This one goes out to you, Momma

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

Hi folks, sorry I’ve not been active lately. I’ve started a new job and writing has been difficult during this weird time. I miss you all and will be back to writing soon enough, scout’s honor. A very special Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there. Here’s an essay I wrote to my mom for Mother’s Day.

Wow my drip game was off the charts from an early age. I been stuntin’ since birth, apparently.


Life changed in a moment for you both. That’s always how it goes, though. We don’t tend to realize that a moment is one we will reflect on for the rest of our lives, but I’m certain you both knew that life would never be the same the day Alyssa was born. Not only had you guys become parents, but you had just become lifelong caretakers. I can remember hearing you and dad discuss your approach to parenthood from a young age; there was never a choice. Your lives were forever dedicated to trying to make mine and Alyssa’s lives as good as possible.

I know it shatters your heart to hear this, but I knew about the fragility of mine and Alyssa’s lives long before I ever actually knew. It was something I sensed. I remember one Christmas I was upset about my gifts. I wasn’t upset because you guys didn’t get me what I wanted; no, I was upset because you guys got me exactly what I wanted. I wondered if maybe you guys gave me such a great life because you knew that it was likely to be shorter. I don’t know if you guys thought that and I would never hold any ill will towards you if you had. Hell, I felt guilty that I had even thought you guys may have had those thoughts.

You were there for me, every step of the way, even when you were spending time with Alyssa when she was sick. Through it all, you never made me feel less loved than Alyssa even though she required more of your time. It may not seem like it makes sense, but your faith in me that I could take care of myself when I got older while you were spending countless nights in the hospital with Alyssa meant the world to me. I knew you loved me unconditionally because you trusted me to take care of myself and gave me the chance to prove that.

Ever since my freshman year of college when I first left home, you’ve texted me to have a good day almost every single morning. On the rare days you don’t, I am reminded of how much it means to me even though it’s such a small thing. It is on those days where it occurs to me that your motherly instincts to be protective and take care of me even when I get annoyed are evidence of the unconditional love you have for your children.

Just a littttttle sunburnt…

During college, when I was coming to terms with my identity as a man and a person with a chronic, potentially life-shortening disease, I remember people heaping praise upon me for my handling of cystic fibrosis. But you and dad taught me that CF wasn’t necessarily a roadblock or impediment to living; it was just a part of our lives. In that way, I learned early on the value of having a loving home. Through it all, CF was background radiation; always present in our lives in one way or another. We did our best to never let it become the foreground but it was difficult at times.

This is already your third Mother’s Day without Alyssa. Somehow, it feels like she left yesterday and forever ago all the same. Our lives have regained a sense of normalcy as we take the next step to Florida. I can only imagine how excited Alyssa would be about Florida, but I know she’s excited for us.

It’s been two years and then some for you without your best friend. I know there isn’t a day that goes by or a memory created that you don’t desperately wish Alyssa was here with us. You guys spent more time with one another than any of us and the way you guys got along and communicated was a joy to see. Your senses of humor and affection for one another meant so much to me to see. Alyssa had terrible health for decades but her life was made better daily because of you. We’re in an impossible predicament; of course we wish Alyssa had more time, but imagine the fear we lived with every single day. We’re forced to reconcile with the loss of a sister, a daughter, a dog mom, and a best friend. Worse, we’re forced to wonder if there was a better future ahead of her.

We know better than to spend time doing this. If we reflect and wonder about all the points in time where Alyssa may have had a longer life, we will never come to grips with it. Instead, I think it’s better to reflect on the life Alyssa led and the way she impacted so many people, people that either knew her directly or indirectly knew her story. Hers was a life made more beautiful by your presence as a constant shining star.

I would not be the man I am today without you. You taught me the importance of compassion and empathizing with others. You taught me how it doesn’t matter who you are, you must treat others with kindness, with compassion, and with dignity. Those lessons from a young age have led me to my career path and my advocacy for a better world. Some of my best memories with you were your chaperoning almost every field trip I went on. I was so proud to have my cool mom there. You being there made me feel cool myself.

