Recently, I’ve known several people who’ve become ill with COVID-19. One of them died of the disease.
In each case, the person had discounted the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, complained about wearing a face mask and saw no reason to get vaccinated against the virus.
I am fond of the folks involved. However, I’m harboring a trash heap of emotions in response to their actions and subsequent outcomes.
This heap’s been accumulating in my brain for the past 18 months.
Every day I’m forced to reckon with its mental stench and chaos. I can’t seem to sidestep the landfill, no matter how I try.
The first emotion on the pile is empathy. I’m inherently a kind person. I never wish ill on any human being.
The COVID-19 naysayers’ suffering and deaths elicit profound concern and sadness. I’m genuinely sorry for their plight.
But barely below the empathy, I encounter rage. I want to scream, “What part of ‘global pandemic’ did you not understand? Your actions and attitudes endangered everyone!”
While I was staying home and pining for my family, you were gadding about with your friends. While I was counting the days until my vaccination, you thought it best to take veterinary heartworm medication.
I bit my tongue. I remained pleasant. I didn’t have the psychic band width to challenge you on the spot. Now, I see what has happened and my reactions are bursting at the seams.
The next layer’s full of anger. I’m mad at you for letting this happen to yourself. I care about you. I’ve known you for years. How could you willingly put yourself in harm’s way? I want to shake you and hug you at the very same time.
I’m livid through my tears and worry.
Dig into my trash heap a little deeper and I find shame.
I’m embarrassed by my thought processes. I don’t like ranting. I’m uncomfortable with unchained emotions.
As a family therapist I taught couples how to communicate successfully and anxious clients how to manage their stress.
I want the people in my life to get along. But now my brain is like a hostile press conference, with disparate emotions shouting louder and louder, each waving their hands and clamoring to be heard. This is not who I want to be.
Below the shame is more anger. I’m angry at you for causing my turbulence.
If you’d followed the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, this wouldn’t have happened.
The pandemic might even be over. I could get back to being tranquil. It’s all your fault.
That’s when I need to pause. Step back. Take a deep breath.
Yes, I may disagree with your actions. But my mental chaos is totally my own.
There will always be people and events creating psychological upheaval. Your behavior is simply the current stressor.
To survive, I have to embrace what I encounter on my journey — in this case differing opinions, illness and death — and accept it as part of my life.
Taking care of my physical and emotional well-being is the best that I can do.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .