Coronavirus: The Penny Drops and I Finally Understand the Big Picture

I am not a medical expert, but as a scientist and a retired government advisor I have been greatly puzzled by the apparent over-the-top response of the world’s governments to the coronavirus. At first glance, it seems like a total overreaction to a case of a bad flu. Nothing like this was done for other nasty viruses like SARS, Swine flu, H1N1 and Ebola. After listening to a host of medical experts, I have come to realize that the coronavirus is not, for most individuals, a health crisis, but it is a major public health crisis for governments. There is a big difference. The coronavirus can be seen as a crisis for the medical system, and not a crisis for health of individuals—with a few sad exceptions.

As I understand it, the coronavirus has several characteristics that, when combined, produce a potentially alarming nightmare for governments. First, it is new with no cure, and therefore it creates a lot of fear. Second, the virus is highly contagious, although there are a lot of more contagious viruses out there. Third, the virus kills some vulnerable people (some 1 to 3% of affected people), although there are far more deadly viruses out there. And fourth—and this is what caused the penny to drop for me—the majority of people don’t even know they have it or get symptoms that they barely notice. These people are not sick in bed; they are out in society unknowingly spreading it widely to many others, who in turn spread it to others … and so on. If a really virulent virus causes everyone who gets it to become very sick, they immediately go to bed or go to hospital. They do not go out into society, and so the spread of the virus is very slow and the number of cases at any one time is low. The coronavirus is not like that. Because most people don’t even know they have this very contagious virus, the spread is very fast. If society continued on as normal, and given the virus’s highly contagious nature, it is likely that within a several months or so everyone will get it—even if they don’t know it.

So, in Canada, with a population of over 37 million, this could mean 37-million cases in six months or so. This is where the statistics get scary—and this is the scenario that is giving nightmares to the world’s governments. Around 87% don’t notice they have it or get mild symptoms for a few days and binge watch some TV, but about 13% of infected people get very sick and must seek hospital treatment. Thirteen percent could mean for Canada up to 5 million hospital cases in a few months. No health system in the world can handle that. And without intensive medical intervention, possibly 700,000 of those would die! Such intensive help would not be available if the medical system was overwhelmed. Inevitably the spread will happen and those 13% will eventually get sick, but the governments of the world want to slow the spread so that medical help will be available for all the 13% when they need it. “Flatten the curve” is the expression being bandied about these days. For the United States, multiply the above numbers by 9, and the situation becomes even more nightmarish. The inevitable panic and irrational behaviour by individuals and governments will, of course, make everything even worse.

The combination of a highly contagious virus with low or no impact for most and high impact for a some also explains (to me) how the virus is spreading as it is. It is being initially spread by people coming back from travels aboard. These generally healthy and active people get exposed, generally show no symptoms and have gone on to spread the virus widely but unknowingly when they return. To where has the virus spread after it started in China? To the wealthier countries of the world whose citizens can afford to travel: Europe, North America, Australia. Only later will it spread to less wealthy countries where the medical infrastructure is even less capable of coping with huge numbers of patients at one time. This distribution is
exactly what the global maps of the spread show.

All this explains to me the unprecedented and draconian responses by the various governments of the world—even at the expense of the economy, which is usually the most sacred and cherished component of all governments’ policies. These initial responses are focused on reducing social contact, both outside and inside the country. They include closing all mass gatherings, limiting all non-vital interactions, and unprecedented travel bans with two-week quasi-voluntary quarantines for travellers (the period for the illness from exposure to symptoms, if any, is generally 5 to 10 days, or 14 days at most). These actions will slow the spread, but inevitably they will not stop it. This difficult situation will not end quickly in a few weeks. In fact, the whole point of all this government action is not to make the situation end quickly, but to make it drag out for a long time so that the medical system will not be overwhelmed all at once. Eventually, I think it likely that everyone will get it, even though most will never know it. For the vulnerable 13%, a slower rate will (hopefully) mean that the hospital beds and staff will be there when they need them and it will give time to develop a cure.

I write this as my wife and I are driving back to Canada from the United States after an abbreviated holiday in an area that had only just had its first case on the day before we left. The government of Canada practically ordered us to come back home immediately, even though at the time there had been only one coronavirus death in all of Canada. One! We are now facing our two-week home quarantine, even though we are perfectly healthy and were not exposed to anyone with the virus … that we know of. The quarantine will be inconvenient, but at least I now have convinced myself why it is necessary. Perhaps I will use the time to clean up my basement.

