The outside has always been dirty to me. Not from dirt, bugs, other people, or any one thing — it’s just always been dirty. Since I can remember, if I took a single step outside the house my clothes were dirty. Growing up, I’d have to strip in the first room of my house and walk back to my bedroom in my underwear to put on fresh, clean clothes. Shoes were always left outside, we each had our own pair of inside slippers to wear and you had to wash your hands with hot water for at least 1 minute — never at the kitchen sink, always in the guest bathroom, which we never actually used to go to the bathroom because it was used by guests and therefore dirty. We even had an automatic soap dispenser there so you wouldn’t have to touch anything with your dirty, outside hands.
There’s more. So much more I could fill an op-ed with every weird quirk we had in my house growing up. But the basic way of explaining it is that we were scared. We still went outside and interacted with the world, but acknowledged the fact that it was dirty while we were clean. Stepping out of the house and onto the street in my rural western community was like entering the thunder-dome.
We were pros at hiding it — explaining away to people why I only drank a specific brand of pre-approved water, never ate out, always had a bottle of hand sanatizer in my pocket; there was always a diet, a prescription, something to make it seem not so odd. You’d never know at first glance that we were the fanatic doomsday preppers down the street; never know that we had lived through several apocalyptic scenarios you’d barely even heard about. One winter break, we sealed up our doors and windows when we thought the air was toxic. Two years later, we thought an asteroid was going to hit the earth, so we stocked up on enough dehydrated food to last us months if not years. We had medical equipment, an electric generator, and communication devices in case the power grid shut off, phone lines went down, and/or we needed to start fending for ourselves.
We lived in a constant state of fear. With this underlying sense that yes, I was going to school today but that could all change tomorrow. That the outside world and everything in it was dangerous, dirty. That we shouldn’t touch doors, handles, people, anything out there. Anything and everything outside of our little bubble of home was a threat to life itself.
The funny thing is, when this is all you know your whole life, it doesn’t feel so dramatic. I grew up putting off my family as no more than quirky. Every family has their thing and this just happened to be ours. I never thought of myself as being scared, or in a heightened sense of anxiety, or different.
As I grew up and started thinking for myself, I realized that in fact not everyone was like this. That we were living our lives with psychosomatic asthma, struggling to breath down the perfectly healthy world around us. At a certain point, I decided to venture out on my own and become one of everyone else: living a dangerous, life-threatening existence every day. Leaving my family, I found myself breathing clean air for the first time in my life.
People today are scared. As the pandemic of coronavirus penetrates global health, more and more people are waking up every day with anxiety, with a sense that the outside world itself is contaminated, is dirty. In contrast, I found myself acting relatively calm. I adjusted to social distancing, staying indoors, ordering my groceries, washing my hands and sanitizing my apartment far too easily. It was simply falling back into old habits.
In the end, I’m more calm than most of the people around me. I’m taking the pandemic just as seriously, but the state of being you’re put in during this type of situation is relatively normal for me. There hasn’t been a regulation that has shocked me just yet. But, unlike the past, I don’t walk outside feeling like the world is dirty (actually there is a lockdown where I am so I don’t walk outside too much at all). Part of the hysteria in these types of situations comes from the fact that you’re fighting an enemy you can’t see, can’t defend yourself from, even if it’s right in front of you. It could be in your friends, at your place of work, or even in your house, and while you do everything you can do keep your environment sanitary, if you come in contact with it, there’s nothing you can do.
In the end, so much of this fear comes down to control. Growing up, my house was the only place in the world we had complete control over. If the power goes down, we have a generator, we can control that. If the air is toxic, we have air filtration, water filtration, food, and so on. We had control in this little vacuum, our own little Eden. The sense of dirty the outside world brought wasn’t disease or toxicity, it was a lack of control — and this is exactly what most people are feeling now. Why do we need to stock up on toilet paper? So at least, if everything else goes to shit (pun intended), I’ll be able to control this little aspect of my lives.
The thing about the global society we live in today is that so much of it is out of our control. There are far too many people involved in the growing, handling, shipping and displaying of our food and produce to control what you’re eating (unless you grow all your own food, which we did for a time). Even in a digital context, you have very little control over who owns, uses, and analyses your data. In order to be an active member of society, you surrender yourself to the organized chaos that is modern day living.
When I left my doomsday prepping family and joined the real world, the main thing that I had to learn was how to accept that I wasn’t in control. That though an astroid could crash into our planet tomorrow, nuclear power plants could contaminate the air, and/or a virus could spread worldwide and kill many — all I could do is surrender myself to the phenomena that are happening, and do my best by them in this moment.
So yes, I’m following the regulations my government has set up, and yes I did buy a couple packs of toilet paper. But I’m also calm here because I know I’m not in control of this virus. All I can do are the right things in this moment, and hope for the best. The “right thing” is incredibly subjective — but in this case I try to listen to medical reports coming out, stay at home as to not spread, make sure my family and friends are educated and not spreading misinformation, and not listen to the news too much. For all the doomsday prepping my family has done, and is doing, they are still just an anxious and scared as everyone else right now.
And while I do still have a doomsday backpack in my closet with all the things I need to survive in case of a number of apocalyptic scenarios, I’m confident that I won’t need it… this time.