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August 2020
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What to say during a pandemic - Part II

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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I had other ideas for this editorial – a response to the executive order regarding social media or concern that a spouse or caregiver is currently not allowed to be with a hospitalized adult. But Monday morning after widespread and violent protests rocked a nation already teetering on the edge, those topics fell too short of the grave tone in the country. Inadequacy to fully express the situation was exactly how I felt in March when I wrote “What to say during a pandemic.” 

This year was marketed at its outset as hopeful, one with a clear “2020 vision” - but so far it looks more like a distorted, shattered mirror where nothing seems quite right. In just a few months our world has become unfamiliar, one that is frightening, unsettled, confusing, polarizing, and one that creates the possibility of a not-to-distant future that could look much different than our recent past. 

Waking up Saturday morning to the news of destructive, violent protests in Atlanta over George Floyd’s death was almost too much. How much more can this country - this world - take? People are scared, angry, and doing their best to hold it all together. It feels like everyone is on the verge of tears, with a collective lump swelling in our throats.  

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms addressed protests with a riveting impromptu speech. For months our leaders have been asking us to “Stay Home, Save Lives” because of COVID-19, but Bottoms was pleading for people to go home and stay there for a different reason.  

“This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos,” she said. “A protest has a purpose...If you care about this city, then go home.”

Yes, it was chaos, and waking up to it was hard. It was so hard that I had to turn off the news, get off social media, go outside and mow the grass and weed my vegetable garden. Obviously, we need to be an informed public, and obviously people need to speak up and protest (peacefully) for causes they value - but from a mental health perspective it’s destructive to hear about death tolls, rising infection rates, racial violence, historic wildfires and global warming, impeachment trials, criminal sexual abuse, food shortages, and on and on non-stop in the vicious, never ending 24-hour news cycle. 

This weekend I was reminded of a talk local doctor Carl McCurdy gave mid-March about COVID-19 on Jasper First Baptist church’s live stream. After discussing the virus itself and safety precautions, Dr. McCurdy briefly touched on the dangers of prolonged social isolation as well as the need to curtail our daily dose of negativity. 

“I recommend people limiting their bad news to just one time a day,” he said, “and once you do that then spend the rest of the day reading, watching TV, having fun.” 

Like most of you I’m worried about our future. I’m worried about my kids and their fall semester at school. I’m worried about friends and family who are out of work. I’m worried because we seem to get more and more politically and racially divided - but we need to give ourselves a mental break sometimes. Put down the phone and remote do something that makes you happy, whether that be going out in nature, listening to music, working on a home or art project, or worshiping. It’s helping me cope for sure.

Like I said back in March, it doesn’t matter why you think we’re in the position we’re in, or if you lean far left or far right or somewhere in between politically, this is collective. 

I think deep down most people want peace (despite what we see on Facebook and television), and I believe we can reduce our general anxiety, worry, and fear with fewer pundits, fewer talking heads, and fewer armchair experts telling us the world is going to hell. Look outside your window and find something beautiful or seek it out. We’ll all be better because of it.