Open letter to Katherine Shaver via The Washington Post

First, I apologize for being a bit tardy in reacting to your story, but I inadvertently allowed myself to be shanghaied into being a “essential worker” during this pandemic and my time has been limited….no good deed goes unpunished, as they say. But with that in mind, I assure you that being in the thick of humanity and what is happening to them, my insight will be of value.

Now, then…I regards to your article on April 25

Your piece delves into the tracking of smartphone data, to come to the conclusion that more people are taking more trips per day.  I am not arguing for or against any of the conclusions or advice, or even the questionable culling of that data. What I am going to point out here is the disgusting lack of humanity, disgusting lack of empathy and the bizarre level of disconnect that you have from your fellow man, to a degree I would expect from an alien from another planet who was just dropped here yesterday.

These points in particular are of note for anyone who has not read it, and anyone who has would agree they are the overall tone and disposition of those quoted and the article itself, towards what people are going through…

People can feel it’s coming, so they get more antsy,” said Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University said of the impending state reopenings

George Rutherford, an epidemiology professor at the University of California at San Francisco, said “Letting people decide for themselves because they’re bored is not a good way to do it.

and the article’s authors own interpretation

Public health experts say any data showing widespread public resolve or cooperation beginning to wane is noteworthy. Because this is the first U.S. pandemic in 100 years, they don’t know how long people are willing to tolerate cabin fever for the greater good.

“antsy”?  “Bored”? “Cabin fever”?

That is a mortifying, callus, soulless interpretation of what is for some terrifying, stressful to debilitating levels and abject human misery for others.

Leaving out for a moment the 7-10 percent of the U.S. population that has profound mental health issues, try to understand that the average person has faced, among other tings, economic stress, lack of any meaningful  human contact, constant influx of fear based new stories, all at once, all with little to no warning and must deal with all of that without even the simplest of stress relief, or outlets, or emotional support that any psychiatrist would recommend to someone with even a minor degree of any of one these factors.

We are talking about human beings, who have lost their jobs, perhaps permanently, some with no food security at all. Human beings who lost their businesses, lost their lives work, all in a matter of weeks.  Who are not allowed to see their friends, their family, their fiances.  Are not allowed any of the normal outlets to calm themselves, which they have used to do so for their entire lives.  All of that change immediate, all of that stress immediate, all of that loss immediate, and it all happened at once. And it all happened at once to everyone they know.  Meaning, since this has to be explained to you, that their stress and fear is multiplied by knowing that the people they care about are also suffering, and they can do nothing to help them nor can they be helped by them.

This is mental stress to the degree that causes nervous breakdowns, dramatic bouts of depression, and even suicide.  This is people cut off from friends, loved ones, and all manner of emotional support in any way they have grown to rely on while that has been dropped on them. This is not “cabin fever” this is not “getting antsy” or “bored“.  This is human emotional misery.

And to define it as glibly as you have is disgusting.

“Cabin fever” itself is an overused layman’s term, which is more accurately defined as – extreme, often debilitating anxiety brought on by extended solitude, solitude under stress, solitude under uncertainty or any combination of those.

I am not yet aware of any studies on suicide rates in the U.S. during this lockdown, but the UK had noticed a climb as early as a few weeks ago.  Which brings us to the 7-10 percent of the U.S. population that has profound mental health issues…or would you refer to that as mentally “antsy”?  Those people are in dire straights right now, some of them will not make it, and of the ones that do many will have been severely harmed.  There can be no doubt that some of the pings on your sterile little chart are those people, trying to find some way to keep it together.

Not that I expect you to understand that in moments of mental despair and anxiety, searching out some small errand or some meaningless conversation can be the difference between life and death, and I surely cannot expect you to grasp that a perfectly well adjusted adult could be getting to the breaking point, having all the stress and no outlets for release.

Your own humanity has devolved to the point that you seem to have forgotten that zeros and ones are symbols for human beings, and not the other way around.

We are talking about marriages taxed to the breaking point, increases in domestic violence.  People who were living alone and the bulk of their human contact being at the job they no longer have now restricted to what is essentially solitary confinement. And as more and more of them can no longer stand it…what you see are extra pings on your chart.

Go seek out a psychiatrist and ask him/her to explain to how any single one of the stresses I mentioned could result in tragic, profound emotional damage. And have him/her explain to you the base instincts that kick in when the human mind is facing that. While you are there, sign up for some sessions of your own, because if what you see when you look out at what is happening is nothing more than “cabin fever” to you, then you have some deep issues that need sorting out.

As for any official taking ques from these people, I implore you to stop.  I am sure you can find some other expert who is just as diligent, just as thorough, just as cautious…but actually has a soul.

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