There are and never will be enough words I can string together to thank you. There has never been a day in my life where I’ve doubted your love for me. That is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you, mom, for believing in me in everything I’ve ever done. I will always be grateful for you in that way, but maybe most importantly, I will be grateful that Alyssa’s life was filled with love and support from you, every single day, from the first day of her life to her last. There has never been a question about how great of a mother you are and have always been.

We love you, Mom!

Best friends.

tl

A Lifetime of Sacrifice

A physician's thoughts on fighting COVID–19.

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Hi friends, I'm so excited to share this with you all: A physician friend of mine has written a poignant essay about being on the front lines of the raging war against COVID–19. You may remember Priya's name from an essay a few months ago.

Priya has one of the kindest souls of anybody I've ever met. Days before Alyssa died, she spent about an hour with my family after her shift was over, holding Alyssa's hand while she was asleep. My parents and I cried and laughed as we shared stories of my sister's life. The hour we spent with Priya made me feel so much calmer on one of the days I needed it most.

Priya Srivastava is currently a 4th-year Med-Peds resident and is planning to specialize in adult and pediatric endocrinology in San Francisco. Please enjoy this essay. I’m so thankful for Priya for writing this and for being such an amazing doctor. Please keep her in your thoughts as she takes care of patients afflicted with COVID–19.

For all the essays I publish related to the COVID–19, 100% of the tips I receive will be going to “The Team Kentucky Fund.” If you would like to donate (through me; though I encourage you to donate to whatever you feel strongest about), please send the money to my Venmo or PayPal. Every dollar is dearly appreciated.

If you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee a month, go to my Patreon and begin contributing $3/month!

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A Lifetime of Sacrifice

An essay by Dr. Priya Srivastava

I was six when I decided I wanted to become a doctor. “I want to help others like my dad,” I chimed cheerfully whenever anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. I held on to that dream dearly as I grew older, volunteering innumerable hours with disabled children, seniors at a nursing home, and in the BMT wards. I was diligent and graduated with honors in high school and college. I scoured over my medical school essays a hundred times over to make sure it was perfect! “Service is the rent we pay to live on Earth,” I wrote in my essays, hoping to emphasize how I wanted to make the world a better place. When I secured a spot in medical school, gosh, I ran around the neighborhood to take a literal victory lap, tears of joy streaming down my face! After I started medical school, I spent countless hours studying, attending lectures, and spending my free time shadowing and learning from as many physicians as I could. I forfeited family events and important occasions to pass my courses and worked 24-hour calls on surgery, all while watching my financial debt build beyond sight. I started my Internal-Medicine Pediatric Residency where I would learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Every phone call with my loved ones started with “I’m so sorry I have been so busy…” My body, my mental health, my personal life, and my self-care all went to the wayside as I put my patients and my work first. I dedicated my life to this career.

Then the pandemic happened. As COVID-19 ravaged its way through Asia and Europe, and then into the Americas, I knew that I would need to be brave and prepare for it. It was all going to be okay though, right? After all, we always had the supplies we needed in the past…or so I thought. Soon, posts from my colleagues around the nation poured out about the lack of protection needed to keep us safe from becoming patients ourselves. Family FaceTime revealed the number of my own family members in the healthcare field that were facing this virus in their communities. Every day I awoke to the updated CDC guidelines of bandanas and scarves being the adequate bullet-proof vests we needed to stay safe. In a swirl of headlines, I read about the doctors and nurses dying as they worked in high-risk conditions without the proper equipment. One day, the helplessness became crushing as I read about young residents, such as myself, who had already died from the virus because of a lack of protection. It was followed by the word that we providers in the richest nation on Earth would only receive one N95 mask to reuse over and over until it could no longer be worn. I awoke the next day to an email from my hospital regarding the action plan for the pandemic once it started to wreak havoc in my community. My role in a “platoon” was assigned and I, the “Lieutenant,” was to oversee my overflowing list of patients and report to my “Captain.”  Here I am, not a doctor, but a naked soldier, on the front line with an invisible enemy, with nothing more than a Nerf gun filled with hand-sanitizer and a bandana as my weapon and shield.

