An Open Letter From a Coronavirus Optimist
I know my glass-half-full attitude can be annoying, but panic isn’t the only way to respond
Look, if anyone knows how annoying I am, it’s definitely me: the woman who has never once purchased Purell. Who has never deigned to open the bathroom door with her soggy paper towel. Whose home medical supply remains limited to treatments for hangovers, heavy flows, and the early signs of aging.
And sure, when you asked if I thought it’d be safe for you to hit the gym, I could’ve come up with a more reassuring response than “Just don’t lick the elliptical.”
When I complained about “those bourgeois yuppie assholes hoarding shit,” what I really meant was “I’m mad that my Whole Foods is out of beans.” (I wanted to make The Stew.) (Yes, of course I mean the new one.)
The truth is, I’m worried too. I haven’t mentally prepared for a pandemic—unless you count the remains of a short-lived canning hobby I tried last winter, my disaster rations are in a grim state. (Bergamot marmalade turns out to be disgusting.)
And look, I know it’s easy to get stuck in the all-consuming psychological hellscape of worst-case scenarios. Even for those who aren’t prone to catastrophizing, the rapid spread of COVID-19 might appear to forecast Book of Revelations–level doom. Panic can be a kind of refuge. It can feel productive to give one’s ambient worry somewhere viable to go.
If people like me are annoying you with all our keep-calm-and-carry-on, believe me, I understand.
But cut us some slack, please. As we strain to keep our glasses half-full, my fellow milk-drinking Pollyannas remain as sensitive to uncertainty as any other human being. Which is to say, quite: A landmark 2016 study concluded that living with uncertainty triggers a far more potent stress response than knowing for sure that a specific terrible outcome is absolutely going to happen.
This phenomenon may help explain the allure of cataclysmic thinking. Keeping the absolute worst possible outcome within sight is a way of mitigating the dread of the vast and scary unknown. Resigning oneself to an inevitability of mass contagion and the ensuing collapse of society seems like a…