“I’ve Lost Faith in Humanity”: The Psychological Toll of the Lockdown
We have heretofore lived our lives with the presumption that we possess the inalienable right to choose. We are self-governors, the main masters of our domains. Our lives are what we make of them. We can improve, act, and see results. We craft our futures.
We can travel, save or spend, work here or there, be this person or that, move, love, practice religion or not, dress up or down, drink liquor or not, have children or not and care for them in the way we think best, and generally be in charge of our lives within the limit of the law.
That is to say, we have presumed that we are basically free. We had purpose, direction, and a future.
In the course of a mere three days in March of 2020, most of that was taken away from us. Government executives took over without the mandate from legislatures or the people. They made a mockery of every slogan from American history: government by the people and for the people, land of the free and home of the brave, sweet land of liberty, and so on.
The media blared new slogans at us about distancing, flattening, sheltering, and then it started closing up almost everything we think of as the substance of the good life. We were locked in our homes, forcibly separated from friends and family and even faith. They killed commercial society. They killed choice. They killed freedom.
Everything we supposed was true about our lives was smashed under foot, enforced by new police states that sprang up around us, while the media urged even more stringent controls and the US president foundered in endless press conferences and shifting policies, while the US Congress threw away many trillions in tax dollars. Practically overnight, we were reduced by states to sheltering animals with only the privilege to go to the grocery store to snag our next meal to eat at home, while otherwise having our liberty and property being slaughtered by governing officials.
On March 28, 2020, this site warned of a coming wave of drug overdoses, domestic abuse cases, and suicides, based on existing empirical literature on unemployment and sudden financial crisis. However, that’s only the most conspicuous result. There is also the less-obvious way into which the shutdowns eat away at our hearts, spirits, and souls.
In the days since, I’ve sensed an existential crisis that compares for me only to the time I was thrown behind bars for the failure to pay a speeding ticket and found myself in the strange position of relying on favors from people who cared nothing about me while being cut off from everyone I love. That experience changed me forever, such that I never again took my freedom for granted. All of America has gone through this now, not just for one day but for a ghastly six weeks in which our freedom and rights as human beings have been taken away.
I’ve read in F.A.Hayek when he noted that the most horrible toll of wartime statism was psychological, “an alteration in the character of the people.” He describes the feeling of being treated like a cog in a machine and how that leaves us all feeling thoroughly dehumanized. I’ve noticed this happening to friends of mine, who in these awful Zoom hangouts we have suddenly started breaking down into tears of desperation.
And so I asked people on my Twitter feed to tell their stories. My inbox has been suddenly flooded with an outpouring of desperate sadness, rage, shock, and horror. I can only share some with you here. I’m changing any details that might violate their privacy rights.
I’ve struggled with depression for a long time. Last September I intentionally overdosed on several prescriptions. I was comatose for 3 days. Initially, my parents were told that I wouldn’t survive but after a couple days I held in there. The doctors then believed that I would be severely brain damaged. And when I first woke up I couldn’t remember my name, age, or birthday. I couldn’t walk or speak in full sentences. By God’s grace I was discharged on the 6th day with my mental faculties restored but with some physical challenges. I spent time with family and friends and in therapy building my support system, creating a healthy lifestyle of coping skills, and learning how to prevent myself from being so isolated and devoid of hope.
With the lockdown, it feels as though every step of progress as well as every healthy avenue of support was ripped from me via government fiat. Church, socializing, therapy/support groups, even the very outdoors were no longer at my disposal to help me in this time when I needed them most. All of my family is out of state and I cannot get to anyone due to the various state lockdowns. I’m isolated, powerless, and in despair which is a dangerous recipe for me.
I’m doing what I have to in order to make it through. But it’s an upward battle against the seemingly unending nature of the lockdowns, deep loss of control over my daily life, and the maddening sense that my freedom is not only subject to local despots but also the whims of the public who cheer on tyranny and shout down any suggestion of liberty. In my darkest moments I pray to understand why I survived only for this ongoing nightmare to become my reality. My faith brings some comfort but I struggle with despair and anger every day.
