Something I’m seeing (and personally struggling with) is that a lot of people who took the pandemic seriously (whether from the start or from learning the hard way) are being expected to start to make exceptions, or relax all at once, or just “trust” other people wholly. But brains don’t work that way. Brains adapt and habituate, and many of us made it an entire year with little or no exposure to a deadly virus by practicing caution that others told us was too extreme. Our brains clung to these practices because it minimized anxiety and reinforced our trust in scientists and public health institutions.
If you look past the debate over whether it’s still “too soon” (which, don’t get me wrong, is still an ENTIRELY VALID conversation), you’re asking us to forget that which helped us survive this far. More than a belief system, these habits have become cognitively ingrained, and we’re going to need some time to figure out if/when/how to open them back up.
It’s not personal, it’s not an accusation, it’s not us saying we think you as an individual are going to get us sick. Maybe we took calculated gambles along the way, but they were few, far between, and carefully negotiated. If you weren’t here for every moment of that, you may not know how much we fretted over every hayfever sneeze, every stranger who got too close at the grocery store, every over-sanitized surface. You may have seen us change our avatars and share links to advocate mask-wearing, but you didn’t see us agonize over whether to stop certain activities when that physician who sanitized his fruit got debunked or wonder if we could replicate the no-flow air purifier of the teacher who had to keep his students safe.
We’re all spun up pretty tight, and for some it’s just time to let go. But it’s not that simple for everyone. Some of us need the numbers to get a little lower. Some of us need some time to adjust, no matter how low the numbers get. Some of us will never interact outside the house in the same way again. These choices are about our mental health as well as our physical health, so please — as we have asked all along — please don’t only think of yourself.