I’m not scared of dying. No of course not. Medicine has taught me that there are things far worse than death. What I am afraid of is waiting in a line of doctors to sign death certificates of patients I will grow to care about. I fear I may have to choose who lives and who dies and having to analyze the chance of survival instead of seeing the human in front of me. I am troubled by the moral dilemma and distress I may have to live with for the rest of my life when all of this is over. I am anxious I may spread the virus to others and be the underlying cause of their death. I am terrified that my family never having the closure of being able to hold me if I were to pass away, alone on a hospital bed. I am fearful that the sacrifices I made in my early life will have been in vain when I have martyred myself in this process.

Although I would choose this career in every lifetime, I am scared, like so many others around me. I gave my life to medicine and to helping others. I did not realize I may have to give it up too.

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Thanks so much to everybody for reading. Please share this if it resonated with you. This is a hard time for all of us. I’m so thankful to have people such as Priya taking care of patients, but I worry every day about the many medical professionals that are having to sacrifice so much right now. They are heroes, always.

Now is the time for us to rise taller

As the fabric of society appears broken, we must capitalize instead of capitulate.

It’s a scary time for all of us. As we sit by ourselves during this strange time with no end date in sight, I’ve been thinking about what the world looks like after this. I wrote about how I don’t think the world will ever be the same again after this, but I don’t think that has to be a reason for heartbreak; instead, I think it’s an opportunity for optimism. I hope you enjoy. This is my third piece on the COVID–19 pandemic. I won’t only be writing about this but this is how I best cope so I hope these pieces resonate with you. The first one was “We are in the midst of a plague" and the second one was “The age of loneliness.” Please take the time to read those if you haven’t already.

It would mean a great deal to me if you’d consider pitching in a few dollars to help support this endeavor; both my coverage of COVID–19 and also my writing in general. If you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee a month — these newsletters are almost always written with a cuppa joe by my side — go to my Patreon and begin contributing $3/month! If instead of a monthly contribution, you’d like to drop a dollar or two as a tip, here’s my Venmo or PayPal. I hope to make a few extra bucks here and there to keep this up and commit more time to my writing and see where that takes me. Every dollar is dearly appreciated. And, as always: feedback, email replies, comments, and shares are also dearly appreciated. To have people support my writing in that way is one of the coolest feelings ever. Thank you all.

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For Americans, the pandemic and subsequent quarantine come right as the planet comes back alive in our corner of the world. Trees and flowers are blooming; vibrant blue skies are returning; the warmth of the sun reminds us that the sun is still hanging in the sky, providing us energy; yet, scratches in the back of our throat from pollen frighten us that we’re experiencing the first symptoms of our New Life.

We are afraid of how long this is going to last. We don’t want this to last long and we sure as hell don’t want this to permanently interrupt what we’ve come to expect from our lives. We all want to wake up from this collective nightmare, to return to happy hours and brunches, to return to handshakes and hugs from our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones. We are all grieving a world gone. I want to dap up my boys. I want to play pick-up basketball. We spend so much time busy with our lives that we don’t realize how much we love the experience of just being around others. I don’t know how long this is going to last. I don’t know if our lives will ever return to the normal we were once used to. How many people did you know, before all of this happened, that would go to work or out to public spheres while symptomatic and say “Oh, it’s just a cold, I’ll be fine?” I’ve been around countless people that have said that and every single time, I have to remind them: It isn’t just about you, it’s about protecting those around you that are most vulnerable. When this is over, will we ever return to that collective sense of irresponsibility?

That sense of irresponsibility is bigger than any one person, however. It’s a societal issue as well. We’re told to push through pain, through our problems, for the sake of a job or out of some misplaced sense of toughness. Some employers don’t provide paid time off or paid sick leave, so people are put in an impossible predicament: Go to work while sick so they can pay rent and buy their kids food, or stay home to avoid getting others sick? That’s not so impossible when you think about how no kid should ever go hungry. It’s not their fault. How are we going to be better as a society in the next chapter of our history as a species?

It’s hard to know what the future looks like. It’s still early. This quarantine and social distancing have only been going on for a few weeks, but I have a hard time thinking that the world will ever be totally the same again. Like our grandparents who experienced World War II, or our parents with the Cold War and Vietnam, or even for millennials with 9/11, the Iraq War, and the Great Recession, the COVID–19 pandemic is something we’ll be seeing the effects of for decades to come. Many books are probably already being written; we are in the midst of a historical event that will define billions of lives for the foreseeable future.

