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What Psychosis Can Teach Us About Panic Buying and COVID-19

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When I see people panic buying in stores due to COVID-19 — a new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — I see fear. I see panic. I don’t see “rational” thinking.

But I also see myself almost 10 years ago, when my symptoms controlled my thoughts.

My symptoms were influenced by emerging forms of media on the internet that gave a voice to the unheard. Some of these unheard should remain unheard, but I listened to them, anyway. Pioneers in fear-mongering like Alex Jones, I believed everything they said. I didn’t have to listen much; YouTube and other recommendation engines were happy to place in front of my attention these alternative sources of (what I now know as false) information.

It only took five to 10 views of this media before my paranoia and delusions did the rest of the work. I began stockpiling nonperishable food, first aid supplies and water for myself. I also stockpiled candy, alcohol and cigarettes I would use for trade in the event of my imaginary apocalypse. Sometime after my recovery from these particular symptoms, my family and I called it “Ian’s apocalypse stash.” Thankfully, my apocalypse stash didn’t go to waste, we eventually made good use of all the items.

Still, the act of stockpiling is not a fun experience. It gives a voice to the little voices in your head that assume the worst in humanity. It validates your unwarranted fears, legitimizes them and in a way, makes you complicit in an act of selfishness in looking out for yourself, rather than contributing to helping others for the betterment of society. What if I had spent all that money and time on helping others? What if we all did that?

I often quote “The Humbling River” by Puscifer because it resonates so much with me:

“Nature, nurture, heaven, and home
Sum of all, and by them, driven
To conquer every mountain shown
But I’ve never crossed the river.

Braved the forests, braved the stone
Braved the icy winds and fire
Braved and beat them on my own
Yet I’m helpless by the river.

Pay no mind to the battles you’ve won
It’ll take a lot more than rage and muscle
Open your heart and hands, my son
Or you’ll never make it over the river

It’ll take a lot more than words and guns
A whole lot more than riches and muscle
The hands of the many must join as one
And together we’ll cross the river.”

We can stockpile all we want, look out for No. 1, prepare for a disaster and whatever else. But, if your stockpiling is seeking to ensure survival for longer than six months, you are giving into your fears. Our generation faces many challenges, and if you’re spending your time and efforts hedging your bets on yourself long-term, we all lose. An individual cannot survive a human extinction event. It is a challenge that must be taken on together in unity while we still have the resources to come out ahead.

I know these are scary times, but take it from someone who understands how paranoia can get the best of you. If you want to survive a pandemic, think less about yourself and more about how you can help others. That is how we cross the river.

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles:

A version of this article was originally published on Ian Rand Mckenzie.

Unsplash image by Boris Dunand

Originally published: March 18, 2020
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