The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 02, 2020 1:00 am

Pandemic coping mechanisms awaken us to others' reality

Kris Wise

Our world has become very small and very large all at the same time. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting our communities and with it brings the emotional response to threats and crisis.

The human response to crisis has a cycle of emotional reactions, and with pandemics denial and fear are most prevalent in early stages. Denial is by far the most dangerous as it prohibits planning, prevention and response. You can visit denial for short periods, but it isn't a place you want to live.

Fear prompts anxiety, which can generate action and heightened awareness or vigilance. The eventual response state we can redirect and shift ourselves is to conscious awareness, where we can cope.

It is important to know what you are doing and how you are feeling is normal. We can learn from this experience and use it to create lasting change in our communities. This nation has stood politically divided and the space between has brought harmful words and emotions, as well as violence, hate and injustice.

You've felt fear for your family, friends and loved ones, not wanting them to be infected with the virus. That fear is no different than people of color feel in our country every day. They fear for their children, knowing they will likely experience explicit racism and the systematic racism that dominates our social institutions. Parents of young black men know well the fear of violence or death, acts disproportionately experienced in America by their sons.

You've experienced denial. Your mind needed breaks from the possibility the virus will affect you. This denial is no different than that of a young gay man wanting to experience love and physical intimacy with his partner without the fear or acknowledgement of possible risk of HIV infection. The denial is no different than for your friend who suffers the disease of addiction. They want nothing more than to share in the novelty of a glass of wine or beer at the barbecue each summer.

You've gone shopping and stocked food and household goods, afraid you or your family will go without basic needs and nutrition. Each month, low-income families ration and vigilantly count their WIC and food stamp assistance, afraid their children could go without basic needs and nutrition.

You've fled from public spaces and isolated to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. The same action is taken by immigrants and refugees longing to stay in their countries. When presented with few options of survival, they fled to create a new life and keep their children safe.

You've become vigilant washing your hands, carrying disinfectant, and increased awareness of your surroundings. This risk of something you can't see is the same for transgender women of color, knowing those who have murdered and beaten — women just like them who look just like their neighbors and coworkers.

Mainstream America is experiencing a glimpse of the emotional burden experienced daily by minorities in America. Human history shows those holding power in society do not create positive change for minority groups until they are affected. Today in this country is no different.

There is a phrase used in social work and additional fields for a practice of intentional use of our experiences to improve our work with others it is called “use of self.” This practice of humility acknowledges our own behavioral patterns, explicit and implicit biases, and emotions. This practice involves seeing the world not from a place of judgment but understanding while acknowledging the purpose of behavior. Sometimes we get it right, and other times we lean on peers to return to empathy.

Area nonprofits continue to respond to community needs and do it while pinching every penny and using every ounce of human capital they employ. Support them.

May we each use these experiences to inform and enhance how we see one another. May we gain empathy and understanding for those suffering from the yesterdays of oppression, the todays of the pandemic, and may we not rest until the tomorrows have less suffering for everyone.

These are simple steps toward solutions knowing that no one should live like this — not in our community, not in this state, not in our America.

Kris Wise is co-owner of Ally Counseling & Consulting in Fort Wayne.

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