Maeve Higgins: It’s amazing that you list all of these things, and sometimes even when we talk to people on the show, they’re so careful to point out, “Well, yes, this did happen to me, but it wasn’t as bad as, you know, X, Y, and Z.” Like, I don’t even want to mention specifics because everyone is in this kind of, like, “Oh, I can handle this because it hasn’t been the worst thing that’s happened.”
Yong: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of that happening. When you see the sort of full scope of the pandemic, it’s sometimes easy to sort of minimize what you yourself have gone through. And I think for people who haven’t really dealt with mental-health problems before or who are sort of used to a normal baseline of stress, dealing with something very unusual, like a pandemic, can actually be very jarring. They almost don’t expect to feel as stressed out or as bad as they have. And this could be anyone from doctors and nurses, who obviously have a very stressful job. And it could be parents, who are used to just the baseline rigors of being a parent, but maybe not used to having to do that 24/7 without any child support. In the midst of this crisis where schools are shutting down … the pandemic ramps everything up to the nth degree. And it’s not surprising, I think, that even people who think of themselves as sort of hyper-competent folks who are caregivers, who are used to dealing with stress, have found these months very, very hard.
Higgins: Absolutely. Jim, I was going to say to Ed about that line in his piece: “If you’ve been swimming furiously for a year, you don’t expect to finally reach dry land and still feel like you’re drowning.” And that really hit us, I think, because it’s not just snapping back and everything’s fine. So, do you feel like this applies to—I mean, everybody, like you said, but especially—health-care workers and other folks who’ve been on the front lines?
Yong: Yeah, I think this is going to be a very common experience. I don’t think it’s going to apply to everyone, but some people—maybe who are listening to this podcast—are just going to be fine. And for them, I feel joyous and happy, and I hope that it continues in that vein. But I know that a lot of people have been running on adrenaline and running on fumes for a long time. And they’ve now hit this point, in the U.S. specifically, where things are starting to feel a bit better. People are feeling safer, vaccinations are rising, cases are dropping. And yet now, when they finally get a chance to exhale, they’re finding it unexpectedly hard. And, actually, I don’t think that we should be surprised at that. A lot of the literature from other kinds of disasters or other kinds of traumatic experiences, including soldiers who return from war, health-care workers in the aftermath of crisis—we see that people, when they get a chance to breathe, often finally get a chance to look back and think about everything that has happened to them in the times before when they were just sort of trying to get past. And it’s in those moments, when you really get to take stock of actually how tired or anxious or stressed you’ve been, that a lot of people suddenly collapse in a way. People who I spoke to who work in trauma say that this is a very common experience, but I think it can be all the more jarring because we don’t expect it. We expect that when things are better, we will feel better. But of course, how we feel right now isn’t just defined by the current moment, but by everything we have experienced in the past. And everything we’ve experienced in the recent past has been kind of awful.