Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/23/20 4:32 AM

Guest column: Worrywarts or neurotics?

Worrywarts or neurotics, the jury is still out

There is absolutely no shame in admitting that the pestiferous pestilence has brought us to our knees, felled some of us, left us bewildered, flailing and crushed under the weight of our helplessness.

One side effect is this state of mind the experts are calling `worried wellness.` Put simply, it’s the deep wells of anxiety that some souls are drawing from, in the process feeling decidedly unwell themselves, even if not actually suffering from, in this case  the coronavirus.

Worried wellness is defined as a condition where people who do not need medical treatment visit the doctor to be reassured, or with emotional problems. That definition is not too empathetic; it carries pejorative overtones and tends to make an involuntary   connect with words like hypochondria and neurosis.

The worried well are not a newly discovered lot; they’ve been around for a while, since the early 70s when Dr Sidney Garfield coined that term in an article published in Scientific American. What has also been around is a marked lack of sympathy for them.

Back to 2020. Before you roll your eyes, I need to point out that just about each and every one of us is worried sick about the insidious spread of the disease, how it can and does catch most of us mask-wearing, hand-washing and physically distancing people in one calamitous, unguarded moment.

An equally pertinent worry is what happens after you test positive. Severe mishandling by the authorities has become par for the course.

One day, they come seal your front door…with tin sheets,  if nothing else is to hand. Or they haul you away even as you protest that you are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic,  or that you have enough room in your house to safely self-isolate.

They tell you that you can`t take yourself to a hospital and must wait for them to send an ambulance…and people have actually died waiting for the promised ambulance.

Then there are the ghastly video clips of bodies in bags and tarp being dumped in sundry hastily dug pits.   The daily obit list of celebrities and civilians alike.

And after all this, you tell me you are not worried about Covid?

So. Let`s accept that we are all a worried lot. Some of us have become quite paralysed with thoughts regarding Covid and catching Covid. The baseline is, not all of us can be stoic in the face of our very valid fears.

Unfortunately, as a society we don’t cut much slack for worriers. Witness the mocking of Covid by the hordes of unmasked Indians.

Witness the scorn heaped on those who admit to mental health issues in a country where seeing a psychiatrist has to be a cloaked affair. Witness pockets of anger here and abroad that time is being wasted in treating the worried well at the cost of the physically ill.

The worried well stew pretty much alone in their anxieties most of the time. The reassurance they get is extremely casual, tangential. The knowledge they gather about the disease is a mixed bag at best. The support too, comes in fits and starts and is not sustained solace.

So, if they have a healthy sense of self-preservation and want tests run on themselves, hey, it`s okay. If they worry themselves down to the bone, reach out with some reassurance. You can`t wish them away. But you can make them feel a bit better.

This appeared in THE NEW SUNDAY EXPRESS magazine of 23 Aug 2020.

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constant anxietyneuroticsworried wellnessworrywarts

Sheila Kumar • August 23, 2020

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