A recent anxiety attack caused me to reexamine my activities, as well as my in-activities, during the pandemic.
Disaster response experts tell us the six-month mark after any natural catastrophe is called the “disillusionment phase.” That’s where we are currently, which provides a partial explanation for the pervasive angst.
Anxiety during any crisis is often the result of vague, unidentified, unnamed guilt: Why did this happen? Did I do something wrong?
A couple of recent conversations with other retirees helped me to isolate several themes worth considering.
In spite of reasonable self-care, my nerves were shot. So, I’ve not attempted to suggest remedies. Yet, I believe there are specific reasons the elderly are more vulnerable to anxiety today than last fall.
Some specific culprits, either new or amplified this year, are now part of our spiritual, emotional and physical reality. We didn’t ask for them and we can’t control many of them, so how should we respond?
My first professor of Christian ethics was George Kelsey. In one lecture, he contended there are three areas of life for which we are not morally responsible.
- When the event in question results from a reflex action.
If a lookout posted as a sentry for the protection of others accidentally sneezes or coughs causing his unit to be ambushed or massacred, the guard is not ethically responsible.
Alternatively, if the sentry created a noisy ruckus by playing a harmonica loudly and mayhem ensues, the guard is guilty and can be court-martialed.
- When an event happens as the result of an outside stimulus.
If I push you, and you bump into someone else because of my shoving you, and that person falls and is injured or killed, you are not liable.
Alternatively, if you are the instigator of a process that causes injury, you are morally accountable.
- When a decision or action involves “invincible ignorance.”
A doctor can hardly be held responsible by patients or by God for not prescribing a drug to cure a disease if it hasn’t been discovered or developed. That’s invincible ignorance, a lack of knowledge impossible to overcome.
Alternatively, if the drug is available and has been written about in medical journals, but the physician has been lazy about keeping up with the latest protocols for treating cancer patients, then the doctor is morally responsible.
This framework should guide us as we manage our feelings of anxiety and guilt resulting from the pandemic – emotions that are often exacerbated among retirees who likely felt some loss of control even before COVID-19.
What follows is a short list of some of the culprits that have caused retirees both anxiety and guilt during the pandemic.
A younger coworker reminded me before I retired that she was a “digital native,” and I was a “digital immigrant.”
As long as I was employed, I had access to continuing education opportunities and could keep up with technological innovations reasonably well. Also, younger colleagues could coach me when needed.
Then came retirement. To a great extent, those opportunities dried up, and we retirees were on our own.
A friend told me about being summoned to jury duty but finding that the online form he was required to complete wouldn’t allow him to submit his responses despite multiple attempts.
Multiply this experience by 10 or 50 occasions of internet inability, and that’s a recipe for frustration.
- Secondary quarantine
My wife and I and our primary relationships (our pod) have done well during this pandemic with regard to emotional support.
We see few people, and those we do see are careful about wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing. We stay in touch with other people we love by email, phone and video conferencing.
However, I feel negatively impacted by isolation from the innumerable secondary connections that are an ordinary part of life – smiles and short conversations with waiters and waitresses, with the mixture of young and old people who attend church, shooting the bull with nieces and nephews at family gatherings.
When one of the two great commandments is to love others as we love ourselves, it’s spiritually restrictive to be cut off from most of our casual relationships.
- Life-and-death decisions
Retirees, who are unaccustomed to making daily judgments that can result in the loss of their own or someone else’s life, find themselves routinely making such momentous decisions. Yet, senior adults, who are among the most vulnerable to dying from COVID-19, now find their decisions can be life or death.
A woman in the congregation where I was pastor over 20 years ago complained about some unexpected complications that led to a loss of support systems in her life, “I didn’t ask for any of this.”
That loss of a sense of well-being applies to many of the elderly in 2020. “I didn’t ask for any of this.”
Yet, they have no choice. If they go anywhere, they can be exposed to a killer virus.
- Secular politics
I’ve never seen anything like the political spectacle of the 2020 election. Even if you try to insulate yourself from the madness, anger, incivility and unkindness, you can’t escape it altogether.
As a moral person, maybe you shouldn’t. People of faith need to participate as we are able – as voters and volunteers who speak up for the moral issues and candidates we value.
I’ve found social media to be a worthless, even harmful, place to express political opinions. I’ve resisted letting myself be jerked around by the crisis-oriented daily news cycle.
One of my personal boundaries is that I watch no daytime television. I don’t watch any news-as-entertainment programs. But no matter how I try to protect my mental and spiritual health during this strange national ordeal, I fail.
- Finances and health
Money and health issues don’t wait until you are elderly, and they haven’t waited until the pandemic. But COVID-19 has exacerbated the problems associated with money and medicine, reducing flexibility and options.
- Loss of routine
We are creatures of habit who have more or less prescribed practices. We aren’t ordinarily that rigid, but we had habits that were abruptly changed in mid-March.
As a life-long co-dependent, caretaker, reactive, responsible, fixer, problem solver, dependable kind of person, it’s not an easy or intuitive lesson for me to let things go, to determine I’m not morally responsible for every issue that arises.
Are these experiences anxiety producing? Yes. Should we feel guilty? No.