Another, at times, strong emotion connected with the pandemic was the fear of other people and what they might do to one. Other people might carry the infection and so potentially damage or kill. The feeling was that other people are dangerous, and this can include friends and family members. In turn, I might carry the infection and so inadvertently infect or kill others. This was especially powerful in the early stages – do not touch one another and keep your 2-metre distance apart. I can remember cycling along a narrow path beside the river Avon and worrying as cyclists passed coming from the other direction about whether I might have caught something. Anyone appearing on the tow path could then be seen as a potential murderer as we couldn’t keep 2-metres apart.
Paranoia in its extreme forms can put us in touch with the psychotic core present in each person. In a state of deep fear where the usual defences are not working or are weakened, we then withdraw and try to find a state of mind and place where we are free from further impact. Sometimes it seemed essential to stop listening or reading the news – keep away from others – shut down and so defend ourselves as best we could.
The rational balance to this was to understand that each person was sharing this same experience. There was an interconnectedness in that another person would potentially have the same fear of me as I had of them. This was the famous idea of ‘we are all in it together – solidarity’ – even though this turned out to not necessarily be the case. Once mask wearing became the norm how did this affect us? Again, it increased the uncertainty about the other person (their face was hidden – were they friendly or not) but also offered reassurance – the mask acts as a physical barrier in place between us. We have created the necessary distance and so there is some safety. The mask has acted as a container not only for potential germs but also for the fear of what the other person might do to one. And if we are both wearing masks then we are fellow sufferers – we have both known fear, and we are also both rational enough to take responsibility for the other person.
The emotional attraction in seeing those against wearing masks and anti-vaxxers was to quickly have an enemy – all the anger and frustration and fear could get channelled into those who were seemingly so irresponsible. Presumably those against vaccinations found venting all their anger and fear against scientists and those keeping to the rules helped channel their own overwhelming emotions. Enemies are sadly always useful because they save us looking at the angry and destructive part of ourselves.