Adam Hardy

Married to Mental Illness Tip #3: Live Life!

Vacation to Niagara Falls, Spring 2018

 

Who wants to get old and look back at a life wasted and unlived? However, the effort of persuading, cajoling, bribing, blackmailing or physically pushing your mentally ill spouse out of the front door is not to be underestimated. There is a temptation to leave your spouse in bed and live a solitary and uninteresting life. Sara and I travelled on many vacations when she was very ill. I planned and I pushed. The effort and the logistics involved were daunting. Even to this day, whenever we go on vacation, we pack heavy with lots of just-in-case items, and I always plan for quiet days during the vacation so that Sara can rest and recover. When we return, I accept that Sara will crash for some weeks. It has not been easy, but the priceless reward is a full life. Looking back, we can happily recount our adventures of: trying to order a glass of water in a British pub; climbing the Eiffel Tower during a heatwave; unsuccessfully attempting to avert our young son’s eyes from the sexy cards laying about on the sidewalks of the Las Vegas Strip; reading the names of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard; getting our under-aged son into see the Phantom of the Opera; and swimming with sea-turtles off the Yucatan coast. When we reflect on our lives, the dark, blank, empty days are forgotten.

~ Excerpt from Bittersweet: Married to Mental Illness by Adam Hardy

 

Celebrating Sara’s ten years of blogging

Ten years ago today, Sara joined an online weight loss program to lose weight. Little did we know that her personal blog on the forum would lead to our book Bittersweet: Married to Mental Illness. Here’s what she wrote today on her private blog:

Today is my 10-year Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe that it was 10 years ago today when I decided to sign up once again to this online weight loss program to give it another try. My first attempt a few months earlier went down in flames because I had no time on the computer. We only had one computer in the house and everyone wanted to play computer games. When I did get a few minutes alone on it, the family complained about all the food wrappers I left around the computer as I started to input the data of my favourite foods to help track my calories. I remember just wanting to scream because I was so desperate to lose weight and so frustrated that I had no time on the computer.

I guess my determination won out, because I signed up again and pushed my way into getting time on the computer. In the beginning, I had a lot of fun building my recipes and my grocery lists to help understand my food intake. When I discovered the forum, I was completely blown away. I was suffering from clinical depression and didn’t get much out. I had been isolated for 15 years. Being able to read what people had to say on food, diets, nutrition, spirituality and positive thinking was the beginning of the world opening up for me. I started to learn about Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Abraham-Hicks and Eckhart Tolle. I chatted online with people about nutrition, the mind-body connection, raw foods and chakras. I started feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally, and I couldn’t get enough. I was like a sponge. Every week I was ordering a new book, trying new recipes, and discovering more Youtubes on spirituality.

Starting my personal blog was terrifying. I felt scared and insecure about what other people were going to think of my thoughts and opinions. I would constantly edit my posts, wanting nothing but perfection. I would be so upset if I noticed a typo. I really was my own worst critic.  However, I kept blogging and sharing. It felt good to finally be a part of something, even if it was online. I felt like I belonged somewhere. I had people to laugh with everyday. I had a community. I had my own tribe.

Slowly but surely, my physical health improved as I taught myself about nutrition. My emotional health grew stronger, as I now had a place to express my feelings. I blogged about my Grandmother’s cancer and my unexpected rage; I blogged about my deepest fears when Adam got sick and ended up in emergency; I blogged about my frustrations with overeating and my overwhelment when my weight would creep back up again; I blogged about my fascination with intuitive eating and finally making peace with my food and my body. I typed my little heart out and unexpectedly found I had a following and new friendships. Thank you to everyone who cheered me on through those difficult years. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.

Ten years later and it’s like looking back at a completely different person. Today I’m much more content with my life and myself. My energy is no longer focused on dieting. After 10 years with this blog, I think the most fascinating observation that I can make is realizing that my weight today is probably close to the weight I was when I first joined up. The difference between then and now is how I think and feel about myself today. I love my body instead of hating it. Wanting the perfect body was a complete illusion, as there’s nothing wrong with me. Today I’m a 56-year-old mom and wife, and this is what a 56-year-old body is supposed to look like. Life is much better with this healthy perspective.

