Do I deserve coronavirus?
As the pandemic becomes more real and more obviously not going to go away any time soon, I’ve started to be more afraid of getting sick. I’m lucky enough to be sheltering in place except for trips to the grocery store, and I live in an area where folks are obeying the mask rules. But I have an illogical conviction that I’m going to get sick. Seriously sick.
I know it isn’t illogical to think I’ll be exposed if this goes on long enough. And I’m somewhat vulnerable because of being over fifty and having diabetes. But my odds are still decent for having a less catastrophic illness than my imagination portrays.
When I sat and unpacked this feeling a bit, I realized it comes from the part of me that thinks I deserve to get sick. That I don’t deserve to stay healthy when so many “better” people aren’t.
Survivor’s guilt. I know it. I’ve tasted it often when thinking of my fellow addicts who died, or fellow mental illness sufferers who didn’t make it through a bad episode. Especially when I think about the roles privilege played in my survival—white privilege, education, health insurance, etc. Regardless of how hard I worked, these other presences can’t be ignored.
And there’s no doubt privilege plays into my survival odds in the pandemic as well. Racial and economic inequities are achingly clear. So it makes sense that I’d have these thoughts. But too many of them are dangerous for me because they feed depression and apathy. Self-care is sliding. I’m not going out for walks. Sleep is worse than usual (and usual sucks.)
Writing sucks too. But today I did small revisions on a segment. And I wrote this.
One thought on “What I Deserve”
After losing the love of his life to illness and while in existential crisis over his key role in the Manhattan Project, the genius Richard Feynman told of how a research colleague comforted him and reminded him that “you are not responsible for the world you were born into.” In other words, when torturing himself with feelings of guilt and fear over possible futures, Feynman was made to remember that he didn’t create the broken, suffering world around him; he wasn’t responsible for causal vectors that were not of his own making.
Now, anyone who worked on the Manhattan Project with a soul SHOULD have had existential angst, because in hindsight we can see the horrors of a nuclear-armed world and of nuclear massacre of civilians — but that’s not the point here.
For me, it is so helpful while battling depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt, to remember that I have very little control over the world at large. If I can be the best me possible, if I can be kind and brave in the face of the people and challenges in my small path, I can actively contribute to healing the world. It’s an idea found in Stoicism, it’s in Confucianism, it’s even in the Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam where even the tiniest good act (mitzvah) helps to heal the world and build a better future.
Survivor’s guilt is insidious perhaps most emphatically because it lies to us — it tells us that we are guilty for abuse or suffering perpetrated by other people or forces like Coronavirus. But we did not create Coronavirus, we did not cause governments and politicians to lie and cheat their way through making the situation worse, and we would not in a million years wish illness or suffering on our fellow humans — so I hope that as we weather this crisis and do good where we can, that we also ***remember to be kind to ourselves.***