Hopefully soon the public will realize that government action has created more victims than an already scary situation needed.
I got depressed, again, riding through the downtown area of my small, southern hometown yesterday, which usually would be packed with folks walking between the pubs and restaurants, or sitting outside sampling beer and food while listening to a free band in “The Alley,” enjoying a cool, breezy spring day. Instead it was empty, as it has been for almost two months now. The thoughts that plague my mind the most are: How can we throw it all away so easily? Did everyone not read Steinbeck’s “The Grapes Of Wrath” in school? Did everyone not “pledge allegiance to the flag” daily? Does everyone not know the history of the 20th century, and understand how precious liberty is? Do people have no reverence for the blood and treasure that was spent to secure liberty to ourselves and other countries?
We’re literally tearing down everything that mankind has built. Everyone tells me that “the economy will bounce right back,” but they haven’t read Hayek, Sowell, von Mises, or Tucker. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. Maybe it’s because I drove a truck for 20 years, and saw firsthand the vast factories and warehouses all over the US and Canada, and quickly gained an appreciation for logistics and how the whole world is connected, and how fragile it all really is, which most people never really see unless there is the temporary delay due to a hurricane or snowstorm.
I miss going to the gym. Even though I’m currently not drinking, I miss going to the bar and shooting pool with my brother and the few friends I have. I miss the plays at our community theatre and who knows when the local symphony will ever play again at our small state university branch?
As I read another article today about the impending meat shortages, the thought struck me, again, that people really don’t understand what’s coming; they never understood how their groceries magically appear on the shelves, and I don’t understand how we could just throw it all away. Rand and Orwell warned us, but we didn’t listen.
I have been very concerned, saddened, and even angry over the past few weeks about the sudden loss of freedom. I’ve been even more concerned that it seems many people (on the conservative and liberal side) do not seem to care. I love the US of A. I love it because we were the first nation in the history of the world to make all people free. We can pursue whatever careers we want, we can travel around, eat what we like, say what we want, and meet anywhere, anytime. We can worship as we choose, dress as we choose, and live wherever and however we want. This is why the USA is so amazing. This is unheard of in many countries and for the majority of human history.
I have been so sad and disappointed that a single virus has eroded our freedoms basically overnight. Not only is it wrong and unAmerican, it is even unconstitutional. I am scared for the future of the United States, but at the same time, I remain cautiously optimistic at this point. The backlash, complaints, rallys, and cries for freedom get louder and louder. We have a huge change of opinion in the public and people just take back their freedoms. Businesses open up, people go out, and politicians lose more power than they even thought possible. This psychologically is the ideal outcome. Americans get in touch with their roots, take back their country, and resume being in control of their own destiny.
By the grace of the universe, I have been spared many of the direct consequences of the lockdown, or the virus itself for that matter. I didn’t suffer any deleterious change in my life, only some inconveniences… for now.
Yet I feel like my psychology has been fundamentally altered, for better or worse. I’ve always suffered from a feeling of isolation. I don’t think like other people, I don’t accept what I’m told to believe, and I’ve always had a hard time relating to people because of that. The majority’s lazy, careless acceptance of draconian lockdown measures has distanced me even further, to an unsettling degree. I sense my typical asocial personality is growing anti-social. It’s as if I’m being forced to abandon my empathy, which is pretty tough when you pride yourself on it. But If the majority thinks I should be forced to sit home and rot away, inconsiderate of my circumstances, why the hell should I even care what happens to these people, outside of my own self-interests? Although I am not giving in to my emotional, sometimes comical, overreactions, how long will it be before they consume my thoughts? Probably never, luckily. Nonetheless, my antagonism toward humanity grows by the day, and that’s scary.
