Fear of Death, Pre Traumatic Stress Disorder and COVID Pandemic
COVID Pandemic and the forced quarantine at large, may have evoked an extreme fear in people. Absolute strict measures had to be taken by authorities as lock-down, curfew, law enforcement agencies taking over, releasing prisoners, ceasing the travel, and so forth
At a fundamental level any situation that makes us confront an injury or a threat to self or our loved ones, our brain is likely to evoke a strong emotional reaction which might color our judgement. The danger could either be perceived or real but the resulting impact can be as grave as losing the sense of self and world around us.
In such situations, mind starts to look for a culprit that it could attack to load off any discomfort or conflict the to preserve one’s integrity. This approach temporarily saves us from having to face complicated feelings and emotions, but in the longer run, it perpetuates the suffering. This suffering could range from fear, panic, to terror and denial. The mind ignores the situation at hand with the hope that it would go away on its own. While getting rid of its reality unknowingly our minds end up harboring the suffering.
Grief is a part of us and we can’t deny it. Death is a part of life and we can’t deny it. Period.
In a trending HBR article by David Kessler; That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, Kessler talks about some profoundly insightful phenomenon happening in these times; collective grief in the air, anticipatory grief, collective loss of safety, stages of grief and acceptance, open-ended nature of the pandemic, acknowledging the feeling, and fear of gang of feelings.
To me it sounded like a Pre Traumatic Stress Disorder, living with an apprehension of upcoming trauma, every-day, in every mundane task we do, even in our capacity to relate as a human.
We emerge from a social relational matrix. When we are forced to go into isolation, we have immense difficulty with coming to terms with the trauma of loneliness. Mark Epstein also reinforces and lays out very beautifully, in his book called The Trauma of Everyday. He talks about how this human attribute of relating to each-other is assumed to be one’s birthright.
If we look at this current Pandemic situation, does that mean COVID-19 has robbed us of our birthright?
I do not know the answer to this question. But I do know that this situation has in some subtle way robbed us from the absolutism of daily life. The things we took for granted are now no more reliable. The belief that we had in the world, our naive realism or in some cases optimism has been taking away and we are terrified.
Initially, the narrative was: It’s not happening to us. Death was a distant entity.
The COVID Pandemic in no time has collectively given us a reality check and here we are perplexed; it is happening to us!!
All our reassuring narratives and stories that soothed us have been questioned. The helplessness and powerlessness is now making our minds chaotic. Our reality has been crushed. Truth came very abruptly. The truth of our mortality, our vulnerability, our weak existence in the face of this adversity. Reminds me of something I read years ago: ‘just when I have all the right cards, everyone else started playing chess’.
From a developmental perspective of how one starts to conceptualize death and how one reaches the adult understanding of the totality of death, this situation and collective death anxiety makes sense.
We thought we had figured it all out. I believe, at a collective level, this terror feels like almost regressing to our early developmental stage where we have lost the comprehension of the universality of death, simultaneously forced to confront the inevitability and generous inclusiveness of death for everyone regardless of their age, gender, class or citizenship (Mark Speece and Sandor Brent 1996).
For a four-year-old, death is reversible, which means if someone has died that means they can come back to life. Similarly, the child cannot conceptualize the fact that they can die. It’s something that happens to older people and in some instances evil people. Nevertheless, the concept of personified death and that its unavoidable is usually achieved by the age of 8–9. This, of course, is subjected to vary (Maria Nagy 1948).
There is one more truth that we can’t deny: by the end of this crisis, we will evolve in different ways. There will be an evolution, but would it be a growth or adaptation, is up-to us. Our ancestors have faced this. History tells us that we have survived such outbreaks. This realization doesn’t pacify the suffering but nudges the complacency we have been in. Now that we have all collectively been thrown into this, we can either use the opportunity to evolve or lose it.
Originally published at https://www.obaawoman.com on April 26, 2020.