Tag Archive: coronavirus

Depression, anxiety and the pandemic

The past year was a pretty bad one.

Depression, anxiety, grief, all of that. Wrote about it for Bell Let’s Talk day, here. Have been pretty open about it, too – which is harder for guys to do. (And it’s particularly hard for guys in politics, like me, who aren’t supposed to have feelings and all that bullshit.)

Anyway. I made changes, big ones. I discovered who were the real friends, and who weren’t. I met lots of amazing, beautiful, smart women, and none of them were liars.

I got stronger. I got better.

This essay, which I found on The Daily Beast, said some things that I, too, had been feeling since the pandemic began. Namely: I feel okay. As in, totally okay. Totally prepared.

People have noticed. They’ve reached out to me to talk about their anxieties and fears, and I’ve tried to help them. I have felt enormous gratitude and responsibility that I have been able to do so, too.

This essay is about that, written by a woman who is experiencing the same thing. When the whole world is depressed, it turns out, your own depression doesn’t seem like that big a deal anymore. And, you’ve been given some tools to help others through it.

Snippet below. Full essay here. Read it.

As COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has spread around the globe, many people have found themselves struggling to cope, regardless of their mental health histories. And to be clear, many if not most depression and anxiety patients have seen their symptoms worsen. But a fraction have, paradoxically, actually felt their symptoms alleviate. Like Weinstein, I am one of those people.

It’s not that I’m unaware of the terrible toll the global pandemic is exacting. I’ve cried about it late at night, like I imagine most have. I’ve worried for my grandmother, and boiled with rage as various wealthy blowhards suggested that the best thing she and other elderly people could do for this country is to die. I’m furious at the gross incompetence and indifference to human life within our country’s leadership. I check the news often—too often—staring at my phone in disbelief every night into the early hours of the morning.

And yet, when I wake up, I don’t feel as sluggish as I normally do. I find it easier to get out of bed. The intrusive thoughts that normally buzz around my brain like flies on a feeding frenzy have disappeared. My family is healthy, I tell myself. I am healthy. We are all doing what we can. And for whatever reason, that has been enough. My mood has stabilized after years of oscillating between paralyzing anxiety and debilitating, at times suicidal, depression. Despite everything, I realize, I am OK. More OK than I have been in years.

That’s a strange thing to admit. But evidently I’m not alone.

My latest: leadership in tough times

Leadership in good times means little.

Leadership in bad times means everything.

And these times, they are indisputably bad. Grim, grinding, grotesque.  For the rest of our lives, we will all remember the dark days of 2020, when nothing was again the same. Everyone, everything, everywhere: it’s all different, now.

“All changed, changed utterly,” Yeats wrote in Easter 1916, and which he could write again in Easter 2020, if he was still here.  (No “terrible beauty,” though.)

When times are this bad, we learn things about ourselves. We learn things about our leaders, too.

For this writer, few leaders are as inspiring as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. No adjectives, no spin, no homilies: in that New Yorker’s brusque dialect, Cuomo sits there every day, no notes, and simply offers up the truth.

He emotes honesty. He tells it as is; he does not give false hope.  And he seemingly knows everything.

More than once, I’ve been driving my Jeep – to locate toilet paper, to pick up some canned food my little band of survivors – and I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to listen to Cuomo. In the way that my grandmother told me that she and her seven children would stop everything, and gather around the radio to listen to Winston Churchill during World War Two. Giving hope, giving faith, giving a path forward.

Doug Ford, too. He’s given hope, and he’s shown no small amount of strength and decency. Even his detractors now admit that Ontario’s Premier has revealed himself to be an inspirational voice.  One they did not expect.

On the subject of Ford,  I’m biased. (He has been a friend, and I’ve done a couple writing assignments for his government.) So don’t take my word for it. Former NDP Premier Bob Rae: “With the Premier on this.” Current Ontario Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca: “Ontario Liberals support the government’s decision to shut down non-essential business.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the so-called Right, BC Premier John Horgan on the Left: they, too, have stepped up in a way that their political adversaries did not expect.

Our federal leaders, not as much. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leadership frontrunner Peter MacKay have disappointed, lately.

Trudeau did so well at the outset of the pandemic, and then – when he perhaps thought no one would be looking – he tried to seize unprecedented, and unnecessary, spending and taxation powers.  The outcry was immediate and came from across the political and media spectrum.

The Prime Minister lost in ten minutes what had taken ten weeks to build up. His partisan adversaries are unlikely to fully trust him anytime soon.

Peter MacKay, too, seemed more preoccupied with power than the general good. With the pandemic raging – rendering hundreds of Canadians sick, killing dozens – MacKay stubbornly refused calls for his party’s leadership race to be paused.

No one was paying attention to the Tory leadership race. No one cared about it. But MacKay insisted that it continue, because no less than “democracy” was at stake.

