Real Pandemics Have Curves

CW: Present-day mentions of covid-19 that are in line with the dark humor I have previously established when discussing the 9th Circle of Hell, but that hopefully take the situation appropriately seriously and respectfully. My Partner and I fully support efforts in the past 24-48 hours to responsibly #FlattenTheCurve. Discussions of counterfactual scenarios the U.S. could have faced in the absence of any proactive measures and the heartbreaking situation in other countries. References to growing up feeling #YOYO, as the media has recently described our youngest generations. Read safely.


*Watching Donald Trump initially claim that a flu vaccine would help against corona*

Lavender (sing-song): “I had a little bird, and her name was Enza. I opened the door and in-flu-enza!”

Partner: “Charming. From 1918, I assume?”

Lavender: “Yup. Jump-rope rhyme that [family member who survived the Spanish Flu] taught me when I was a kid.”

Partner: “The things your brain remembers vs. forgets never cease to be a mystery.”

Lavender: “Eh, not such a mystery. I specifically held on to that one as a kid. I figured I could bring it back in our generation’s pandemic and look cool. Also, spoiler alert, I had no idea what being ‘cool’ entailed back then…”

Partner: “‘Our generation’s pandemic?’ I still never cease to be amazed sometimes at how little faith in humanity you ever had at any point. But, what were you planning to do if the pandemic wasn’t a form of influenza? Were you going to write your own?”

Lavender: “I didn’t really think about novel viruses, honestly. I guess adult me will need to make up for that childhood failure to plan.”

Partner: “That’s okay. I don’t have much faith in humanity – or sense of what being cool means – either right now. I beat you to it. You sing it to the tune of My Sharona.”

My Partner and I are officially remote workers for the next indefinite amount of weeks. How will we ever survive being cooped up together?

Oh, wait. I worked remotely for a year because my old boss felt the need to socially distance himself from me long before it became fashionable while my Partner was simultaneously off work dealing with the 9th Circle of Hell. Our favorite hobby takes place entirely online. I make a mean enchilada casserole out of beans and rice, and my Partner rocks burritos made of the same. And, we have always preferred to go outside in the middle of the night because I am a vampire and a medical rationale for forbidding strangers to touch me seems like something that I should have requested as a neurodiversity accommodation years ago.

The U.S. is finally – and completely rightly – shutting down for a few weeks. We seem to be doing this entirely spontaneously, as our President remains dangerously out of touch and even his media statements declaring a national state of emergency are riddled with falsehoods. But at least we are doing it at all.

I know the eeriness of empty public transit cars and a 24/7 news cycle of either paranoia or panic is anxiety-inducing to many readers, especially those with mental health challenges. I understand, and those feelings are completely valid. Please take care of yourselves mentally as well as physically these next few weeks.

The legacy of Hell is that gallows humor will always be a first-line coping strategy for me. Relying on gallows humor as a personal coping strategy my entire life means that I reflexively talk about community-wide events the same way.

I honestly feel more relieved this weekend than I have felt for the past two weeks. I hope that is some reassurance to readers in countries where many are questioning if we shut down too drastically when “nothing was really wrong and there are only a few cases.” I feel for my readers in countries (and U.S. counties) that are approaching or exceeding healthcare capacity. I’m glad many countries are learning from what you all are experiencing. I wish it didn’t have to be at your expense, though, and I wish I had more reassurances to offer you. The U.S. talking about “not being Italy” (and forgetting Iran exists) as though it is just a computer model, not a country full of people, kind of sucks.

To someone who works with data as an adult – and felt compelled to come up with strategies for how she would protect herself and her family during most of the major human-created and/or human-amplified disasters of history as a child because she didn’t expect anyone else would ever do it – an ounce of prevention is absolutely worth a pound of cure. The scariest thing to me these past two weeks has been watching graphs look more and more exponential, yet still watching the U.S. follow Fox News instead of Fauci, Trump instead of Truth, and social ignorance instead of social distancing. It could very well still be pretty bad, but watching the U.S. previously flirt with unrestrained exponential growth, even as we had the lessons of other countries to guide us, felt like a retrospective justification to my past self that she was entirely right to believe she had to have a plan for every possible threat because the “adults” around her couldn’t be trusted to do so even on their own behalf.