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Since the beginning of this, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family across the country; I’ve been curious how other cities and states, particularly ones with more relaxed approaches and population densities, have been approaching this and what the general feeling in those areas has been. I worry a lot of people are still underestimating what the long-term effects of this are going to look like. I don’t think we should ever expect to go back to the way the world was just a few months ago; if only because we are all acutely aware of the world around us.

I’m not sure this has to be a cause for anxiety. We have always lived in a world of uncertainty; it is now merely more in the forefront of our minds than it was before. We’re all experiencing grief right now. For every historical event, people say that nobody could have ever predicted something like this. And for every historical event, we are reminded of our naïveté and the luxury of our ignorance. Of course, people predicted this could happen, just like people predicted 9/11 or the housing crisis or even Donald Trump’s election. We convince ourselves that our worldview is the one that most others share without recognizing that our perspectives influence our worldview and our worldview is influenced by our experiences. There is no definitive human experience aside from being alive. As our worlds are put on a pause, we can think about what it means to be alive, what it means to be a human. We will be transformed by this phase, no matter how long it lasts. It’s up to us to make sure that transformation is for the better, not the worse.

How are we going to live differently after this? What are we going to do with our spare time, or how are we going to approach our daily lives? I hope we’re calmer, more considerate of others, more empathetic. I hope we live our lives a bit more slowly, actually taking the time to stop and smell the roses instead of constantly saying we’re going to do it. I hope we appreciate our loved ones and the importance of human affection.

Our sense of the world has been shattered. Our appreciation for the people on the front lines — healthcare and hospital personnel, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, mailmen, and more — should grow through this and forevermore; our understanding of the fragility and importance of our jobs should be permanently embedded in our minds. We should want to come out of this more prepared to fight than ever: To fight for a better and just world, for a better life.

Tragedy does not break the world in half or bring anything out that doesn’t already exist; it simply shines a brighter light on what is already there. The employees that are “essential” today were essential yesterday and will be essential tomorrow. The fabric of society appears to have been torn to shreds but we remain. Tragedy has brought the world to its knees. It’s on us to rise, but we must capitalize instead of capitulate: Let’s rise taller and look out for one another more than ever before.

What are you going to do to make that new world a reality?

tl

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The age of loneliness

As we socially distance ourselves, it's more important than ever to be there for each other.

As a depressed and anxious extrovert, social distancing is quite possibly the worst prescription. But, social distancing for the betterment of the world makes that quite a bit easier. For my second piece about the COVID–19 pandemic, I wrote about social isolation and how we will hopefully be better as a society. I know it’s optimistic but we need to find a reason for hope. My first piece about the outbreak – “We are in the midst of a plague.” — is here.

I hope this newsletter is a way to bring people together. We have hundreds of readers on here so I’m going to figure out a way to create a digital sense of community that’s more intimate than other social media platforms. Substack emailed me about a live chat website called Throne, so click here to check that out. I’m hoping to create a place where we can just talk and socialize. I will consider other ways to create a sense of community! Let me know your thoughts too!

It would mean a great deal to me if you’d consider pitching in a few dollars to help support this endeavor; both my coverage of COVID–19 and also my writing in general. If you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee a month — these newsletters are almost always written with a cuppa joe by my side — go to my Patreon and begin contributing $3/month! If instead of a monthly contribution, you’d like to drop a dollar or two as a tip, here’s my Venmo or PayPal. I hope to make a few extra bucks here and there to keep this up and commit more time to my writing and see where that takes me. Every dollar is dearly appreciated. And, as always: feedback, email replies, comments, and shares are also dearly appreciated. To have people support my writing in that way is one of the coolest feelings ever. Thank you all.

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A global pandemic lays to waste any semblance of normalcy that we collectively have. We are forced to reconcile with changes to our lifestyles that we’ve never seen before. Gyms, bars, restaurants close forcing us to work out, eat, and drink alone in the confines in our homes. We are told to avoid others by a minimum distance of six feet, wash our hands every two seconds, and avoid public places as best as we can. We are told to do this to reduce the spread, or “flatten the curve,” to protect society’s most vulnerable. We are told social isolation is the key; being alone is the most compassionate form of social solidarity, of social responsibility, we can do for our peers on planet Earth. To protect others, we must avoid them.

