let Inga Tell You: The panic-demic has taken a toll on nation’s mental health

Until March, Inga used this table for mail. She hopes to again someday, rather than for coronavirus-related supplies.
(Inga)

I have to confess that I wasn’t initially all that worried about the coronavirus. After all, I’ve lived through scares for SARS, MERS, avian flu and swine flu. I even contracted polio when I was a child.

In early March, I watched with amusement news clips of people waiting three hours outside a Costco for it to open then running — running! — with their oversize carts to hurl megapacks of toilet paper and bottled water into them.

The laugh was on us non-hoarders. Supermarket shelves, overnight, were stripped bare of pretty much everything. (Why were people hoarding celery?) In fact, this was the ultimate market research for grocery store chains. If a product was still on your shelves on March 15, stop carrying it. Turns out people would rather go hungry than eat gluten-free rice pasta, chocolate hummus, cauliflower pizza and carrot spirals.

One thing is clear: COVID-19 has been responsible for seismic shifts in people’s behavior toward one another, even in mundane ways. Dr. Anthony Fauci says society should “just forget about shaking hands.” I’m just trying to imagine Americans in the Midwest substituting namaste with a little bow like Prince Charles did. And not just because he caught COVID-19 anyway.

The country’s newest pastime is playing COVID chicken, i.e., who steps into the street first when parties approach each other on the sidewalk. (The one who gets hit by a car loses.)

Despite massive hits to the economy, one business that isn’t going to fail during the coronapocalypse is mental health services. This is as much a panic-demic as a viral affliction.

The headlines, updated every five minutes, are consistently terrifying: Pandemic will cause starvation of biblical proportions; Virus pushes U.S. unemployment toward highest since depression; Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine; Why a second shutdown may be worse than the first; and even this cheery predictor: Millennials don’t stand a chance.

Netflix, anyone?

But the headline that took the top prize was from the U.S. surgeon general, Jerome Adams, on April 5 who direly predicted that the upcoming week was going to be the “hardest and the saddest” of most Americans’ lives, describing the upcoming grim period of the coronavirus pandemic as “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.”

Geesh, talk about scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Those are some pretty big moments he referenced, clearly imprinted on everyone’s minds. Next year, ask people what they were doing the week of April 5, 2020, and I think they’re going to scratch their heads and say, “Um, I dunno. Playing the 100th consecutive game of Candy Land with my kids? Was I supposed to remember it?”

Shame on him for terrifying millions of people. I’ve been alive for 3,770 weeks and this didn’t even make the top 500 worst ones.

When this is over (please say it will someday be over), the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition) is going to have at least 50 new categories related to the coronavirus, including anxiety disorders like Toilet Paper Scarcity Syndrome or my personal affliction, Fear of the 24-hour News Cycle.

But foremost, we have become an OCD Nation. No one wants to touch anything. Or breathe any air that anyone else has recently breathed.

I have a friend who wouldn’t even touch the bottle of hand sanitizer I offered without first cleaning it with Clorox wipes. I am hoping she did not see the June 17 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune alleging that flushing a toilet can release a cloud of aerosol droplets three feet into the air. Will the CDC now be advocating for the return of the outhouse? #justwhenyoudon’tthinkitcouldgetworseitalwaysdoes.

It goes without saying that we are all going to need to undergo grocery shopping retraining. (Will Medicare cover it?) Systematic desensitization will be required to be able to go past a display of paper products and not grab a pack, no matter how much we have at home.

Ditto for touching a grocery item and then putting it back. Will we ever be able to fondle avocados again without feeling like a coronal criminal?

The country is already suffering massively from new depressive disorders like Seasonal Sports Deprivation, Golf Tournament Redux and Basketball Re-run Psychosis. My neighbor Bob, until the pandemic, always had three big-screen TVs simultaneously running sports. We really worried about Bob, especially when he started to call us just to chat. Say hi. Ask about the dog. If Bob is not on medication by now, I’m going to be really surprised. Please let the NFL resume in the fall. Do it for Bob.

Me, I just want the libraries to open again so I can actually go inside and visit the books. I guess that will be one more DSM-5 category: People Who Will Just Not Use E-readers. (There is no vaccine for this.)

Fortunately, however, there is a cure for Fear of the 24-Hour News Cycle. Stop. Watching.

— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at inga47@san.rr.com. ◆