My Partner and I are doing our part to minimize community spread. Childhood Lavender made a vow to herself to be “better” in whatever her generation’s global disaster would be, and adult Lavender hasn’t forgotten. We are doing our best to educate people about counterfactuals in the hope that, looking back in a few months, people will understand that they shouldn’t feel like they “overreacted” if the U.S. successfully rides out this threat with social disruption but significantly less social upheaval than other countries have had the misfortune to experience. We are doing our best to remind people that the entire point of these extraordinary measures is to create exactly that paradoxical situation wherein it would be easy to think that we “overreacted” later, and we caution people not to create a backlash against the extraordinary measures the U.S. and other countries are using to turn the tide if they actually work. As anxiety-inducing as these next few weeks might seem, we want them to seem “silly” in hindsight. Because that will mean that what I have heard too many people already call “silly” precautions weren’t actually “silly” at all. They just worked!

For anyone wondering why we are practicing social distancing – or trying to explain it to others – this PBS article has a good explanation with charts.

Child Lavender expected everything Trump has failed to do. Child Lavender could not actually have imagined people coming together to do the right thing to protect the most vulnerable to this pandemic in the absence of any coordinated top-down mandate. Every time I hear someone saying, “we don’t need to worry, this pandemic will only affect the old and disabled,” I want to scream.

I heard enough growing up to know – and plan – to always be on the outside of community “safety” because I would be responsible for someone whose health issues made them especially vulnerable to illness and upheaval – and whom society felt was an acceptable sacrifice during a societal breakdown (or, you know, just randomly like those few times culminating most recently in 2018 over the past decade…)

I spent countless hours thinking about how I’d ensure my family survived, and I never expected any adult (or anyone else, period) to help me.

I have recently seen the phrase #YOYO (You’re On Your Own) used to describe the mindset we have inflicted on Gen Z and younger. Apparently, it was the norm for most people my age or older growing up to believe that adults would be capable and willing to protect them, that society was fundamentally good, and that childhood was an idyllic time? Who knew! (Certainly not those of us with ACES…)

Unfortunately, that fundamental sense of safety is breaking down for our children because of the Trumps of the world, because of climate change, because of endless wars, because of children in cages, and because of the gutting of what few social services nations like the U.S. and U.K. once had.

And that sucks. I know what #YOYO feels like. I think every trauma survivor does. Growing up feeling personally responsible for protecting my family from dying in the next Spanish Flu because no one else would is not something I would wish on anyone, young or old. My love of tornadoes is a neurodiverse special interest I’d likely have ended up with even if I had never experienced trauma. The reflexive panic I felt weeks before anyone else was even thinking about corona in the U.S. due to my prior lived experience that if I don’t “see it coming” my family will be in danger more even from other people than from a novel virus is absolutely a trauma legacy.

Gallows humor is my first-line coping strategy – and I know exactly why that is. I don’t seem to be alone in that. It seems to be pretty common among trauma survivors. As does feeling paradoxically calm when everyone else is most panicking because by the time everyone else starts to ask, “Is this a thing?” we survivors who have “been there, done that” in our own childhoods have already run the models, prepared for the possibility of #YOYO, and now are just waiting to see whether maybe – just this time – other humans might at least not make it worse for us as we do what needs to be done.

They’ve already – and I had already – planned out in the early nineties what it would mean to be on the “right side of history” in our generation’s pandemic. Because if they didn’t, who else would?

And, if the rest of society happens to spontaneously catch up to that and shut everything down – even if it is more out of fear for themselves as low-risk individuals than truly out of understanding why social distancing by healthy folks saves the lives of the marginalized – they just call it an “unexpected bonus.”

Or, at least I do. Because I expect the worst, and I am surprisingly easily comforted by even a modicum of responsible social activism on behalf of anyone else. Because while everyone else is still asking, “how bad will it get in the next few weeks?,” I have already proactively started thinking about what will happen assuming that it does work, in a few months, when later everyone else has forgotten that counterfactuals exist and they call our current response “overblown.”

I feel like too many trauma survivors are already trying to minimize the potential damage from the next disaster even as they deal with the current one. Because we just assume there will be one, so why not get the jump on ensuring that even supposed “success” now doesn’t just lead to false complacency later.