In the weeks and months after my sister died, the small shit stopped mattering to me. I felt calmer about the world; traffic seemed not to bother me, rude comments bounced right off of me, everything just seemed to take on less importance in the absence of my sister. The color of the world faded to a saturated greyscale; color did not fade away entirely but the world was dulled, much like a midwestern January. The people around me were gentler, more considerate of me and also more reflective of their own life existence. At my sister’s funeral, I watched as my best friends—grown men that still looked to me like their high school selves—sobbed. They loved my sister and my sister loved them. She was like a sister to so many of them. For all of us lucky enough to have her in our lives, to see her lay still in a casket was to see a world slightly less vibrant without her soul.

Time seems not to exist when I’m in the presence of my close friends and family. The creation of a memory has long been the escape I need when I’m not feeling well. My depression has never resonated as one where I hole up in my room and sleep; it has mostly manifested as me shirking responsibilities and taking Duncan to the park or going and spending time with my friends and family. It’s when I’m with them that I force myself to put on a front. I find the strength to act like I’m happy because my struggles are not their burden. This method, as unhealthy as a coping mechanism it may be, forces me to fake it, which ends up working pretty well in making me feel happy.

Then those experiences end and I’m reminded of the triviality of all of this.


Over a fifth of Americans have some sort of anxiety disease. Worldwide, more than 264 million—3% of the global population—people have depression. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that probably a fifth of the world follows the US in their rates of anxiety diseases. As we’re entering a new era of the world where social distancing is the single most important act any individual can do to protect ourselves and others, we are entering the age of loneliness. Everybody feels lonely in life, and now we’re forced to isolate for the betterment of the world.

Americans haven’t been quarantined for a week and we’re already seeing just how deeply lonely social isolation can feel. We are social creatures. Our social predisposition is what helped us climb the natural food web to become the apex predators of the world. We work well together, we communicate, we benefit others and others benefit us. Even the most introverted of us tend to love others even if we don’t love spending time with them all of the time.

A pandemic such as this is difficult for a number of reasons: the illness, the social isolation, the unknown. We don’t know how long we will need to socially distance from the people and places we love most. As we socially distance ourselves, it’s probable that things will appear to calm down, which only reinforces the importance of social distancing. Millions of Americans are working from home or out of work, our health care professionals are on the front lines dealing with this crisis, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, and gas station workers have become (as they always were, we were just blinded to it) essential workers to keep our society resembling something at least semi-functional.

Throughout all of this, to maintain our sanity, it is critical that we continually remind ourselves of our sense of community and solidarity with one another. It’s going to be difficult. Our relationships with others are what make life worth living. Most of us have jobs that are valuable and fulfilling, but at the end of our lives, it is unlikely we will wish we worked more. We will probably wish we spent more time with the people that made us feel like worth is living. The most important value we create is not the value we create in our jobs; it is making others feel loved and like the world they’re living in is worth fighting for.

In the weeks leading up to my sister’s death, what matters in life crystallized in front of my eyes. Abs didn’t matter, the work I did—while I knew it was valuable and had to be done—felt meaningless, if girls found me attractive meant nothing to me. What mattered to me was the words I said to those I loved and making the most of the time I spent with them. There were so many things I wanted to say to my sister to let her know how loved she was and the imprint she was going to leave on the world, even when she was gone. I sent “I love you guys so fucking much,” to my boys’ group chat often, I made sure to tell my colleagues and other friends how much I loved them.

The truth is, existence at all is a gift. The existence of human life, of our lives, is wondrous. When we speculate on the beginning of the universe and we contemplate how life arose on planet earth, it starts to sound like fiction really quickly. The torrent of a global pandemic as it bears down on every community in the world is not unlike the death of a loved one in that it forces us to reconcile with the truths of our lives. Social isolation, paradoxically, is a collective fear of missing out; we aren’t missing what others are doing because nobody is (supposed to be, at least) doing anything. We are missing what we should be doing with our lives if it weren’t for this stupid, inconsiderate, emotionless virus.

