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July 31, 2020

What Stage of the Pandemic are We in?

By Vega Subramaniam

Dateline: Blursday, Marchtober, 2020. (Still 2020. I’m so…so sorry.)

Remember in early March when we were told things like that the gym would be closed “for the next two weeks”? And we maybe even believed that in two weeks (two weeks), we’d be back at the gym? How cute.

A few weeks ago, I finally let Mala cut my hair. Lord knows it was getting out of control. But I resisted and resisted and resisted because somewhere in the back of my mind, and against all empirical evidence, sparked a tiny glimmer of hope that any day now, I could safely go to a salon for a haircut. I would just wait it out.

In summary, I fought reality, and reality won. In reality, I might not be ready for a salon for months, maybe years, during all of which time my hair would continue to grow. Yeah, except no, not in civilized society, nope.

So, out with the clippers, clip clip clip.

It didn’t turn out so bad, actually. I’ll probably let her do it again. Assuming I don’t go to the salon in two weeks.

I’m wondering if, collectively, we’ve all stopped fighting reality, and reality’s winning. I’m noticing lately a different, harder vibe, both within myself as well as with clients, colleagues, and friends. A sinking. A depressing. Anguish. NOT THAT WE DID NOT ALREADY HAVE ANGUISH. A deepened, more grasping, more insatiably demanding anguish.

I wonder if it’s because we’re collectively settling into the deeply, harrowingly, jarringly apocalyptic truth that this stupid and literally avoidable tragedy is our current and foreseeable reality. Perhaps we’ve collectively buzzed past the pandemic Stages of Panic, Action, and Confusion and have now reached the Stage of Anxiety and Depression.

I am comforted by the idea of Stages of Pandemic. Maybe not “comforted.” Maybe “relieved.” A reminder that this too shall pass. While the whole “Stages” thing is admittedly not scientifically tested truth, it’s still a way for us to huddle and make collective meaning together of the contours of our grief and tension. There’s a comfort in remembering that this is a collective phenomenon, and we don’t have to feel it quite so personally, feel quite so isolated.

The final stage of the pandemic, according to Dr. Nogales above, is Adaptation. “OK, given that this is what it is, now what?” We’re collectively not there yet, obviously. But given the long-haul nature of this new not-yet-and-perhaps-never-quite-normal, I know that a big part of what keeps me going (besides my loved ones) is learning about how people coped during other pandemics.

One of the things I’m learning is the ways that the social upheaval engendered by pandemics can, as often as not, lead to positive social change (I allow that my attitude can sometimes be sunnier than is strictly necessary, so this might be selective perception on my part, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it). The freeing of serfs. Political power for women. General reductions in social inequality.

We don’t have a clue what the “Adaptation” is going to look like. And maybe that’s a good thing. It means it’s yet to be created, and we have the power to shape it. We certainly have social upheaval. And we’re making good trouble. In other words, maybe the darkest hour is just before dawn, and once we survive the Stage of Anxiety and Depression, we’ll be moving into positive social change in the Stage of Adaptation that we can’t even yet imagine.

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