changing constructs

There’s much talk among psychiatrists about dealing with people affected by the corona pandemic. What can a psychiatrist say that people haven’t already got from the deluge of information and inspirational quotes that their friends have shared on social media? Be optimistic, don’t panic, eat a balanced diet, exercise, sleep well, maintain a routine, don’t give up hope, do yoga and meditate, learn something new – this will pass!

People say that we are all in this together. But we are not.

  • Those who can work from home and draw the same salaries as before are not affected much. Nothing has been taken away from them except the frills, the inessentials.
  • Those whose occupations need them to go out, like shopkeepers and domestic workers, who have dependent family members and survive on a steady income, find it hard to make ends meet.
  • Those whose business involves perishables are likely to feel doomed, like fruit and vegetable farmers
  • Those who have factories that can’t allow in workers because of social distancing norms can’t hope to recover soon.
  • Those who have been laid off as their employer is downsizing will find it hard to get another job. Maybe they could use the time to upskill?
  • Those who have lost jobs but have fairly substantial savings could husband their resources and wait out the pandemic.
  • Those whose work entails a lot of travel really don’t have a choice till travel safety details are worked out.

And so forth. There are so many realities needing different solutions.

I might understand and comfort patients, but can I offer them real help? Patients are fearful, anxious and vulnerable, especially now with all the uncertainty. As a medical professional I can’t even assure them that a vaccine will soon be available because that’s not certain at all. Sometimes a patient’s reality is so stark that my words sound like a bunch of hollow platitudes to my own ears. I can prescribe medicines but they’re only palliative and won’t solve the patients’ problems.

Right now, sitting safe at home, not much affected by the pandemic, I feel something akin to survivor guilt when I see images of the worldwide suffering this virus has caused. I have no solutions and it doesn’t look like anyone else in the world does either. If I had to counsel someone hit by this disaster my key word would be acceptancethat we don’t have as much control as we wish. This is something most disadvantaged people are aware of all the time. It’s us middle class Indians that are brought up to believe we can do anything and we should let nothing stand in our way. So we stubbornly try to slash through, rather than slowly make our way around, obstacles. Maybe we need to modify some of our personal constructs.

Our grandparents had a clear idea of their limitations and accepted that some things just befell them and they had to cope. They had to find strength within themselves and their community. They accepted that natural disasters and epidemics were not under their control. The idea that gods watched over them was also helpful in accepting the vagaries of life, including suffering, and I think this is a source of strength for a lot of people even today.

People used to save for a rainy day. There was always a nest egg to cushion the impact of a crisis. I think the current reliance on credit rather than savings has taken that away. Not only do people have no savings, they now have loans to repay as well, and no income. Should we re-think our approach to earning, spending and saving money when things settle down somewhat?

We seem to have lost direction as a species. We are living in the Anthropocene epoch that started in 1950, the epoch of human-induced global change. Imagine – an epoch named after the destruction we have caused! For delineating a new epoch, geological impact must be global, and has to be big enough to appear in the geological record of the earth. Like plastic pollution and nuclear testing are both part of our Anthropocene epoch. Maybe this applies to the global impact of the creation of the corona virus in a lab – if proven – as well.

4 thoughts on “changing constructs

  1. The Virus impact will be felt for many years to come. This Virus will also signal the end of China’s sway over supply chain. There will be a new order. The world has woken up to the disaster China has caused & its potential disaster in times to come. For sure the countries have seen through Chinese expansion designs & hopefully it will end.

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  2. A lot of relevant areas have been covered in this blog. As you mentioned that people are suffering through fear, anxiety, apprehension. A lot of it will go away once they have the security of their jobs/ income, or factors they can rely upon which are temporarily missing. It’s their will power and strength which can sail them through these times. Easy to say, hard to practice. But almost every successful story has immense hardships behind it.
    One point that you mentioned about grandparents is what I really liked. It’s a fact they had more foresight, strength and courage than us. Unfortunately we have forgotten their positive ways of living which it’s high time we should get back to.

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  3. I loved reading the write up. Well, no amount of “preparedness” can help this situation all we can do is take it one day at a time and deal with it as nothing is certain about this whole deal.

    Yes, savings will help a lot and the “new normal” will surely get us to rethink our ways.

    As for counseling people, what can you do? You are a human being too and facing the same realities, all you can do is keep the spirits up. I heard somewhere that a doctor’s job is to care not to cure and I know that you do an awesome job at caring for people and tons of philanthropy by spending your time and valuable experience to help people and I so thank you!

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  4. I think many of our present day problems are because of –
    Immense progression of science leading to a belief that man can control anything n everything
    Extreme greed
    Need for pleasure n immediate gratification.

    I don’t think man’s abilities have changed but the focus.

    Our elders, due to their belief in God, had some thing to lean on n derive strength.
    We are grappling in darkness

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