Be afraid … but not witlessly so.

This week the UK registered its 100,000th Covid-related death. This is a horrendous statistic, by any standard, and nobody of any reasonably fair disposition can refute that, regardless of any ‘objective’ comparisons of national Pandemic-performances, reflects badly on The United Kingdom. As The Ericle has pointed out in other pieces, this reflects not only our government but the kind of country that we are. (See: here ) One of the greatest casualties of The Pandemic in the UK has been the citizen’s relationship with their government. Currently, with the 3rd Wave at its peak, only the brain-dead can argue against the measures in place that restrict our social gatherings. However, there will come (again) a soon time when these measures will be relaxed and yet again we will be challenged as individuals within society to behave ‘sensibly’ and ‘reasonably’. This challenge behoves us to have the capacity to understand risk to both ourselves and others.

According to The Times, this Wednesday:

If you haven’t already stumbled on this, you might like to check your* odds out via this Oxford University Calculator, which is a ‘living’ risk prediction model. The Calculator, which shows the absolute risk of catching and dying COVID-19 based on data derived from the first peak of the pandemic, provides a risk comparison as against a person of the same age and sex but with no risk factors.

Click Here

* (Hopefully, my non-UK reader can find similar in your own country.)

In my case, the OU Calculator suggests that I, (71 y.o. living in North London, ‘overweight’ with no chronic underlying conditions), have an ‘absolute risk’ of 1 in 1211 (0.08%) of a ‘COVID associated death’. Furthermore it compares this with my ‘absolute risk’ if I presented ‘no risk’ factors – my Body Mass Index, which it calculates to be 27.8, putting me in the ‘overweight’ category – which would be 1 in 1667 (0.06%). It also calculates that I have a 1 in 413 (0.24%) chance of experiencing a ‘Covid Associated Hospital Admission’, which would reduce to 1 in 597 (0.16%) if I reduced my BMI to within the ‘normal’ (sub-25.0) range.

[According to Bandolier “Evidence Based Thinking On Healthcare”, (see: here), a UK citizen has 1 in 17,655 annual chance of demise in a transport-related accident and a 1 in 240 lifetime chance.]

What the OU Calculator also tells me, with a calculation to support this, is that I can improve my chances of survival improve by 38% and of avoiding hospitalisation by 45%. In my case, these risk factors are the location of my residence and being overweight. As I don’t plan to move home, my principal odds-improving option is to put myself on a weight-reducing regime. This would means that my chances of not succumbing to Covid improve if I would shed some 9 kgs/20 lbs.

In a situation, when my government is continually telling us that their policies are ‘guided by the science’, how should the OU Calculator ‘science’ guide my personal actions. Well, the OU Calculator does tell me that my chances of catching it and surviving it are pretty decent; and it do not yet take into account the additional positive effect of a dose of vaccination that I received this week. Making inroads into having a 38% better chance of survival doesn’t seem to me to be trivial! Prima facie, this would suggest that not a moment should be spared in putting myself on a radical weight-reducing regime. But what about my emotional well-being? Is Lockdown really the best time to pass on the pleasurable sugar-rush of a chocolate digestive with my morning tea or my sundowner glass of Cab Sav?

There is a bumpy road ahead of us. I continue to hope that our governments will guide us sensibly and pursue policies that are in our national and personal interests. However, I have never been more certain of one thing, that we all have a responsibility to do the same thing. I don’t want to live in a society where the government dictates and control every aspect of my life. But I also want to live in one where I can trust my fellow citizens to behave with a reasonable degree of social empathy. In other words, I am happy to put up with traffic lights but want to be granted the trust to be able to cross the road safely under my own steam. Understanding the real physical risks to ourselves and others is fundamental to this, not only in defining our social behaviour but also in contributing to our own sense of wellbeing which is of equal individual and societal importance. And a realistic assessment of the true physical risk is an important ingredient to our own state of mental being, which is equally important if we are to successfully navigate through what is ahead of us. This is exactly the point made by Howard Copper in his most recent blog-piece, Freud, The Pandemic and Our Emotional Well Being. (See the full blog: here)