My neighbors cannot be trusted to fight for liberty or have a logical debate. I have been yelled at for stating the stats. Someone even threatened to report me. They have fetishized this situation. They have become petulant minions of petty tyrants. They are driven by emotions and have no sense of reason. People are unexpectedly gullible.
The government emptied the prisons and jails. Crime in my neighborhood has increased 10-fold. I live in the safest zip code in Minneapolis. I feel like a sitting duck. Very few people around me are questioning this. People aren’t making the connection to this policy. It seems as if they’re accepting it, because ‘we’re all in this together,” you know.
I lived in Brazil in the 1990s during their currency crash. I have this sense of doom. It feels like we’re going to face 1,000% inflation. No one around me fears this. No one is questioning the printing of money. Indeed they demand more.
When I do get out to Menards (Home Depot) or the grocer, speakers that used to blast music are blasting talking points and these catchphrases. There are placards everywhere telling me to stay away from other people. It’s like living in a B horror film.
This has destroyed my optimism for humanity. We are really controlled by our overlords and a good portion of the public will fall into line. I will have a hard time trusting people again. Isn’t this the same sort of thing that gave Hitler so much power? These are the same people that have been screaming that Trump is a dictator, yet they want him to do more.
I also made the mistake of running across evidence of powerful people planning an event like this. These people aren’t going to leave us alone. I feel like we’re being lied to, fed off of and indoctrinated. They are indoctrinated.
I feel stranded on a ship of fools. My sense of humanity is completely destroyed.
While many believe in different levels of freedom, I think many of us took for granted just how many small freedoms we take for granted, things that fall within our sphere of influence.
Something as ‘small’ as going to a restaurant, or to the movies, (which, in many ways should be considered minor miracles if we look at just how much time people had to spend in drudgery through human history) are things that fall within our intimate control, and where we feel *we* are in charge of how we spend our time. Any hint of control over our individual spheres was ripped from all of us in the most brutal way.
One thing that keeps recurring in my mind is a conversation I had with one of our son’s kung fu instructors. He said that he had heard, or read (I don’t know where), that the vast majority of our communication is NOT in the form of our words, but in facial expressions and gestures, even very subtle facial signs that indicate how we are feeling, what we are thinking, etc.
He had done a lot of traveling as a photographer, to many places where he did not speak the language, and talked about his personal experience with this, and about how he had many many “conversations” with people, where they understood each other very well, without speaking the same language.
I keep thinking about this as I see people walking around in their masks (fortunately, fewer are wearing them than even a week ago!) and huddled away in their homes.
Everyone around me just goes along with it. I got kicked out of a big box store for not wearing a mask. I can’t get a haircut. Is life really worth living if I’m being ordered around by someone I’ve never met and who doesn’t give a damn about me??
I have more money now than I’ve ever had. And more free time than ever. No real responsibilities or obligations. And yet it feels so…empty. Like it was all for nothing. Extremely sad.
I am bipolar with generalized anxiety disorder. The shutdown has drastically increased my anxiety and crippled me with depression such that I can barely put together the effort to teach even the reduced 4 hours a day I do for my high school students. I have it comparatively well, as I haven’t lost pay and am working much less nonetheless. Without my massively supportive wife I’m not sure I’d be getting through this.
Things are “normal” here compared to reports from friends and family in major metros when at the supermarket. Some mask and glove and some don’t, but many of the doctors and nurses here glove and mask every winter regardless. The major industries here are medical, chemical, and scientific research. Manufacturing is second, but distant. We fit all of the stereotypes about meth, opioid addiction, intergenerational poverty, and the intersection of all that with new wealth.
My son is missing his friends desperately and is very upset that many of them are MIA without even a, “We’re good, thanks!” from the parents. The poor kid sleeps later and later every day. I have to get him up now. My partner is spending a great deal of time at nursing homes seeing things that are dispiriting enough that he won’t talk about them. He comes home defeated and deeply sad.