We’re the ones trying to figure out how to balance messaging to our anxious coworkers and friends over the next two weeks, “be concerned, but only the right amount of concerned and then don’t forget why you were concerned later” because we, ourselves, cycled through all our own anxieties already in the prior two weeks, because that’s what we do. We “handle it” all on our own because we had no model for having someone else help us to “handle it.”

But can I mention yet again just how much that sucks? Can I mention again just how exhausting that is? And that I wouldn’t wish that responsibility on any future generations?

I’m content to see safety precautions put in place for any reason – even selfish reasons on the part of low-risk people – because those are the only reasons I have ever assumed I could reliably include in my personal calculations for my own family’s survival. But, can I mention again that it still isn’t ‘cool’ to reassure others about global pandemics with, “it will only seriously affect those who were already on the outside anyway?”

Even if I can “handle it” on the outside, on the inside I still remember what it’s like to know you are on the outside. I still well know what #YOYO feels like. I’ll probably have written a dozen jump rope rhymes about corona before socially distancing eases. And, the fact that I will is probably the clearest signal to anyone who knows me well that I’m doing mentally okay myself.

Because I’m mentally okay, please feel free to leave a comment on my blog these next few weeks, no matter what country you live in if you are doing less than okay yourself and could use a “socially distant hug” or two. I’m sometimes lower frequency in my replies because I’m neurodiverse and juggling multiple things to remember to do is hard, but I can pretty much handle anything. Even news from countries that are facing the worst of it, if any readers in severely impacted countries could use a vent space.

But, uh, can I just restate again how maybe we should make it a societal goal for future generations to maybe not have to be as resilient as the children of 1918 – or I – had to learn to be in the face of uncertainty? Could we maybe agree that sometimes being able to “handle” anything isn’t ideal if the reason for it is that others wouldn’t?

Could we maybe aim for more spontaneous #FlatteningtheCurve movements and fewer Trump talks for our next pandemic? I think my child self would be fine with being proven wrong retroactively…

flattenthecurve - Copy
<Image> Twitter illustration from Greg MacLellon about Tomas Pueyo’s heavily cited article on flattening the curve of coronavirus. Enacting social distancing procedures even one day earlier can reduce cases by 40%. Twitter post notes that “Unfortunate thing is if early measures are effective and contain the spread, people will say it was an overreaction. Either way, “flattening the curve” to not overwhelm healthcare will save lives.


Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms


8 thoughts on “Real Pandemics Have Curves

  1. I am just trying to avoid mob mentality panic, stay aware and educated, and praying to the sacred pegacorn for the best.
    People are arguing that this is not the time for jokes and levity but I think it’s an ideal time to distract us from the current dismal situation. I know I’d prefer to laugh a few minutes and get a break from worry and panic than just let it consume me 24-7.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Things were humming along, well you know chaotically stressful, until this afternoon’s on when it became very clear that I would have to start rationing my current holdings of chamomile tea. I actually use it to calm my CNS. Other brands don’t work. Without it my anxiety is…present and seated in the front of the class. Aside from that I’m trying desperately not to catastrophize.

    Take good care!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m glad you are prepared. I feel like there’s both the real, and the hype, and the frenzy of people causes more problems. Buy extras, do, that is responsible. Don’t stock up for a year leaving nothing for everyone else. I wonder if really it is worse than I know, coz Israel are being so cautious from day 1, and they’re the top end.
    Sending lotsa virtual hugs your way… and 🐬🐬🐬🐬🐬🐬
    Love, light, and glitter

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m okish but…also not really ok. I bounce between ok and not ok. Long read.

    Why: Family finances are alright – Mum even volunteered to go on unpaid leave… but parentals being home mean more abuse. They’re fine – they have enough to retire on.

    But for me… this has been 1 giant roadblock in my way of submitting my visa and I don’t know if I have the funds to last till whenever the fuck covid-19 ends and travel restrictions are lifted. I can’t rely on my parents for anything and while food is free, I have so many bills they don’t know I have psych meds, therapy for me & YoungerBro, insurance premiums… I’m spending as much as I used to when I still had an income! My savings will last only to the end of next year and thats if the world actually recovers. There’s going to be widespread change and I’m worried my careful savings of a decade of hard work will run out, leaving me with nothing even if I could move to Norway.

    Yeah! I have to be the calm one among my friends, reassure my mother etc but I can’t tell anyone offline about these worries, including my partner who is at-risk and he’s anxious enough.


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