I have always been a cautious person. When I was little, I used to sit on the edge of the sandbox with my feet on the outside, playing in the sand with a spoon. I always hated walking in grass barefoot because I didn’t know what I was stepping on. I was still using water wings to swim until I was almost seven.
If you’re familiar with the enneagram test, I’m a type 6. That means anxiety runs deep for me. It’s a constant presence that I’ve learned to handle. I have never been diagnosed with any kind of anxiety disorder because anxiety doesn’t control my actions, but it has always been there, like an imaginary friend. It keeps me company and makes me feel safe, but the more I recognize its presence, the stranger I seem to others. So, it stands to reason that an unprecedented global pandemic would set my careful nature into overdrive.
My husband and I have been as careful as we are able to be throughout this pandemic. We follow all the recommendations from the experts: no indoor dining, no gyms, no planes or travel, no maskless indoor interactions, etc. Before we spend time with friends or family in small-group situations without masks, we make sure that everyone involved has not had any maskless contact with anyone outside of their home. It’s exhausting.
We are all tired of this virus. We all want it to be over. We want to breathe air unfiltered through a cloth or paper covering. We want to go to concerts again, eat out, go to house parties, and see our families who live far away. COVID fatigue is real and I feel it. But I feel it because I am living my life differently because of this virus, and the same cannot be said for many of the people I know.
I live in a very conservative area in the South. People here are not taking this virus seriously. They are not willing to make even the smallest of sacrifices for the sake of the community or even their immediate loved ones. And their excuse is one I keep seeing over and over on social media. They say that they refuse to “live in fear.” And they chastise those who, like me, are taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this argument. It infuriates me because it outlines a bigger problem: selfish behavior.
Here’s the thing: taking this virus seriously is not “living in fear.” Refusing to fraternize with friends and family who constantly flout recommendations made by the nation’s top medical experts is not “living in fear.” In fact, the accusation is nothing more than gaslighting, and we need to call it out as such. When you accuse someone who is taking COVID seriously of being irrationally afraid, you are invalidating a legitimate and understandable human reaction to an unprecedented global pandemic. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation. Plain and simple. It’s a way of attempting to control another person’s actions by causing them to question their emotions. It’s wrong. Always. And it is never how you should deal with someone, let alone someone you love.
More than that, right now, the “I refuse to live in fear” argument is also a screwed up coping mechanism designed to justify selfish and irresponsible behavior. I’m tired of seeing people going out and about in the world like everything is normal and then using “don’t life in fear” as a slogan to explain why they are behaving in a way that puts themselves and others in danger. We’ve been told over and over by legitimate health experts all over the WORLD what we all need to do to slow the spread of the virus: wear a mask in public, avoid small and large gatherings where people are not wearing masks (especially the ones indoors), avoid indoor dining, avoid religious services, avoid gyms, and take control of your bubble — making sure those in it are following the rules. These are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things. Yet, when we refuse to make these sacrifices, we end up where we are now, with over 1,000 deaths a day, almost 150,000 new cases a day, and hospitals near collapse.
So, don’t give me this bullshit line about how my responsibility is me “living in fear.” I am not scared. I am compassionate. I am not living in fear. I am living in a way that proves I want this pandemic to end and I’m doing what I can to ensure that it does. When you try to make me feel weak or irrational because of my choice to be responsible, all you’re doing is showing your own selfishness. You’re proving that you care more about your social life than others’ actual lives. We need to start calling out people who use this argument for what they are: selfish.