When we lose a loved one or even go through heartbreak, we are hijacked of a future we envisioned we had. Memories are not only the present and the past, but they are also of the future. We look forward to future memories we will create with others and we begin to imagine what they will look like. We create the foundation of memories long before the memories are created. Memories are not concrete with nicely delineated beginnings and ends; they are shapeless and dynamic, affected by pretenses and nostalgia. Even in cases where the loss of a loved one is expected, to pretend like we are such unfeeling creatures that we don’t imagine they may be there for longer than expected and there for those futures is incorrect. We do it, and it’s okay that we do it. It’s a way for us to grapple with the current heartbreak.

I wanted to be realistic about my sister’s prognosis. At times, I was callous and prepared for her death. At other times, when the pain was too much to bear, I imagined a miraculous future where researchers could print perfect lungs for people who needed them. In some moments, I imagined a future where she was there and in other moments, I forced myself to feel what it would be like if she wasn’t. When my sister died, a part of me died, and a timeline I had always hoped would exist sealed shut, permanently. The global pandemic of COVID–19 is doing that for every human on earth right now.

Things are going to be hard, my friends. All of our futures have been altered. There are terminal folks that hoped to have a few good months with their friends and family that are now unable to due to risk of fatal complications from covid-19; there are elderly people in retirement homes with no access to visitors that are lonelier than ever; there are immunocompromised people relying on others to be considerate for them; all of us are confronting circumstances that we hadn’t anticipated. We are being forced, through no fault of our own, to consider our health and behavior for the sake of others.

Life can feel bleak on any given day for anyone of us. Depression and anxiety weaponize bleakness to cultivate a sense of doom for individuals. Social isolation and global pandemics are only adding more sense of doom to the equation. It is in this bleakness that we need to find some beauty, as hard as it may be.

We can choose to remain isolated, both physically and communally. We can act like we don’t any of the members of our community anything. We can turn our back on one another.

Or we can choose to use this as our chance to recognize a sense of solidarity with those we know and those we don’t. This isn’t about being there for the people we care about or know. This is about people there for people we don’t; people in our communities and outside, people in our countries and outside, people all across the world.

It is a terrifying time for all of us and this is only the beginning for Americans. We must be there for one another, in shared understanding that every single person the Earth’s future is now different. It doesn’t matter if you’re upset that your bachelor party got canceled or if you have an immunocompromised loved one you can’t see right now. There is no good in comparing grief or circumstances. We must come together and recognize that, for the betterment of the world and for our future, we are in this together.

I bet you’re scared and sad right now. That’s okay. So am I. We’re going to be there for each other. Once the smoke clears, we have to believe we are going to be more empathetic and willing to fight for a better world.

Right now, fighting for a better world means isolating yourself and avoiding public as best as possible. You have no idea how many lives you may be saving. Right now, the most compassionate act you can do for society is to be alone.

We all may feel alone, but we’re in this together.

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How are you spending your quarantine time? Please respond or comments with your thoughts about everything. I hope to write about other people’s experiences in an upcoming issue. Thanks so much, all. I appreciate your support.

tl

We are in the midst of a plague.

Now is the time for us to recognize our responsibility to one another — And we mustn't forget that valuable lesson when the smoke clears.

Sorry for the late-night post but — I’m sure you’ve heard of the new strain of coronavirus and its related illness COVID–19 over the past few weeks. I’ve been searching for how I could help in some way. Since I’m high-risk, there is nothing in the public I can do without risking my health so it’s pertinent I take precautionary steps. I was feeling very down about the state of the world earlier today as I wondered how I could make a difference and she encouraged me to utilize my newsletter as a source of information. I felt an immediate sense of calm as I realized this could be a really good idea. So here’s the first issue of my coverage about the global pandemic occurring. Please, take care and do your best to socially distance yourself and wash your hands. We must do our part to reduce the spread of this nasty virus.

It’s likely I will be writing more over the next few weeks. I hope to intersperse these writings with other essays, but I hope to explore the world as a global pandemic occurs. I will also be writing quite a bit as an escape while trapped in my house. I hope to share positive stories or ideas for what you can do to help others or even escape from the scary world for a bit. I will be sharing lots over the next few weeks. If you have any ideas for what I share or write about, please feel free to let me know.