It’s clear that in these lockdown and pandemic times – and we are fast approaching a year now since our world was turned upside down – the question of how we are managing our day to day life is a major preoccupation. The newspapers, radio, TV and social media are full of advice on how to manage our emotional well-being: tips for survival, guides to lockdown living, how best to look after our mental health. And yet, when it comes down to it, and you dig into how each of us is bearing up, you don’t have to dig very far to touch into just how distressing we are finding this, how disturbed we are feeling, how frightened we might be, how insecure and uncertain we are about the future – and that is regardless of whether we have had the vaccine injection or not. We might not have emerged from a World War – but nobody I know is manging well, sailing through this, however brave a face we are putting on it. Our mental health, our emotional well-being is being challenged, perhaps as never before in our lifetimes. And that is separate from those of us who might have actually lost someone to Covid over this last year. When somebody dies, however painful that is, we can mourn the loss. The loss is real, the grief is real, yet we sort of know what we are dealing with. But with the pandemic, what we are struggling with is a different kind of loss – and because we have never gone through this kind of loss before we don’t know what we are dealing with. We just know that there are a variety of symptoms: be it an edginess, an unsettledness, an irritability, maybe sleeplessness, feelings of hopelessness or despair,  a low level anxiety, maybe we find we are being forgetful or tearful or finding it difficult to concentrate. If there is one thing I would highlight here, it is something we may never have realised was so vital for our mental health, our emotional well-being: the real tactile contact we are used to having with other people. Live connection, sharing physical space with others, touching other people, being touched by other people, bodies in space together. How much we are missing this: the living, embodied  presence of other people, people we know and love, or people we see only once in a while, but also strangers, people in the street and in shops and on the tube and at football. Real people whom we mix with and interact with and keep us ‘in touch’ – what a powerful phrase this turns out to be! – keep us in touch with our own being alive, in our bodies, in our selves. Zoom and the phone does not touch some deeper human need for embodied, kinaesthetic presence, a need we have never been deprived of before, and so never realised – and we are only just realising now – helps us feel alive. Breathing, sweating, smiling, grimacing, glowing humanity. We go out and interact and other people mirror our aliveness. And a lot of was happening at a subconscious level. And we have largely lost it. Our sense of being fully alive – heart, mind, body, soul – becomes atrophied, slowly, if we have no physical connection with others. Why is solitary confinement the ultimate punishment in prison? In certain regimes it’s used to drive prisoners into despair or madness. So we need to acknowledge that if we are abiding with the guidelines we are experiencing a collective bereavement. And maybe at some fundamental level that is why, psychologically, people might not be complying – it’s not just being anti-social, or bloody-minded, or perverse, or dressed up as libertarian ideology – it’s because unconsciously we all know that connecting to others makes us feel more alive. And aren’t we all determined, in our own ways, to try and feel and stay alive? As Freud’s family tragedy illustrates in a small way, we are of course not the first to experience traumatic loss: the disorientation, dislocation, bereavement, anxieties about separation and loss that have to be endured month after month, sometimes year after year. It is part of the human condition. In our situations there is much that we can do to help ourselves – as I mentioned, everywhere you look there are suggestions about how to survive lockdown. I imagine some of the things you do will help, some won’t. Sometimes you will just feel low, sad, morose, upset, disconnected from others, disconnected from your deeper more alive self. But for our own mental health it can be important, I would say vital, just to be able to accept those feelings. This is easier said than done. But – using Freud’s word – it’s ‘permissible’ to feel low: that’s congruent with what we are having to live through. Those feelings won’t last forever, they don’t last forever, even though when we are in them we sometimes feel as it they will.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Hill Street Blues Sgt. Phil Esterhaus: Let’s Be Careful Out There … & In There!

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