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Deer-in-the-Headlights Syndrome

[I began this April 5 and last edited it April 19, and am only beginning to recover June 24 from a bad case of DITHS.]

Some of us have had a hard time ignoring the pandemic developments, a condition that could be called Deer-in-the-Headlights Syndrome (DITHS). Even if we avoid getting the actual virus, this collateral affliction is serious and needs treatment.

What are the symptoms of DITHS?

  • Extreme social media addiction
  • Obsessive, constant reading of the latest pandemic news
  • Amazement at the range of problems caused by Covid-19
  • Astonishment at the incomprehensibly global nature of this disaster
  • Consternation at the chaotic, disorganized, and contradictory messages coming from the US federal government, especially at the task force briefings
  • Determination to verify accuracy of official statements, news reports and stories, which leads to bottomless pits of information - difficult and time consuming
  • Compulsion to seek background info on subtopics (impact on homeless, snafus on testing and MCM acquisition), terms (social distancing, ), acronyms (PPE, MCM, SNS, ICU, BARDA)

Tell-tale signs of critical DITHS cases are stress, worry, anger, dishes piled up in the sink, blurry eyes from too much screen time, and thousands of open tabs in the web browser.

Thank goodness our bodies make us get up to find something to eat and to take a bathroom break now and then or we'd be gonners.

Not everyone is susceptible to DITHS. That may be out of necessity or out of indifference. Or maybe they have their act together and rise to the occasion. But there are costs involved in our responses to Covid-19 regardless.

What are the treatments for DITHS? 

I started this post April 5 when I had an acute case of DITHS. Even though I wasn't following news on social networks, did not have coronavirus alerts coming in, was not listening to NPR or any radio shows or watching any TV except for RI governor Gina Raimondo's daily briefings, instead getting a few summaries of news from both so-called liberal and conservative sources and reading a range of opinions and news online, I was still consumed. At first I ignored how social media hysteria adds to cases of DITHS until I happened to see later that week an article published in Wired April 3, "My Phone Keeps Me Sane During This Crisis … and Insane, Too - What happens when the only device that can make you stop crying is exactly the device that is making you cry?"

The author, Collier Meyerson, contrasts life in 2001 with today. On 9/11, she was in Quaker highschool near ground zero. "In the wake of the tragedy, a teacher told us during Quaker meeting to think of the moment we were in like sunset—to look at it, but turn away every so often so as not to burn our eyes. That was comforting to hear. It needs reminding now, for those of us who are able to follow the advice."

What I've found helpful:

  • At least stay off social media. Turn them OFF. Or as Governor Raimondo says, Knock it OFF. Talk to people I care about on the phone, face to face through something like FaceTime for human support, but leave all the online chatter alone and don't add to it. Especially stay away from people online whom I have never met. It's too much confusing racket, noise. It's too easy to send short texts that keep stirring up the cauldron of upsetting crisis responses. [If you can't stay off social media and must keep texting, use these resources to support and encourage your friends and family.]
  • What information being shared/reported is accurate and reliable? How do I know what is accurate? Focus on what is accurate and reliable, and be wary of listening only to what I want to believe. What is true? How can I tell?  This virus upends wishful thinkers and is ignored at our peril.
  • Get a grip - set boundaries on the aspects of the pandemic I follow. I often want to go deep, but there is too much, so limit the topics to pursue.
  • Set a timer and go outside for some fresh air when the timer rings - at least get up and move for a bit
  • Make a list of other things to do and block out time for them.

Eventually some of us may just cave in to exhaustion and zone out. It snowed here yesterday, April 18, and some of us just closed the drapes rather than stare at the snow on the azaleas. Later in the morning, though, I did enjoy seeing the azalea-blaze triumph over the white stuff. A sign of hope in nature that I wish could appear in the pandemic.

And as a last resort, go do the dishes.

Another thought: Is there - should there be - could there be a vaccine for DITHS?

Well, although in this case DITHS is related to a virus and seems to go viral through the population, it actually isn't itself caused by a submicroscopic pathogen that can only replicate inside a living cell of an organism, so a literal vaccine wouldn't work. But what would a figurative vaccine be?  Perhaps a figurative vaccine would replicate in our minds and hearts through knowledge of the truth and responding in ways that reduce human suffering.