A Sink-or-Swim Moment in This Pandemic
Dr. Steven Southwick is a professor of psychiatry at Yale University who has worked with survivors after numerous catastrophes, including mass shootings. "Very few people understand how resilient they really are until faced with extraordinary circumstances," he recently explained to the Times. "One of our first jobs in these situations is to call attention to just that."
When it comes to collective trauma of the chronic, disabling kind, many experts remain skeptical that this is what is occurring. Southwick goes on to point out that generalized anxiety disorder is defined, in part, by excessive anxiety for at least six months.
"A wave of new mental health disorders may indeed be on the way, especially if Covid-19 cases explode again late in the year, or the economic downturn deepens," writes The New York Times' Benedict Carey. "But the evidence so far says nothing persuasive about whether it will be a tsunami or a ripple."
In examining this issue, water may be a perfect metaphor.
Bonnie Tsui is an investigative reporter who has spent the last several years writing a book about swimming titled "Why We Swim." In a new editorial series in The New York Times about resilience in troubled times, she writes about what we can learn from the act of swimming, from both history and personal experience.
"At its most basic level, (swimming) is an act of perseverance," she writes. "In these times of protest and pandemic, I've been thinking a lot about what our bodies are capable of, and about the ways we work through fear and pain. Swimming is one of those ways."
Think about it: When we are in over our head, we are either drowning, or we are swimming. "Even in the face of fear, one can aspire to buoyancy," she writes. "Unlike most terrestrial mammals, we are not born with instinctive swimming abilities. We have to be taught," she reminds us. "To be a swimmer is to be acquainted with fear, but not to give in to it."
"It's the older swimmers who truly have resilience," she says. "As we get older, we all face the prospect of our bodies eroding out from under us. Swimming is the rare sport that you can keep doing, and do well, deep into your later years. ... Resilience is about sticking your head in water every day, for an hour or more, year after year."
"That's the challenge right now -- not to put your head down and ignore the world, but to put your head down and absorb it," she concludes. "To remember how to float, in spite of the burdens you carry."
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