The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
BEFORE the last fortnight or so, I perhaps did not realise the number of times I touched my face.
In normal times, it would not be something that I paid attention to. Touching one’s face is one of the more mundane things in life, one of those acts that one never gives undue attention to. It is perhaps like scratching one’s head, a process one does not indulge in but is summoned into by what might seem like an innocent itch, an itch that does not relent until it gets the full attention of the full complement of five fingers.
However, these are not normal times. This is the time of Covid-19, an illness that has tormented and terrified the globe at an alarming speed.
The world is under siege and even one’s face can be a battleground.
A single sneeze can release as many as 300 coronavirus infected particles, each with the stubbornness to last at least two days on any surface.
It is this foul stubbornness, this unwillingness to let go, that has made Covid-19 a generation defining virus. After all is said and done, none of us will forget about coronavirus, in the same way that the generation that lived a century ago will never forget the Spanish influenza.
Watching the virus evolve, especially from home, makes it feel like one is living through a phase in history. One can hear the tap-tap of the computer keyboard as the historians record these days and these weeks into a chronicle of history that will never be lost to memory. All our lives are now a page in history’s account of the first few weeks after we all awoke to the reality that is Covid-19.
From Napoleon’s wars to Queen Lozikeyi’s struggle against the British, history can sometimes feel like a body count of the numerous, nameless dead. Sure, we know that the cause of Napoleon’s death was speculated to be stomach cancer and we know that Lozikeyi is said to have been brought down by the Spanish flu almost a century ago. But little is known of the men who died under their command and lesser still is known about the mental well-being about the people who served under them in those trying times.
With social media however, one gets a first-hand account of people’s desperation and the depths of despair they are plunged into during times. The first week of the shutdown has not been rosy. Some have woken up in the middle of the night, gasping for air and concluded that they already had the deadly virus swimming in their blood.
The steady stream of information makes one believe that every slightest ailment, every cough is evidence of the presence of the virus. Quietly, in their rooms and in their bedrooms and lounges, many people are losing their minds.
In the United Kingdom, Public Health England, a government agency, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, released a set of guidelines on “the mental health and well-being aspects of coronavirus” on March 29. In the same week, 62% of Britons said that they were finding it harder to be positive about the future compared with how they felt before the outbreak, according to Ipsos MORI, a pollster.
“People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics,” said Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, America’s hardest-hit state, on March 21. Four days later he set up a free hotline for those whose mental health was suffering.
Single people who once whiled away their days with friends, or those who live separately from their partners, suddenly find themselves spending most of their time alone.
“People with a mental illness carry a rucksack on their back,” says Ute Lewitzka, senior physician in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Dresden University Hospital and chairwoman of the German Society for Suicide Prevention. “There are times when this rucksack is relatively light, and they get along quite well in their everyday life. And then again there are times when the rucksack becomes very, very heavy: When external stress factors occur or stress situations last for a long time. And, of course, this whole story we’re experiencing is part of that.”
For Dr Wellington Ranga, the Clinical Director at Ingutsheni Hospital and one of the foremost psychologists in the country, acknowledges that most human beings are social creatures that need company especially in trying times.
“Of course, we have to face the fact that human beings are social animals. They need that social interaction especially on a day-to-day basis. The way our society is structured now, no is truly ever alone because they have free access to phones, were they talk to other people, and have other means of social interaction. That I think perhaps is the difference with solitary confinement whereby you have no form of interaction with human beings or nature. That could be a potential cause for concern,” he told Sunday Life in an interview.
According to Lewitzka, with the steady stream of bad news filtering through about the virus, perhaps, it would be a good idea to show those that are down and out that life is not all doom and gloom despite the danger posed by the virus.
“These are really difficult times,” says Lewitzka. “Quite a number of people often tend to see everything in a negative light and notice only the worries and fears. We try to guide these people a bit away from this way of looking at things and get them to see what is still going well despite the circumstances. That can also help people.”
For Dr Ranga however, spending time alone however, was not always a cause for concern.
“We also have people who believe in the therapy brought on by isolation and people who believe in meditation and being in a quiet space alone for a long time is an essential part of that process. We have sages that go to the Himalayas for example to meditate for a long period of time and be alone while meditating. It doesn’t affect their mental well-being but instead has the opposite effect.
“Of course, we have to face the fact that human beings are social animals. They need that social interaction especially on a day-to-day basis. The way our society is structured now, no is truly ever alone because they have free access to phones, where they talk to other people, and have other means of social interaction. That I think perhaps is the difference with solitary confinement whereby you have no form of interaction with human beings or nature. That could be a potential cause for concern,” he said.