Living in the time of COVID-19

Living in the time of COVID-19


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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With extraordinary ferocity and speed, the novel coronavirus swept the world and unleashed the greatest health crisis since the 1918 Influenza pandemic — which claimed 50 million lives — creating unprecedented social, economic, and political catastrophe and devastated lives. Individuals and families now face financial hardships, unemployment, their children are not in school, increased domestic violence, breakdown of marriages, divorce, and possibly increased suicides.

In desperation my friend contacted me because she was depressed, being out of work, confined at home, and unable to enjoy her usual pastimes. I recommended a “new normal”. (Neologisms like new normal, social distancing, and hand sanitizing always make me cringe). Obviously she couldn't change the world or nullify the virus, but she could try to change herself, or, more precisely, change her desires.

The very nature of life is change. As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, reasoned: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” Not only the river changes, but you do too. New experiences may bring new hardships — the race riots, the pandemic, jobs disappearing, isolation causing loneliness, and forcing people to communicate from home. To overcome these adversities you have to embrace change. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), the English writer, penned: “A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.”

To overcome, or at least relieve some of the anxiety and depression from job losses and financial hardships as a result of COVID-19, some words of consolation from no less a person than Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, might help. In 2011 Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer at age 56 leaving a fortune of US$7 billion. His last words were: “Money can get all kinds of material things, but there is one thing that cannot be bought — life.” Others are the stuff of which many memes are made: A US$300 clock and a US$3,000,000 clock show the same time. True happiness does not come from material things. It comes from the affections that our loved ones give us.”

In these desperate times, don't take life for granted, appreciate the little things in your life — health, friends, a house, the sound of your children (Yep, even when they are really loud), the ability to get up and go, and even a boring night. Appreciate what you do have. Life is too short to waste time thinking what you do not have. The late David Bowie gave us this simple but profound message: “Once you lose that sense of wonder of being alive, you're pretty much on your way out.”

Keep that sense of wonder alive. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take a break from the daily grind. Seize the present moments and seek momentary pleasures. Be entranced by the warm glow of a tropical sunset, mesmerised by Bach's Ave Maria, smell freshly baked bread, and savour the taste of a juicy Bombay mango.

Very few things put you in a better mood than an enjoyable physical activity. Exercises also help to boost your mental and physical health which are added benefits. Keep fit and well, your optimism to life will increase as a result. Forget the warm bubble bath; walk, run, or jog for 20 minutes. To forestall boredom, a bit of variety might help — change the speed of your running. Structure your free time in ways that will enhance your well-being, not in mindless passivity watching soap operas, but in mindful challenges: Pull down a good book. Watch educational or inspirational videos, do gardening, etc. Find work which can add purpose or meaning beyond the reward of the pay cheque.

“All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion” Taking a page from Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, build happy families with good family values, especially in the time of COVID-19. To avoid passing on your anxiety to your children who may be experiencing psychological distress from loss of freedom and being unable to be with their friends. Try to remain calm and happy, even if you have to fake it. During the period of enforced inactivity, aim to build stronger relationships with your children, instil in them self-discipline and a greater sense of social responsibility.

Some things we do not have complete control over, like the effects of the pandemic, but we can confront and deal with it. We do not have total control in winning a tennis match, but by practising hard it will certainly increase our chances of winning. Encourage play times.

My friend, I am happy to report, got back her mojo by discovering an interesting cooking video, skipping, and doing yoga. She now sees the world differently and is acquiring new interests and goals.

In life, perfect happiness is unrealisable, but perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. And, of the future? There is possibility; in one instance we have hope, and in the other uncertainty. Nonetheless, humans have remarkable resilience to survive major setbacks and the human race will survive this pandemic.

Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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