It would mean a great deal to me if you’d consider pitching in a few dollars to help support this endeavor; both my coverage of COVID–19 and also my writing in general. If you’d like to buy me a cup of coffee a month — these newsletters are almost always written with a cuppa joe by my side — go to my Patreon and begin contributing $3/month! If instead of a monthly contribution, you’d like to drop a dollar or two as a tip, here’s my Venmo or PayPal. I hope to make a few extra bucks here and there to keep this up and commit more time to my writing and see where that takes me. Every dollar is dearly appreciated. And, as always: feedback, email replies, comments, and shares are also dearly appreciated. To have people support my writing in that way is one of the coolest feelings ever. Thank you all.

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The human mind does not respond well to uncertainty. Uncertainty begets fear and powerlessness. Uncertainty forces us to analyze several different possibilities; it forces us to use risk-analysis — something humans are not very good at — to determine the likelihood that we personally will be affected. We tend to overestimate benefits and underestimate risks. Consider how many people tend to think that meteorologists are bad at their job; you may be shocked to realize how meteorologists are actually quite good compared to other professions that predict the future, and that you may be overestimating your own understanding of probability.

Suppose, then, you add all of this with a global pandemic. Humans, it turns out, aren’t very good at handling a worldwide atrocity; governments are made of humans after all, with all of their bad understanding of probability and tendency to underestimate risks. It becomes further exacerbated when you consider the political and media frameworks that are also composed of humans with biases and motivations.

It is possible to find good sources of information (and I’ll be sure to link heavily in these posts). It just requires work, fortitude, self-motivation, and the ability to put all of this (probably) new information together. We can’t all be epidemiologists or virologists in addition to our current careers. Understanding a global pandemic requires epidemiological, psychological, sociological, and scientific knowledge. There’s a reason there are entire careers dedicated to studying pandemics to prevent them; but just like you can never totally prevent wildfires, you can’t ever totally prevent pandemics. We just get better at it, or at least we hope.

Viruses spread by contact. Transmission via contact is especially lethal when it comes to a social species. Every single year, humans become less and less widely distributed. We are becoming a more and more social species as more of us move inwards to cities instead of outwards. So viruses spread by contact and humans are social creatures, so how do we slow the spread of viruses? Social distancing.

(Future pieces over the coming weeks will be discussing many different components to this.)

Hopefully, you’ve become aware of COVID–19 — COVID-19 is the name of the illness caused by this new strain of coronavirus causing the global pandemic — in the past few weeks or months. If you haven’t, I recommend starting with The Atlantic’s coverage; they have been spectacular in their reporting thus far.

Right now, I want to be very candid: I’m frightened. From what we know so far, the people most likely to die from COVID–19 are older adults and those with chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes among others. I have many friends in the CF community. I worry about their health like I worry about my own and like I worried about my sister’s. Seeing any friend get sick hurts and reminds me of how fragile life is. I also have many friends with many other chronic diseases; I worry about these folks, too. I worry about the many elderly people across the country that will get sick and those that will die during this. I also worry about all of these people during the flu season.

As this pandemic has spread and began touching nearly every community across the US and world, we have witnessed how humans process the world around them. I don’t think tragedy brings anything out that doesn’t already exist; instead, I think it’s an acute intensification of the way we process the world all the time. I have seen more posts than I like about how COVID–19 “is just like the flu” and how “it’s only bad if you’re old or have an underlying condition!” While I understand the impulse, I don’t think it does a lot of good to talk about how many people are old or have an underlying condition (though it is more than half of the country). Rather, I think we need to consider what we’re saying when we say that, why we shouldn’t think of it that way, and also why we need to understand why it helps others to frame it that way.

When somebody with a chronic disease or is older hears that framing, what they are hearing, at best, is “Well this is not my concern but it’s yours, tough shit” and, at worst, “Your life is less important than a healthy or younger person’s.” That type of framing implies that since it’s more harmful for a different population that we shouldn’t take it seriously as a global population or view it as a public safety concern. It is fundamentally selfish to think of something as unserious since you’re not the most vulnerable population. People with bad intentions can run with that argument down a very dark path. I don’t believe the people sharing these sentiments had bad intentions! Instead, I think it was out of ignorance and fear.

