I am a rheumatologist and a public health advocate living in Seattle. I have spent over a decade focused on caring for individuals who are scared about how to proceed with their lives in times of personal uncertainty. Patients who see me are often afraid of inflammation and/or deformities in their joints that are limiting, nervous about abnormal laboratory values and downright frightened about how their futures might unfold. I have grown accustomed to dealing with areas of gray and have tried to calm my patients.
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Explore This IssueJune 2020
Now I am telling you to be afraid and to activate yourself. Fear is the oldest human emotion. Fear is what keeps us from leaving our children alone in playgrounds, from walking into empty and unfamiliar alleys at night, from taking medications without reading the adverse warning labels and from ignoring sharp abdominal pains until our appendix bursts. Fear is what keeps us alive and going.
Uncontrolled fear, of course, takes an immense toll on our bodies and our psyches. Fear can become paralyzing when you do not know how to proceed. My goal is not to paralyze you.
Unless you have lived in regions of the world that experienced outbreaks of Nipah virus, SARS or Ebola, you likely have never had lived through a pandemic. It is natural to be scared of a novel coronavirus that is growing at an exponential pace. It would be unnatural not to be scared. Now is the time to make sure that you #stayhome if you are not a healthcare worker or essential worker.
I have spent my adult life helping patients stay calm. I have spent countless hours discussing the need for meditation, helping patients get referred to psychiatrists and psychologists and churches, promoting the beneficial effects of weight loss and physical activity in relieving stress, and encouraging patients and friends to take vacations and to live their best lives.
I want people to continue to do what they need to stay healthy and vibrant. But, now that are we are living in the midst of a pandemic, I am asking for people to understand that the fear they feel is very real. Friends tell me that they are “on edge,” that they feel “drained,” that they feel “as if my life has suddenly stopped.” I am listening, but I also recognize that what you are feeling is normal. I am asking for you to not disconnect when at home.