Thank you again to everyone who has supported me, especially through the painful years. Thank you for letting me be myself and for sticking around when I went exploring “outside of the box.” Thank you most of all for your support of our book Bittersweet.  It’s one thing to blog to your heart’s content in the safety of a private forum but it’s quite another thing to be completely vulnerable in the public eye. This blog has given me the confidence to go out there and share our story, in the hopes that it can inspire those who are also struggling with mental illness. Now, that’s something to celebrate.

Sara Hardy

 

Moving with Mental Illness: Part 2 – Managing the Overwhelmed

What not to do

After months of packing and fixing up our old home, we finally moved to our new home. More months of unpacking and fixing up our new home lay ahead. It was a challenging prospect for me and overwhelming for Sara. I would like to say that I managed it with the same brilliant insights that I did when helping Sara to overcome her fears. Was my understanding of Sara’s feelings of being overwhelmed another tour de force worthy of another book? … Err, no.

The organization and planning for moving into our new home was daunting, and I soon became focused on getting as many tasks done as quickly as possible. I was tired of living out of suitcases, sitting on lawn-chairs, and having my office consist of the kitchen counter, some shoe-boxes and ever-disappearing pens. Sara was as excited about our new home as I was, and she was just as eager to move in. However unlike me, Sara was not up to working nonstop until all the jobs were done. In the rush of the move, I forgot that, and I ignored my mentally ill wife’s frequent complaints. Today marked a low point: Sara went on strike.

Crunch All the Work Together

Before we moved our furniture into our new home, we needed to refinish the well-worn and warped hardwood floors, replace the twenty-year-old carpets, paint the walls (“hearing-aid pink” was not to our liking), and build a fenced area for our dog. Doing all this was beyond my skills, so contractors were required. With a singular focus on efficiency, I, of course, wanted them to come one right after the other, like an assembly line of renovations. This was too much for Sara, because she would not be able to rest and recover after strangers had been roaming her home. I was oblivious and pushed ahead. As fate would have it, the contractors’ schedules were too full to accommodate my demanding schedule. What I planned to be done in ten days actually took two-and-a-half months—much to Sara’s relief. Lesson: Don’t crunch all the work together. Re-la-x … and space things out.

Proudly Present Your Lists Over and Over Again

I love lists. They organize my thoughts, help plan out the schedule, and get all those pesky details out of my head and on to paper. I had lists everywhere—some running several pages in length. Lists on the computer, lists in notebooks, lists on sticky notes, lists on backs of envelopes. Great stuff! It was with considerable pride that I showed Sara my lists. “See,” I told her, “everything is under control.” Wrong! What I did not realize was that these wonderful lists showed Sara how much work was still to be done. She thought that I wanted all the work on these lists done straightaway (I can’t think why). Result: the total meltdown of my overwhelmed wife. Lesson: Keep your lists to yourself—a lesson I ignored time and time again, with the same results.

Relentlessly Press for Quick Decisions

Door handles, towel racks, toilet-roll holders, cabinet knobs, shelving, curtains, curtain rails, carpets, rugs, coffee tables, etc., etc.—a billion-and-one new items for our new home. What style? What colour? What texture? How much? How many? Where to put them? Which store? I am the “decide-quickly-repent-leisurely” type of person. Sara, being in almost every way my opposite, is a perfectionist who takes forever to decide on the perfect colour, style and texture. Although her decorative decisions are always better than mine, I quickly became frustrated with the delay and relentlessly pressed Sara into making decisions. I wanted to buy the item, install it, and (with immense satisfaction) cross it off my list. Because of my pressure, items were bought before Sara was happy with her decision … and of course later returned. One day, Sara could take it no more. She had reached the end and was paralyzed to make any more decisions. Decision paralysis is a well-recognized mental state. I finally surrendered to the inevitable and took a Zen-like approach to waiting for Sara to make a decision. Lesson: Let your mentally ill spouse make her decisions in her own time. Life will not end if the old cabinet knobs remain in place for (yet) another month. … Oh yes, and keep your receipts.

Do It Now!

“Do it now!” has been a philosophy that I have embraced in my professional and personal lives—not because I love working, but because I want to thoroughly enjoy my relaxation without unfinished work hovering over me. Sara’s philosophy is “Do it when I am ready—mentally, physically and emotionally.” I had to re-learn how to slow down—a lesson I had forgot in the excitement of the move. Lesson: Prepare for the long haul.

After all this, Sara and I have decided that we really, really like our new home, and that we are never ever moving again.

Adam.