A friend asked me out for a drink.
I asked him if he’d been vaxxed.
Silence. Defiant mumble. His vax status was his business. He refused to answer.
So I declined his invitation. I didn’t tell him I thought he was making a dummy move. But I was angry then, and I’m even angrier now.
We are 18 months into this coronavirus mess and living through yet another surge. On Wednesday morning, Philadelphia officials reinstituted mask mandates for all businesses, unless they can verify all employees and customers are fully vaccinated. Masks will be required at non-seated outdoor events with more than 1,000 attendees, too.
Scientists are calling this wave an outbreak of the unvaccinated as hospitalizations soar in states where the vaccination rate is low. I’m calling it the surge of the callous and the inconsiderate.
Not only are the unmasked and the unvaxxed choosing to infect one another, they are risking other people’s lives — especially the immunocompromised and children too young to be vaccinated. COVID-19 cases among our youngest citizens have been on the rise since early July.
So here I was thinking I survived The Rona by the skin of my teeth. I ran the race. And I finished it. My vaccine card is proof.
But instead of celebrating with a victory lap and a glass of rose, I — we — have been kicked back to about mile three, not quite at the beginning, but less than halfway through.
And this time the feeling of uncertainty feels worse because I feel like there is nothing I can do except mask up and turn down drinks with the unvaccinated.
Here we go again
“The reality of finding yourself in circumstances that you have no control over and that you know is unfair is one of the most challenging situations human beings find ourselves in,” said Amena Coronado, professor of philosophy at Community College of Philadelphia.
So much has changed since the lockdown back in March 2020. There were always coronavirus doubters, but a year and a half ago we were all in this together. We all masked up. We homeschooled. We social distanced. And we held our breath until the vaccine was released.
Things started to look up. Spread was down. Wedding planning was back on. Businesses were coming back. We started dating again. I even entertained the idea of heading to a warm, sexy destination. And then came the delta variant with its quick-fast spread and breakthrough infections.
The albatross was back.
“We didn’t get a chance to truly enjoy being out of the woods yet before our hope was torn away,” said Ebony White, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Drexel University. “That does a lot to our psyche. We are left feeling defiant and angry.”
That defiance and anger is the difference between where we are now and this time last year. Now it feels like common ground has been bulldozed away.
At Wednesday’s news conference announcing new mask mandates, Mayor Jim Kenney pretty much summed it up when he said he didn’t foresee a lockdown in our future, “if everyone acts like a mature adult and does what they are supposed to do.”
But, Kenney cautioned: “You can see the level of immaturity around the country even from governors and legislators.” His annoyance was palpable. “This is where we are. Thank God this is not World War II [because] the level of effort and maturity that was shown in World War II is not being shown here and we’d be speaking German at this point.”
Stay the course
It’s normal to feel hoodwinked by the emergence of such an infectious variant and the possibility of still catching COVID-19, even though we’ve been vaccinated. That’s normal, Coronado said.
But add to that the constant changing of the rules — no masks yesterday, masks today — and it becomes hard to stay the course.
“We saw this light at the end of the tunnel, and now we are finding out that the end is much farther way than we thought,” said Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. “Our anxiety is back. What if things never get back to normal? What if we see another variant? We are tired, we are burned out, and it’s hard to stay focused.”
» READ MORE: What should we do with our anger right now?
Now that I think about it, I am starting to feel like yeah, what’s the point?
That, however, is the exact state of mind we need to avoid. “Resigned anger desensitizes us,” White said. “To be resigned is to step into a deep hopelessness that reinforces this idea that you are powerless, when the truth is we can actively choose resilience.”
Here are some tips to help us keep on keepin’ on.
Control what you can. Now is not the time to ignore the rules of COVID-19 safety. Masks are effective. Vaccines are effective. As of Wednesday night, the city of Philadelphia is requiring all unvaccinated city employees to wear two masks when indoors. And once you’ve done all you can do, “stop focusing on the people you think aren’t doing right,” White said. “Stop giving them energy. Pour that positive energy into yourself.” Self-care matters.
Be straight with yourself. This is not the time to ignore your feelings, Coronado said. If you are angry because you had to cancel a trip or you got sick even though you were vaccinated, deal with that. “Those are normal feelings to have,” Coronado said. “Part of the challenge of living is working through the disappointment of anger.” It’s only when we stop running from our emotions that we can take a rest and regroup our energy.
Discounting people won’t change their mind. You don’t have to have drinks with an anti-vaxxer, but you shouldn’t disregard their feelings. “I remember when all of this started I understood that health-care didn’t have a history of being on Black people or poor people’s side,” White said. " But I reminded people what were the alternatives, and some people made different choices.” The takeaway: Listen before walking away.
Listening to your gut doesn’t always mean acting on your feelings. “If your emotion tells you to give up, set goals so you can believe in a future,” Brown said. Your emotions may tell you to lash out in disgust, but the reality is you will just feel more hopeless. “When you feel anger and revenge, the best thing to do is do something kind.”
Something tells me if we don’t learn that lesson soon, we’ll be masking up indefinitely.
Amena Coronado, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy at Community College of Philadelphia