Staying Above Water During the Pandemic

Depression is a serious disease. In its most serious manifestation, clinical depression, a person can hardly function or not function at all. A best guess is that there are untold millions of people in the US and around the world who are now suffering from either mild depression, or its more serious form as Covid-19 stares us in the face daily. The toll of serious depression, including suicide, may never be accurately measured because the pandemic limits the accounting of that outcome.

As a leftist, I can make the argument that many of us were depressed to one degree or another in having to deal with the antithesis of a newer world, even a fascist demon, in the person of Donald Trump and his administration of hateful scowlers. Look at Trump and Pence at a news conference on the virus and it can bring a relatively normal person to his or her knees.  There are the lies, the science denial, and the massive number of deaths that can be laid beneath the feet of Il Duce for his failure to acknowledge the pandemic through the advice of his advisers and his failure to take action in early February, with its lethal results. For the generation of baby boomers who were protesters, Trump et al. are lethal by themselves.

Try to imagine what it must be like in one epicenter of the disease, like New York City. Imagine what it is like to be in a hospital with the disease, a medical worker, or a family member cut off from access to a loved one. Try to imagine being a resident of a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or a veterans’ home as the disease moves like the plague. Try to imagine what it is like being elderly and alone. Just by being confronted with the dictates of social distancing and self-isolation are in themselves enough to create the conditions through which either mild or serious depression can grow and take hold.

This is what psychologist and professor Andrew Solomon says about depression during the pandemic in an opinion piece in the New York Times (“When the Pandemic Leaves Us Alone, Anxious and Depressed,” April 9, 2020):

For nearly 30 years — most of my adult life — I have struggled with depression and anxiety. While I’ve never felt alone in such commonplace afflictions — the family secret everyone shares — I now find I have more fellow sufferers than I could have ever imagined.

What is most refreshing about Andrew Solomon’s work is that he speaks the truth and avoids any mention of psychobabble. He has suffered from serious depression and worked with those suffering from it and he bears witness to the power of depression during this catastrophe.

Here are Professor Solomon’s concluding thoughts from the article:

The authorities keep saying that the coronavirus will pass like the flu for most people who contract it, but that it is more likely to be fatal for older people and those with physically compromising preconditions. The list of conditions should, however, include depression generated by fear, loneliness or grief. We should recognize that for a large proportion of people, medication is not an indulgence and touch is not a luxury. And that for many of us, the protocol of Clorox wipes and inadequate masks is nothing compared with the daily task of disinfecting one’s own mind.

I believe that some leftists have their politics to fall back on in this pandemic. Standing for the right and the good are values that can sustain a person through much turmoil, although this pandemic provides no roadmap through troubled waters. There is no self-help guide here. What else? Reading, writing, communicating with at least one other significant person can keep people hanging on to the gunwales of our psyches. Transcendentalists commune with nature for sustenance. Serious depression, however, requires professional help and that help is available more readily today than ever because of the Internet, where searches can locate people trained to treat depression. Tragically, treatment requires health insurance.

A hope is also that the terror we all face now will be transformed into action on the left when we can come out once again and confront the demons outside of ourselves who seek to despoil and destroy our world.

In anticipation of that societal coming-out, plans are in place for a late-summer conference (online?) of the People’s Party. There’s not much on the group’s Website yet, but the political system’s graveyard is littered with third parties. Can a kind of workers’ party–there are already several socialist parties—rise from the ashes of the duopoly? Here is an interview with a  founder of the People’s Party. There’s lots of money and power and viciousness within the oligarchy to stop movements in their tracks.  And when the repression is over the admonition of Emma Goldman and Philip Berrigan will come to mind regarding the futility of electoral politics.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).