Tell us when to panic

sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.

January 23, 2020

Five thousand miles from Wuhan, China, our office is abuzz.

A co-worker has now been home for two days with a mysterious ailment.

She’s upset because her doctor will not prescribe antibiotics until he sees how the illness is progressing. And she feels like warmed over horse dung.

The media, doing its usual job of panic-selling, is couching it’s reports on the latest Coronavirus update in quasi-apocalyptic terms. Twitter is doing its job of amplifying the growing panic and feeding us memes of beer bottles.

Of course, as a person with an anxiety condition and PTSD, I’m consuming a steady diet of panic reporting, trying to remain emotionally detached while mentally calculating if I have enough food and bottled water in the house to wait out a global pandemic.

And as I stare at the photos and memes churning from social media I wonder: who eats bats?

But seriously, listen up — as a dedicated follower of all things climate emergency, I can only worry about one global extinction event at a time, OK?

I think I’m getting swollen glands. I’ve just downed a multi-vitamin. Maybe some hot tea?

Nervously, Twitter scientists tell me that the virus can be spread to each other through coughing. Every damn person up here is coughing.

Look buddy, I’ve seen the movie ‘Outbreak’ as well as ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and ‘Contagious,’ and read ‘The Stand.

It strikes me at that moment: I work in a hospital.

OK, I’m in public affairs but just across the parking lot are sick people. We’re a veritable living stew of reduced resistance.

The world’s attention ricochets sharply from a burning Australia to the far east. In America, we’re distracted from the Kabuki theater of a presidential impeachment. In a world where dystopia is an everyday media experience, everyone suddenly wonders: now what?

In China, they’ve quarantined an entire city of 11 million — no one in or out. Imagine trying that in New York.

If you really want the whole scene in real time, US researchers have created this map. Go on, you know you want to see it. Look at it every 15 minutes for updates on your smart phone.

Sometimes I think America has been so amped up about so many things that we’re just waiting to panic. A few weeks ago, we were going to be at war with Iran until we weren’t. Before that, we were thinking North Korea could launch a nuclear weapon against the West Coast. Events move from one crisis to another and everyone wonders: which one will be the real deal? Which one will be the existential threat?

Again, I must remind myself that each person faces their own fate but so do nations and worlds. At an individual level, I think that by paying constant attention and figuring out the angles, I can avoid catastrophe. I’ve been doing it all my life thanks to a volatile family upbringing.

I know that’s an irrational belief, and yet that’s my coping mechanism and so many others’ as well. We don’t trust anyone, but we read everything. We say we’re comfortable with our fate but want to choose how we’ll meet it. We say we’re not afraid, but deep down inside we are terrified.

And, as if to make us even more frazzled, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just pushed the hand of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds from Midnight.

It almost seems as if events are calculated to keep us in continuous agitation. But I’m not paranoid. I think.

My panic clock is still a ways from Midnight

But I can hear the ticking.

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