I’m cracking. My work is suspended indefinitely, but I’d need to be home for my son either way. I’ve yelled twice this weekend. I’ve cried privately a few times. My bright spot is that my darling retired 65-year-old parents have moved to a neighboring town to be near us, and they give absolutely no fucks about what is going on. True honey badgers. They grew up in poverty and uncertainty, saw war, did well in spite of everything, and have the ability to see around even big things like this.
Hospitals in my state, like many others, are postponing screenings and surgeries because of COVID-19. Well, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in fall 2019 and it was removed in surgery. (This is an especially rare situation as I am a 34-year-old nonsmoking female.)
I had a follow-up screening that was going to be postponed 5 weeks, but I raised a fuss and got my original appointment back. There were two suspicious spots that will need to be biopsied and tested, so thank God we caught them.
If the spots turn out to be cancerous, another 5 weeks could have made things so much worse. As it is, the anxiety of having cancer on top of all that’s going on in the country/economy, does plenty of physical and mental damage.
Now I’m waiting to find out when I can get the biopsy, how long the test results will take, and what the next steps will be. Because of how hospitals have responded to COVID-19, I’m afraid that I won’t have access to further treatments in time–testing, surgeries, chemotherapy if necessary. If the hospital or health system goes bankrupt, I don’t know where that will leave me.
My father passed away from Stage 4 cancer last May. My mother had to sell her home after his passing due to probate crap. This has left my 80-year old mother living with us while we build a house for her closer to her kids.
Once the grandkids were forced home from school, she had to move out to a home in the woods 2 hours away. She is isolated and has comorbidities. She’s had a cough and her blood pressure is out of control and she is afraid to go to the hospital. Her house build has slowed down. I can only imagine that if my father was still alive, his cancer treatments would be on hold for all of this. Her health is deteriorating and her anxiety intensified.
We are lucky we can afford multiple homes. The problem must be infinitely worse for those who can’t. I was lucky to listen to a few of my friends and I bought a bugout kit that had a case of N95s and other medical gear to help her and other physicians close to us.
Everyone’s Liberty is now negotiable as long as one immunocompromised person exists on earth.
The most damaging toll for me has been the complete blurring of the lines between personal and professional life. My wife and I have both been working at home for six weeks now. We have a toddler and a five-month-old baby. We have childcare a couple of days a week so we are both able to work undistracted, but the other days there are more distractions than I have ever faced before.
At my office I can compartmentalize, hunker down and get tons of work done, and then go home and have my full attention on family and personal matters. Having the lines blurred I think has resulted in lower quality attention at work and at home. This is more of a comment on damage to objective results than to psychology, but subjectively speaking the lack of clear boundaries has been awful. Work invades home and home invades work.
As a parent of three young children this whole experience has been confusing for them and isolating for us. All of our social supports were gone within a span of five days from our local trail life group to church on Sundays… They couldn’t even play on the playground for a little while just to burn off some energy. We would drive to a local trail and they would see the caution tape in the gates closed and be very confused. Seeing that made me angry. I have found myself distracted and melancholy. This experience has also left me very disappointed in the great American experiment that something like this can happen so quickly and without really any redress.
We did not “lose” anything. It was *taken* from us by people who think they are tasked with doing so. From a psychological standpoint, it fed their megalomania. People like my governor, Andrew Cuomo, have spent the better part of their lives believing they were called to lead. Same with the mayor of New York City. These people believe not only that they know better, but that their *job* is to show it! As for the deep, psychotic version of megalomania and narcissism being experienced by our Comb-Over in Chief in the Oval Office, well, that would take too long to describe!
