I have always been the person who worried about the looming crises of the time: nuclear winter in the 1980s, Y2K in the late 1990s, fires and earthquakes when I recently moved back to California and, of course, climate change. I was anxious about all of them. So, predictably, I was anxious by late-February about the coronavirus. With this one, though, I was right—even if I wish I weren’t—in that coronavirus is having enormous consequences for all of us. Unfortunately, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in my mid-forties. Although I know intellectually that I shouldn’t be ashamed of the diagnosis, I have been ashamed. One silver lining of the Covid-19 epidemic is that it has allowed me to shift that shame to a bit of pride. In the context of a global pandemic, it turns out that an anxiety disorder is adaptive — even prosocial and useful. For example, among those of us who are privileged enough to be able to practice physical distancing, if we do practice it because of anxiety, we will help to protect ourselves, our families and society. In fact, we would be much better off now if many of our political leaders had GAD and had worried enough to begin to prepare in January 2020, when we first learned of the virus.
I am going to start calling my anxiety Generalized Anxiety Adaption (GAA) instead of GAD. It is only a disorder in the context of safety. In the context of a disaster, though, it is very useful.
In this time of looming crisis, my GAA made me prescient, not disordered. I feel like I was always a week ahead of everyone else in obtaining things we might need. Consider: I was a week ahead in getting my hair dye to touch up my roots. I got a bottle of zinc one day at CVS; when I went back to get more, there was none left, but there were a couple of bottles of vitamin C. I got one of those. I haven’t been back to CVS (see: GAA), but I’d wager all the vitamin C is gone. I decided to pull my son out of school the day before the schools closed. I bought some reusable cloth face masks online, in early March, just before they ran out of stock. I am a university professor and I cancelled my attendance policy, and then my final week of classes — each a week before the university made both actions mandatory. In the crowning achievement of my newly discovered Cassandra like powers, I bought a package of Costco-sized toilet paper and of Clorox wipes the day before they ran out. My GAA saved me from being without toilet paper in this time of national crisis. In the words of someone on Instagram [@overheardla] “I’m feeling normal…It’s like the world’s anxiety is finally at the same level of mine.”
So those of us with anxiety, let’s raise our hands proudly. We have an adaptation, not a disorder. In this global emergency, we are a precious resource. We all should embrace our anxiety: stay home if you can, stay farther than 6 feet away from people you don’t live with. Do it, even if the people around you think you’re overreacting.
If you buy my argument that my anxiety gives me some special insight, I also have some predictions and advice that I think I am about a week ahead on. First, my anxiety predicts that President Trump will try to use this as justification for delaying or even shutting down the Nov 2020 presidential election in the United States and remain in power. I’ve never wanted more to be wrong about something.
And, this is my current advice: One, stay home if you can. Stay at least six feet from people if you can. Two, get a little cash. Don’t run on the banks, it is actually better to pay for things electronically from your home, but still, get some cash. Three, this virus really could kill you or someone you love. Live like that is true. Hold your loved ones close if you live with them. Say the things you have been waiting to say. Don’t work any more than you want to, unless you have to. Write, and try to publish a personal essay, like you have always wanted to.
My last piece of advice is this: Buy bandanas. They can be used as a makeshift mask that is, barely, better than nothing and that can be washed and reused.
Buy the bandanas now. Trust me. They’ll be out of stock by next week.