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PIQUE'N YER INTEREST: The great gaslighting

Photo by CentralITAlliance/Getty Images

The way 2020 has gone, one of the best things that anyone can do is to keep a close eye on their own mental health and wellbeing.

That’s not even meant to be a glib or snarky way of expressing “Weird year, huh?” sentiments. Pre-pandemic, we were starting to make progress reducing the stigma of caring for one’s mental health, and it’s especially important at a time when experts are expressing concern that social isolation, financial instability and any number of other offshoots of COVID-19 can wreak particular havoc on those who hadn’t before dealt with mental-health issues and may not have a toolkit in place to do so.

Complicating matters, though, is constantly grappling with what’s safe or responsible. My wife and I are erring on the side of caution, placing online grocery orders or ordering takeout from restaurants to minimize our time away from home, and wearing masks when we are indoors in public. 

To be clear, we’re not cowering in fear, terrified to set a single toe out the door. We’re generally homebodies anyway, so there hasn’t been a drastic change in quality of life, and it’s been our privilege that we’re in a good, bright space. We’re going about our lives, doing our work, spoiling our cats and keeping ourselves entertained. 


Writing this isn’t meant to strike fear into the hearts of readers in any way, but it’s admittedly difficult to navigate a situation where everyone has a different level of risk, though it’s not even necessarily possible to discern exactly what it is. For example, I have sleep apnea, and while there’s been no evidence that it’s a risk factor for severe COVID-19 in and of itself, it’s hard to know how much it’s specifically been studied and, anyway, it’s probably better to play it safe with a respiratory condition.

At any rate, I’ve been made to feel weird about the level of precaution I’m taking. When I was out getting a coffee a couple weeks ago, I was in line when I realized that my online order was ready. I politely asked the lady crowding the pickup area to allow me to get our drinks out of the way, and while she backed off, she sneered, “You have a mask. You’ll be OK.” (Never mind that masks do more to protect others in public than the actual wearer.)

I’m not out in public much these days, but even in indoor spaces, mask usage is startlingly low. That, combined with the well-documented hostility directed at those wearing one, can’t help but make you second-guess yourself.

I mean, COVID-19 is still very much a thing, right? It didn’t just vamoose overnight, did it? There are a few activities that are very clearly irresponsible, a few that are very certainly A-OK, and a heaping horde where the devil is absolutely in the details.

That said, though, when there are (by definition) masses of people being very clearly irresponsible, you can’t help but question your own perception of reality. When pro sports are coming back (and in the case of Major League Baseball, with significant intercity travel) at a time when case counts in the United States are spiralling out of control, it doesn’t seem like their governments have generally done enough to justify pulling their shiny toys out of the toy box.

Even more challenging is being in regular contact with friends and family in a place that, well, didn’t feel the full effects of the pandemic. My home province of Manitoba had, as of July 22, only 366 total cases and seven deaths. 

They’ve had 10 times fewer cases than B.C., and it’s hard to say whether that’s due to better rule compliance, better governance, far fewer travellers, dumb luck or some combination. The numbers are encouraging, and before a recent uptick, there was more than a week with no new cases. 

But the new cases are primarily linked to travel, and, judging from social media, other aspects of life are starting to get pretty much back to normal. Sure, there are the same old distancing measures in restaurants and the like, but people are holding family gatherings, “Christmas in July” parties with friends or even wedding receptions with 150 people. (Though indoor events are generally capped at 50, they can be larger if groups don’t intermingle, so, hopefully that didn’t happen.) 

You want to give people the benefit of the doubt, trusting that they’re making informed and wise decisions. You don’t want to judge folks for how they live their lives, especially when they’re trying to grasp some joy in a dark time. But it’s a situation in which people can put others at risk, not just themselves. 

It’s not easy feeling like the wet blanket or the killjoy when, responding to someone telling you about their plans, you can only muster a “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” instead of a hearty “That sounds like great fun!” because, you know, global pandemic and all.

As provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is hammering home here, just because something is allowed doesn’t mean it’s advised. The more we stay home, the quicker this virus can die, and the sooner we can responsibly enjoy our lives.