Joell’s note: My friend Davis Finch is a deep thinker. His honesty is rare and the clarity of his writing inspires me. He is generous with helping me see the world though his unique lens which includes autism and anxiety. Below are his thoughts about the COVID lockdowns, mental health, the importance of meaningful work and his processing of the loss of a good friend.
Since the start of the pandemic, a lot has been said about essential workers. Certainly, front-line workers such as doctors and nurses who work with Covid-19 patients deserve our praise. But the phrase essential workers and the policies surrounding it sometimes make it seem like most workers and most jobs are not important. The problem with this sort of framing is that while many jobs may not be absolutely necessary for society to function, they are essential to the people who work them. It is not only the pay that is essential, but also the dignity and sense of purpose that comes with working. That is what I feel is missing from the proposition that we should pay people to stay home for the duration of the pandemic. Sure, that sort of policy might mean fewer deaths from COVID, but it would not help the mental stresses involved with social distancing, namely isolation, and the despair that comes with living merely to survive. If millions of people are living that way, COVID may ebb somewhat, but at a cost of potential increases in suicide, domestic violence, alcoholism, self-harm, and other antisocial coping mechanisms. Clearly, there is more that is essential to a healthy society than income, hospitals, and grocery stores. Also essential is in-person human interaction, a sense of purpose, and freedom to leave your house; in other words, a sense of dignity. When governments deny their citizens those other essentials, are they not denying them their humanity?
What is essential also depends on the individual. Some personal “essentials” may be ridiculous or politically motivated, but others are activities or enterprises that are truly fundamental to a person’s well-being. Personally, perhaps in part because of my Autism, I have a heightened fear of overly draconian restrictions imposed by a well-meaning but ignorant leader. I am a very anxious person, so constant rumors about new restrictions combined with reports of record new case numbers and deaths has made this a very difficult time for me. Furthermore, I was good friends with Golden Gate Fields trainer Bob Hess Sr. and the news of his death from the virus brought the pandemic home for me. When I am at home by myself, I tend to dwell on everything and my mental state can decline. Being with horses is my escape and I am terrified of losing the ability to do that. These days, feeding horses is my job, but it is much more than that. It is a chance to be outdoors, get away from my house, get some exercise, and make horses happy, which in turn gives me inner peace. This peace helps me through the long nights at home and constant reports of bad news. Therefore, regardless of governmental classifications, this job is essential to me.
COVID-induced restrictions, when applied appropriately, are a useful tool for fighting a devastating disease, but leaders need to realize that there are intangible essentials and make an effort to not deprive people of them. The United States has actually been far more respectful of this than many foreign countries, with their extreme lock-downs that have, in some cases, been akin to house arrest. As hard as it may be, sometimes it might be best for leaders to just give their citizens the best available data and recommendations for how to stay safe, but leave the tough personal choices to them. Protecting public health while preserving society’s essential needs is a delicate balancing act and I do not envy those who have to make the difficult decisions.