March 18, 2020

DERY | Healthily Distracting Ourselves in Light of the Coronavirus

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On Tuesday, the sporting world awoke to the news of Tom Brady’s departure from the Patriots — a pleasant little surprise that managed to surface above the panic. I phoned friends from bed, and we spent the morning refreshing our social media feeds and exchanging rumors. Before long, the previous day’s move-out from my dorm fell to the back of my mind. I was in self-quarantine now; all that was left to do was to distract myself. That same day, I watched Netflix to drown out the state of emergency issued by my city. Yet, even as the CDC continues to usher in more devastating statistics regarding the coronavirus, I have still managed to be most shocked and hurt by Brady’s deal with Tampa Bay — passing up on my beloved Chargers.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, self-quarantining has become distant from its intention to protect us physiologically. As we mosey about our living rooms and kitchens, avoiding the virus in the physical sense feels like less and less of a pressing concern. To me, quarantining is but a mind game: a desperate attempt to distract ourselves in order to stay sane. Indeed, college life has prepared us well.

Last week in a lab session, I remember a classmate complaining that we were nonchalantly dropping magnets through coils despite “the world coming to an end.” At the time, I didn’t sympathize; the idea of moving out felt distant enough. Maybe it was the luxury of living a two hour drive away that left me unworried about the logistics of returning home. Maybe I just took solace in the fact that I had plenty of other things to worry about from now till then. So classes came and went as per usual. Stress is distraction, and distraction is distortion — “now” seemed comfortably distant from “then.” That is, until the two suddenly converged over the course of the following afternoon. Before I knew it, my Ithaca bubble was on the verge of bursting for the first time.

By no means was 2020 a dull year before the emergence of coronavirus, either. The Australian wildfires and other global conflicts concerned me, but a busy to-do list was enough to avert my attention. In Ithaca, we are largely shielded from worrying about global issues, given that school takes precedence in our schedule. For many of us, there exists a significant discrepancy between what we believe and what we are actually able to do about it. Maybe there is something calming about writing up a lab report after all when the real world crumbles around us.

Fast forward, a month, or even a week, and us students are left exposed to crisis. This time, we’re dangerously undistracted. So, as I navigate my way through modern-day self-quarantine, I resort to doing what I have always done to cope, what my college experience has unknowingly trained me to do: stay distracted and distant. I have found no other way to handle the stress of the real world than trying to reconstruct my Ithaca bubble at home. Just reading my fellow columnists’ sobering work this past week has reminded me how grateful I should be that my greatest concern during this hiatus has become sheltering myself from the crisis.

Nonetheless, my version of self-quarantine is an effort to remain sheltered, occupied, distracted. The incoherent blend of warning messages and pleas for social distancing in my inbox are of little help. So are Instagram stories that feature interviews of Italian citizens who wish they hadn’t been so casual about the situation ten days ago. They revive similar regret within me — since I, too, had assured us there is no reason for panic or facemasks. All that advice has lost its relevance, it seems.

Sheltered, occupied, distracted. Pictures of friends getting together or partying from this past week indicate that others, too, are desperate to avert their attention from reality. But putting up the facade of normalcy is not only reckless in terms of viral spread, but also in terms of mental health. We must draw the line between distraction and denial. The opportunity to shelter ourselves should not be taken for granted. At a time when even an ongoing election fails to get adequate coverage, we aren’t in a position to deny any reason to shift focus. Not even Tom Brady. Hang in there, Cornellians — stay safe and healthily distracted.

Roei Dery is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.