This is where our poor understanding of risk comes into play. It comforts us to think we’re not the most vulnerable population. Those sharing those “it’s just the flu” posts weren’t intending to say our lives were less important; instead, I think they were trying to tell others to stop panicking and also provide themselves with comfort by viewing it as not as much concern. It was still out of selfishness, but we don’t do ourselves any favors when we assume sheer callousness without trying to first understand where others are coming from.

If I want others to hear my perspective about why I am concerned about COVID–19, I have to be willing to see why others aren’t concerned about it (whether or not that comes from the right place or not). I think it’s important we’re aware of COVID–19, but that doesn’t mean we need to panic. As terrifying as this global pandemic is, as individuals, we have few choices for how we move forward. We can ignore it and go out and be social and ignore what experts are saying, which will likely only make things worse for the most vulnerable (since many young people are carrying it asymptomatically and therefore spreading it). Or we can take it seriously, listen to experts, and be considerate of others, especially those most vulnerable.

Life has taught me that to cope, we must be opportunistic. We must look at the challenges in front of us and view them as obstacles; every hardship is a chance to learn something new. We will move forward and we will move backward at times, but we must persevere. While it is not nearly enough of a consolation, something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how this pandemic is going to affect the majority of us.

Early on, most people chose to believe this was nothing new, that it was just another flu season. Lots of people said that the experts or media were overreacting; people began sharing memes about how many people die from obesity-related diseases, or cardiovascular diseases, or cancer. This reaction makes sense; most people were misinformed or were reacting defensively. They wanted to believe this wasn’t that serious or that they were at risk or that their lives would have to change. Even though we can’t change the past, I wish people would have reacted differently. Hopefully there’s never another pandemic like this, but if there is, we must all learn from this and act better next time.

As the scope of the pandemic becomes clearer, people are being more and more cautious. This is a good thing. On social media at least, it’s evident that people are taking this social distancing and self-isolation thing seriously. People are working from home and states are starting to enact serious policies to reduce the spread by closing restaurants and bars and other public gathering spots. For the first time in decades, we are going to confront intense social isolation from one another. It’s lucky we have social media and the internet to provide us lines of support for that social fix we all crave but even then, this is hard for us to process. How are we going to respond to this?

I hope this also makes us consider something that is important for the future of any society: The responsibilities we, as individuals, have to others, both within our communities but also the whole world. What do we owe others? is a question we should all ponder right now. If it’s a question that matters during a plague — a time that feels like the end of the world for all of us — isn’t it a question that should matter all the time? If something matters during the apocalypse, why wouldn’t it matter when things are okay?

We can promote rugged individualism all we want, but the reality is different. We are affected by others’ actions, and our actions affect others. It’s on us to be aware and considerate of our actions and their consequences. We are a part of our community. If we choose to not be considerate of others, we are complicit in the repercussions of those actions. If we reject our own involvement, we can’t reasonably expect others to be considerate of us. The problem with rugged individualism is that there is no such thing. We are all affected by each other in one way or another. It is more likely than not that we have somebody we deeply care about that is old or has an underlying condition. Based on worst-case scenarios, most of us are probably going to get COVID–19. Reducing the spread is so important so we can “flatten the curve” and ensure hospital beds and ventilators are needed for the sickest individuals.

It’s easy to argue the importance of what we owe others during an unprecedented, once-in-a-generation global pandemic. Why shouldn’t we feel this way all the time? As our lives come to a halt and we spend more time isolated, I think we are all going to realize just how important others are to us. Just as we deserve a vibrant world, we owe others a chance at one, too. This will require us to recognize our responsibility to others. I hope you find peace during this time. I know we’re all going to struggle, but we’re all going to need one another.

When a plague forces us to reconcile with what we owe one another, we can carry that lesson every day forward. We can make the world better. We just have to recognize we must look out for one another. I vow to look out for you. I hope you plan to look out for me. I’m going to need it. You very well may need others to look out for you.

In solidarity,

tl

Please give me any suggestions for how I should cover this or for suggestions to escape. I have lots of ideas right now but am happily accepting more!

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