Musings on My “Pandemic PTSD” – Brought on by the Frank Turner Song. Obviously

Ever since Frank Turner’s “Undefeated” album came out in May I had been planning to write some kind of review. Part of the idea was to not to do a song by song review this time but focus on those songs that resonate with me more than others and to delve into why they do.

Each of Frank’s albums has some of those songs, which after more than a decade of following his career still baffles me a bit to be honest. Because we’ve both changed – and grown, I hope – in various ways. You would imagine that the paths each of us are on – emotionally in life – might have diverged to some extent and thus his songs might not speak to me as much as they did. But they still do! His way of writing about his experiences and his emotions still often feels congruent with my own experiences and emotions; sometimes eerily well so. It does help that Frank is comfortable with people coming up with their own interpretation of his work, because sometimes his words when I hear them might mean something different to me than they meant to him when he wrote them. In this instance though I think I don’t veer off too much from what I think Frank wants this song to mean.

That was a bit of tangent. Anyway, it’s in my nature to be too often and too easily

paralysed by decisions

and overwhelmed by perfectionism (and no ‘perfectionism’ actually is not a positive character trait). While I thought I might have to say a lot about some songs I also knew that an album “review” post shouldn’t turn into an essay of indeterminable length and how on earth would I be able to reconcile those two aspects? So I didn’t even try. Until the penny dropped and I realized that I do not have to write a post about the whole album, just because I did that for all the previous 9. I do not have to write about all those songs in one go. Duh!

It needed a trip to the mall yesterday to finally sit down and start typing.

But I didn’t use to be this agoraphobic

I had to pick up something at a store at that mall and while I expected Saturday shoppers, I obviously underestimated the amount of people out and about. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people around me, I was reminded of how since March 2020 any kind of crowd made me quite anxious for a long time.

This might need some context: I’ve always been easily anxious and worried about things. Due to a chronic neurological illness (Multiple Sclerosis) I’ve also been and still am part of the high-risk group for a COVID infection. Anxiety prone and especially vulnerable to a potentially deadly disease? Of course that would affect my mental health! I didn’t realize that for a long time though.

Panic attacks in the dentist car park,
Losing my temper in a Jersey sports bar –
Safe to say the twenties have been weird.

There were so many moments in 2020 / 2021 where I got anxious about and also pissed off at people. Back in the very early days when we thought every close contact even outdoors could be dangerous and we didn’t have the “several minutes / indoors” risk assessment yet, I always got so angry at all the runners who passed me without a wide berth when I was out walking on the rail path. In hindsight I know I was overreacting, but in that moment, I felt vulnerable and I was angry about the lack of consideration from other people.

Pandemic leftovers (signs of keep your distance, cheap COVID tests)
Leftovers of the pandemic years

I’ve got similar memories of trips to the supermarket, where I once got angry at a guy who I thought was pushing his cart to close into my path. Outrage when the pizza delivery staff didn’t just put the box on the stairwell as I had asked them to with my order, but rang the doorbell to hand the box over. In hindsight I know (again) that I was overcautious and not at any risk by that behaviour. But we didn’t know that in the early days, did we? And it made me so anxious and angry.

It’s not just you and it’s not just me
That has pandemic PTSD.

Post traumatic stress disorder
Is characterised by persistent trauma
Caused by severe psychological shock or else physical injury.

I know in general PTSD is more used for “Big T traumas” like having been in a war, accident, abuse of any kind. And I probably wouldn’t call my experience of the pandemic years PTSD as such. But the pandemic sure did a number on me to some degree. Many experiences but also the strangeness of these past years are still somehow seared into my brain and still pop up quite often when I return to some locations. Up until late 2022 / early 2023 those flashbacks to previous experiences were accompanied with the visceral reaction of feeling anxious. The latter lessened over time by now, but the memories as such still pop up from time to time even now another year later. Often just little things like being in this one particular mega store, where the checkout queue at one point went all the way to the back of the shop (40 metres or so). The checkout in another supermarket I regularly frequent is next to the entrance to the pharmacy where I had to get my first vaccination registered in my vaccination card in spring 2021. Returning to department stores which you were only allowed to enter when you had current proof of a negative COVID test. So many snapshots, which have quite faded by now but have not disappeared from my memory yet. I sometimes wonder if they ever will. And will I mind if they don’t?

Until it’s OK to admit that I don’t know how to feel
About the shit that we just lived through – it was kind of a big deal.

And one day it seemed like everybody decided
They were tired of trying and bored of hiding it,
Ready for the next adventure, next news cycle, next catastrophe. [….]

As you can gather from what I wrote so far it definitely was a big deal for me! It didn’t help my mental health that there was other negative stuff going on in my life in 2021. But I also was baffled and disappointed and pissed off how so many people wanted to move on from this very traumatic experience too soon for my taste. Moving on in the quite practical sense of not wearing masks and not keeping a distance anymore right away when any rules about it were lifted. Of not being considerate to take a test / stay home when they feel sick. Not to mention the blatant disregard of potential long term risk of repeated infections or the many, many people already suffering from Long COVID. I just recently read a magazine feature about two women (early 30s and early 40s) whose lives shut down because of that and about their struggle to get any kind of decent care and support. It’s horrific!

And we stood in the wreckage trying not to claim
That we had more than our fair share of the pain,

Part of the wreckage I stood in obviously was my anxiety gone through the roof due to my own personal health situation. The other part was, how I lost quite a bit of faith in my fellow human beings. Faith that most people in general are decent and have some common sense and empathy for others. My outlook on society might have been a bit naive / optimistic before that, but something definitely broke for me in 2020/2021. I’m aware that society has started to be more divisive even before that (culture wars and all), but I didn’t expect it to go as far as it has been during the pandemic years and since. I was baffled / shocked how people with a university degree (in science!) and especially health professionals decided to blatantly ignore science and instead shared misinformation and conspiracy theories. How toxic and violent the whole debate quickly turned online and offline. How ordinary people ignored rules and advice, because they either didn’t believe COVID was serious or because they just didn’t care. How our government and we as society so easily brushed over what 2 years of distant learning and contact restriction did to a huge part of children, teenagers, young adults.

I don’t have a solution for any of those things, which have been broken. I still struggle with the mental health side of it sometimes. But at least now I’ve got a song I can scream along to when my frustration with it all gets too overwhelming. And at any other time as well, because it’s a great song in general!

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