We are, in effect, hostages. From that standpoint, all this shows is the truth that was already staring us in the face. A**holes–apologies for my choice of words–that we know are barely qualified to operate a toilet, are in position to place mandates on our lives. Victor Frankl and Marcus Aurelius might advise us that how we respond to this situation is more important than what these losers actually do to us. Of course, I agree. However, one additional factor makes this situation all the more dicey. When those around you, the people with whom you actually share the foxhole, not only acquiesce to the wishes of these lunatics, but also become participants in your suffering, that makes it suck all the worse. When people are actually calling tip-lines on their neighbors, and the like, the programming has reached new depths and even the most stoic-thinking among us can only experience supreme despair.
I am a single woman, no children, approaching the end of childbearing age (who wants children?). Prior to October of last year, for the previous three years or so, my father’s depression (and self-medication by alcohol) gradually worsened, and I eventually had to cut ties with my parents (my mother enabled by drinking with him). My childhood best friend, and, functionally a brother/father (since I am an only child) gradually faded into a man who was consumed by his feelings of penance (he came from a hyper-religious Mormon family and had lost his brother to alcoholism/depression when I was a sophomore in University – something he blamed himself for, thinking he could have “saved him”), loneliness, lack of purpose, and physical pain. He was increasingly distant, so intoxicated each time I went home that we rarely could have linear, meaningful conversations anymore.
He foreshadowed his own death; said he didn’t think he would make it to retirement (62; three years from his foreshadowing), and it became too much to sit idly by. severed ties, saw him one last time in July of last year (he was jaundiced and gave me the longest, tightest hug he’s ever given me – I’m sure he knew he was ill), and then in October, after a series of kidney issues, he had a MI due to atrial fibrillation, and then was in an induced coma in the hospital, liver had failed, kidneys no longer processing, and the brain damage was so bad from anoxia that he was seizing constantly, his yellowed eyes opening each time. We let him off of life support the following day. He died with my head on his chest. My best friend, gone.
I was let go of my job and offered a severance package the day I returned from bereavement. I accepted as I’d been interviewing. I was offered a new position, for which I needed to move elsewhere, in California. My mom was incapable of organizing a memorial due to feeling overwhelmed – my father had managed everything for our family besides the garden (my mom’s thing), so my mom asked if I’d organize a memorial after I moved and started a new job, at some point during the spring.
Then, in early March, California began its series of shutdowns. First, the Bay Area where the tiny condo I owned was (that I was desperately trying to rent out) was locked down. People were hesitant to come view the condo due to the shutdown, and many applicants were not financially sound. I drained my bank account in the months leading up to when it was finally rented (two weeks ago) paying California rent and mortgage. The county provisions where my mother lived and where I live prohibit visiting family and any size gatherings, so my grieving mother needed to be alone, in their gang-ridden neighborhood, while I struggled with grieving my father. Then, my pay was cut; 20% across the board at my company (or furloughed). I’m grateful to have a job, but I’m barely hanging on to my job.
I’ve drained my savings, nothing left to freeze my eggs, no dating, no in-person support groups, and no foreseeable point at which we will be able to host a memorial for my father in the near future. I don’t know when my financial situation will be back to normal, and each week, Newsom seems to move the goalposts. First it was to “flatten the curve”, then “open the Western states,” and now that Oregon is planning on opening, it’s a six-point plan that completely disregards the serological work out of USC and Stanford, and even liberal bastions like New York State.
I know this is not the most dramatic story, but it’s weighed heavily on my mind since I am surrounded by people more than willing to give away every ounce of freedom and livelihood for an IFR of 0.1% while ignoring the collateral damage of people like me who have suffered mightily with depression and trauma, and the countless others who won’t have jobs to go back to.
It makes me feel hopeless. Like no matter what I do or create in life. At some point, government can just step in and take it all away. The incentive to be great has shattered. Why be great when your success can just be gone whenever government says so?
One of my best friends is gay and he said he’s seen more ODs and suicides in his circle within the gay community in the past 4 weeks than in the past few years.
I will conclude with the immortal words: never again. Hang in there, my friends, we will clean up the carnage and reclaim what is ours.