What COVID-19 Deniers Tell Us About Our Society

We’re currently facing a global crisis. And no, I don’t mean the corona crisis, though obviously that’s here too. What I’m referring to is the apparent global breakdown of common sense, civility, and logic.

Those are certainly harsh words, but it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the current discourse on social media is split in a war between those who take our governments seriously and tread carefully, and those who claim that the corona virus is gone and no longer an issue, and that our safety measures are nonsense.

This is especially prominent in The Netherlands, where we get recent updates on the current number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Our government, together with the RIVM (our public health institute), warned us that it looked like there was a second wave underway, but then all hell broke loose on the internet and people started claiming left, right, and center that they were exaggerating and that there’s no second wave at all. And even worse, that the measures we’ve been taking – like wearing face masks and keeping 1.5m distance – should be repealed so we can get back to normal.

I have a video in the works about all the illogical arguments these people throw out there, like ‘the government is lying to us’ or ‘they’re just doing this to grab power and subjugate us’ or ‘they were wrong before so I’m not trusting them anymore’ and more nonsense, but video editing is hard and I have no idea how it works, so it might take a while before I can upload it. But anyway, that means I won’t be getting into those specific arguments right now.

Instead, I want to talk about what these misconceptions and conspiracy theories tell us about society.

One thing that really struck me was the similarity between how people think about that second wave based on the numbers, and how we treat each other when we’re not doing so well.

I have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) but that’s a long story), which is usually hard to explain to people. Well, it’s not that hard to explain really, but it’s hard to actually get the impact and full extent of it across. It’s hard to imagine, for a lot of people, that my fatigue is something entirely different from non-CFS people’s fatigue. This is not something that’s solved by sleep. Sleeping more won’t make my fatigue less. I can’t party all night, feel bad for a day, sleep in on the weekends, and then be up and running on Monday. My fatigue can’t be slept off. And that’s very hard for other people to understand sometimes.

The thing with CFS is that once you go too far, once you accidentally (or in my case through sheer stupidity) overstretch yourself, there’s nothing you can do except take it easy and wait for the backlash to be over. I might feel the effects of having stayed at a party for a few hours too many for a week. If I’m in the zone and work for three hours back-to-back, I might be so fatigued that I can’t get any work done for days afterwards.

Those are risks I’m not willing to take, risks I can’t even afford. So instead of aftercare, I have to take precautions and preventive measures. I have to take action before something can go wrong, which means that I’m taking action before something’s the matter. I have to take those precautions while things are still going well.

The same kind of goes for what’s happening with the COVID-19 numbers now. People yell that corona is gone because the numbers are incredibly low, but they don’t understand that the government is taking measures to prevent shit from hitting the fan. Shit’s not hitting the fan right now, no. But we saw a rise in numbers after some measures were relaxed a little bit, so they intervened, to make sure that shit won’t hit the fan.

Aside from the fact that it’s not getting through to people that the numbers are low because of the preventive measures they so desperately want to do away with, it seems like they will only believe that there’s a problem when our hospitals are once again brimming with COVID-19 patients and doctors have to once again decide who lives and who dies because they can’t treat everyone anymore.

It seems like the idea of taking action to prevent something from happening is a ludicrous one in their mind. It seems like they don’t understand that preventing another wave is better than letting the wave happen and acting accordingly once shit hits the fan.

It’s true that there’s a chance they’re being too careful, certainly. But the alternative is risking more deaths and more people with permanent health complications just to find out.

The reason I compare this to my predicament with my CFS is that I have experienced a lot of disbelief, incomprehension and skepticism whenever I say that I won’t be attending a party because I already had one last week. I know how hard it is to explain to people that, yeah, I might be doing fine now, but I’d like to keep it that way. I’m not cancelling because I’m not doing well, I’m cancelling because the party might cause me to.

Of course, my closest friends understand and accept it, even if they can’t imagine what it must feel like. But these are issues I run into with others, with society in general.

This all gives me the feeling that society implicitly expects us to keep going until we break, and that as long as you’re okay, you should just keep going. Taking some rest to prevent ourselves from cracking isn’t always met with the same kind of understanding as when someone breaks down in the workplace in front of everyone.

To me, this is a fundamental flaw in society’s expectations and the way we treat each other. It shouldn’t be the case that we only accept someone’s wishes if we have enough evidence to support their claim. It shouldn’t be the case that someone has to look sick before we take them seriously. And more importantly, we should just believe people if they say they need a break, even if we can’t see the signs of their problems on the outside.

We don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, and they rarely tell us the full story. Who are we to judge whether someone has deserved or truly needs that break if we only have half the story at best? Why would they even need our permission? Why can’t we just trust them to know what they need?

But this isn’t even necessarily about people who aren’t fine but look fine on the outside, it’s about those who are fine now, but know what steps they need to take to keep it that way, and what to avoid. We, as a society, should do our best to give each other (and ourselves!) the space and possibility to retreat if they feel they need some time for themselves. Sometimes people just need a break, and they should be allowed to take one before they reach their limit and crack under the pressure.

I hope we can all learn to recognize our own boundaries, and respect those of others. Especially now, in a chaotic and for most of us unprecedentedly disrupted year, people are struggling more than ever in our generation. Not everyone handles the situation in the same way. Not everyone is equally able to handle the stress and pressure this year brings.

We are bombarded with more and more bad news, negativity, and internet wars on social media every day. We are longing for our friends, longing for the human connection that we’ve had to put on hold to keep each other safe, and we shouldn’t forget how big a deal this year of uncertainty and insecurity is.

Instead of asking people to justify themselves and coming up with an acceptable explanation for why they are taking some time off, or why they’re not as active on social media anymore, how about we give people a little more autonomy to decide what they can and can’t do? We should be looking out for each other, not pushing each other to keep going. We should, especially now, respect everyone’s boundaries, and allow everyone space to get some much-needed rest before it’s too late.

It makes no sense to wait until breaking point to take action. Not only with the rising numbers of corona virus infections, but especially with people’s personal limits in these stressful times.

And for everyone who needs to hear this: be open and honest about your limits. Nobody can protect and safeguard them but you. Only you can truly look out for yourself, and only if you communicate your needs to others can you allow others to help you and be there for you. You are not doing anything wrong, you’re not lazy if you take a step back while you’re still doing okay. You are not weak, you are instead incredibly wise and strong if you know where your boundaries are and how to prevent yourself from reaching or even crossing them. If other people don’t believe you, that’s their problem. But know that I will always believe you.

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