The Pandemic and the American Emotional Response


Photo by Edward Jenner on

We’re in the seventh month of the pandemic in the U.S. When I talk to friends, family, and strangers, I hear them speak of a range of emotions. Depression, anxiety, despair, rage, overwhelming sadness, grief. It’s hard to sort it all out. I feel all those emotions myself combined with a few more. Panic, desperation, claustrophobia, and even happiness. What we feel is a reaction to the unknown and it manifests in each person differently.

The situation we face, at least in the United States, is one we’ve never faced before. To one degree or another, what sums up all of those emotions is fear. We’re afraid. We fear we’ll get sick and that our loved ones and friends will get sick. Even those people who deny that COVID19 exists, and there are many of them, feel fear. They fear that their lifestyles have been taken away from them and they don’t know if it’s permanent or not. It’s quite likely that all of us have both fears. The fear of illness and the fear that nothing will ever be the same.

At the first of the pandemic, many Americans were in shock. Those that were most prepared for the situation we faced were The Greatest Generation. They are the ones who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and so much more. Very few are alive who lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1917 and 1918. To our dismay, The Greatest Generation is rapidly disappearing. They could teach us so much if we would listen.

Imagine the unknowns The Greatest Generation faced. During the Great Depression, some literally did not know where their next meal was coming from or if they could continue to provide shelter for their families. Then came World War II. Most able-bodied men between the ages of 18-35 were sent off to war or enlisted voluntarily. If you were an enlisted man in combat,  you had no idea if you’d ever go home again, ever see your family, or even live through the day. If you were a woman who had not enlisted, you were home without the 24/7 news cycle that we have today. You had the radio and sketchy, spotty news reports. You sat by the radio and listened to the American President, FDR, whenever he came on to give a report. Most of the time you didn’t know if your husband, brother, son, father and many of members of your family were alive or dead. We think we are scared due to the pandemic or feel any of the other common emotions right now? Imagine how they felt.

During the first part of the pandemic, despite our shock, we had to get ready to isolate ourselves. That involved stocking up on food, supplies, medicine. There were runs on grocery stores that caused fear and anxiety since we didn’t know if we would be able to get what we need. Since I have a co-morbidity, I have been at home since February with very few exceptions. I haven’t seen anyone in my family during this time and I’ve only seen a friend once or twice. There are a lot of people out there just like me.

I feel everything every other American feels. I’m angry that the coronavirus was allowed to get out of hand in our country and blame the lack of leadership at the top for that happening. I carry a high level of anxiety most days, I worry if I get out, I’ll get sick even though I wear a face covering and take all the recommended precautions. I miss my friends and family. If I allow myself to think too much about the pandemic, I feel panic and despair. I listen to the statistics every day about the deaths this virus has caused, and I feel grief and overwhelming sadness for those families. I feel claustrophobic daily even though I’m luckier than so many people and have a house and yard in which to move around.

Mostly, when I think about it, all of these emotions culminate in fear. Fear of the unknown. I wonder what life will be like after the pandemic. I even wonder if there will be an “after.” The virus could be here to stay. A vaccine will only be moderately effective.   Will Americans ever have the freedom we once had and probably did not appreciate? The virus deniers are determined to live their lives anyway and there is something I admire about that while fearing their lives will be cut short.

Perhaps, besides fear, my primary emotion is gratitude for what I have. I still have a job while many don’t. I’m with my husband here in our home and we try to take care of each other. So far, we’ve been able to get the food and medicine we need. The pandemic makes us look at the very basics of life.

I still have hope for the future although it isn’t as shiny as it once was. The pandemic has devastated not only the American economy but also the American society. Will we ever get back to being the “shining city on the hill?” No one can answer that question right now.


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