When I chose to write an opinion piece on social distancing, I was planning on writing an article asking for nuance; that the people Tweeting one should only leave their house once a week for food were asking for the right thing, but weren’t thinking about mentally ill people such as myself for whom a change in scenery is a genuinely great-working coping mechanism. I can understand why you need to feel power in a powerless situation, I was going to argue, but yes, mental illness is an excuse, like for those who use vitamin D to treat their seasonal affective disorder, for instance—and we don’t have to put others’ lives at risk to accommodate for those people.
Then the world changed again! People that represent 20% of the American populace that don’t support a national stay-at-home order are loudly protesting social distancing measures thanks to an organized Facebook astroturf, doing so in cars to appropriately accommodate for social distancing measures. And the worst part is that governors are listening: Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina are easing social distancing so people can complete such essential business as…[checks smudged writing on hand] bowling? And tattoos? And no mayors can stop that from happening? And Tennessee is just going to flick the metaphorical lights on May 1 and expect to be back to normal? None of this is going to end well for anyone involved. Was that what I was arguing for?
I’m not even sure what to write now! People shouldn’t be going out to the nail salon, but they also shouldn’t be afraid to step out the door of their homes. It would be perfect to live in a world where everyone can spend two weeks inside and stomp this out, but our nation’s mental health and its just-in-time supply policies make that a near impossibility. And no, extended periods of social distancing are not like having your recess taken away—epidemiologists have been saying we may need social distancing until we have a vaccine in about a year, no matter how good or bad we’re being. But that doesn’t mean we can just let this run through us like a spear; that results in millions of people dying without us achieving the herd immunity or vaccine that will get us out of this, plus we’ll have to deal with the economic damage that comes from so many people being out sick at one time. I would much prefer the rigid quarantine to losing my loved ones. No matter how comforting it may seem, the temptation to return to normal as quickly as possible—whether through strict quarantine or through herd immunity—isn’t going to fix the problem. We not only need to be in the long haul for this disease ($2000/month/person for the course of this crisis sounds good to me, especially as our $6 trillion-dollar corporate bailout has shown us how easily we can print money), but we need to be willing to use this time as a way to change our world for the better—for instance, the plummet of oil prices gives us a great opportunity to pivot to publicly-owned oil, which would make it a lot easier to bring renewable energy into the forefront. Ultimately, what got us to this point—our leaders not responding quickly enough to the pandemic that faces us all—is a result of that attachment to our need for normalcy. These lash-outs are just a symptom. We need to be able to detach ourselves from that need if we hope to ever return to something we consider “normal” again.