He looked like a fool. Last week, his party completely rejected his demands, and thereby did the right thing.

The missteps of Justin Trudeau and Peter MacKay are nothing, however, when compared to Donald Trump’s tyrannical reign of error. Trudeau and MacKay were merely self-serving. Trump is far, far worse.

In a devastating ad, leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden documented Trump’s serial lies about the growing coronavirus threat – how Trump said “we have it totally under control.” How he said “it will disappear like a miracle.” How the virus was “a hoax.”

Trump’s fans will say that he is popular, now. And it is true: polls show Americans are currently prepared to give their “president” the benefit of the doubt.

But Jimmy Carter’s popularity soared, too, after the hostages were seized in Iran four decades ago. 

From the New York Times on December 10, 1979: “Public approval of President Carter’s performance in office has increased dramatically in the month since the United States Embassy in Teheran was seized and hostages held by militant students, according to a poll by the Gallup Organization. The percentage of people who approved of Mr. Carter’s handling of the Presidency jumped from 32, in a Gallup survey, to 61 in the latest poll.”

Jimmy Carter’s presidency would ultimately be destroyed by the Iranian hostage crisis. So will Donald Trump’s, by this new crisis, and for how he has mismanaged it. 

It is always this way: political careers are made in times of crisis. 

But they can be ended by crises, too.  

When Trump lies, someone dies

‪Two things.

One, every president is popular at the start of a crisis – even Carter was when Iran hostage crisis started. Then it gets bad.

Two, it will get very bad for Trump. The weeks he wasted with bullshit – which will result in Americans actually dying – will be what defeats him. ‬

In these dark days, if someone with power is lying, it means someone without power is dying.

Trump won’t be defeated by Joe Biden. He will be defeated by his own lies.

My latest: defeating a silent, invisible foe

In June 2004, the young doctors in their sparkling white coats filed into my father’s hospital room, holding charts and papers.  They were there to tell him how they were going to save his life, and defeat the cancer that was throughout his lungs.

I was there, on a chair up against the wall of the room on the fourth floor of the Kingston General Hospital.  I looked at the faces of the young doctors.  I could tell that they all knew who my father was.

He was a doctor, like them, and he had saved lives in that same hospital for years.  He had taught young women and men how to be doctors, and he had gone on to be well-known across Canada, to be a Member of the Order of Canada, even.

From his hospital bed, my father let the young doctors speak.  They described the measures they would take to save him, to save his life.

When they finished, he spoke.  “Thank you, doctors,” he said, and he said that last word like it was important, because it is.  “But there will be no heroic measures in my case.  Thank you.”

And they all got up and shook his hand and filed out of the tiny hospital room.  He had been offered a better room, by the way, one with a better view of the shining, shimmering lake.  But he had refused it.

I had said nothing, even though I already knew what he would say.  I wanted him to say that he wanted to live, and that the young doctors should do everything else in their power to save his life.  I wanted him to say that he wanted to beat death.

But he didn’t.  He wouldn’t.  He’d seen the charts, and he had decided he would die.

And death is back and death is everywhere, this Spring.  It is on everyone’s mind, if not necessarily on their lips, as they sit in isolation all over the Earth, and as they listen to doctors on TV talk about “flattening the curve.”  The “curve” is sickness and, for some, death.

My father was an immunologist, you see.  He was well-schooled in viruses like the new one.  He was among the first to try and defeat AIDS, before it even had a name.

He’d come home and tell my mother and my brothers that this virus, if it was not stopped, would kill millions of people.  He’d have dinner with us, and then he’d sleep for a while, and then he’d go back to his lab, to try and stop AIDS.

As I have been in isolation in an old house in rural Ontario, receiving emails and texts from people who I know and people who I don’t – people who confess to me that they have never been so scared about anything in their lives – I often wonder what my father would say now, 16 years after we lost him.

After he had looked at the charts, and the data, and after he had talked to the other doctors, would he say that there are no heroic measures that can save us?  Or would he say to fight it, even against such an implacable, malevolent foe?  Would he say that we must do all that we can to defeat this remorseless, relentless virus?

Outside that hospital room, on that day, the sun was brighter than it had ever been in the history of the world.  And the tiny sailboats, arrayed against the blue-green waves of Lake Ontario, didn’t stop moving on the day my father died.  I had actually cursed them for that, because I wanted them to stop moving, in recognition of the passing of the greatest father who ever lived.

But inside that hospital room, on that day my father said he would die, there was a lot of fear, but not with him.  The fear was entirely mine.  Then, as now, I was afraid of death, and the invisible killer that was filling his lungs up, a killer that was silently working to ensure that he would no longer be able to breathe.

As we sat there, waiting for my mother to arrive, I asked him if he was ready.  “I am ready,” he said.  “I am ready.”

I have thought about it long and hard, and I think I know what my father would say, if he was still here.  After looking at the charts, he would look at all of us at the end of his hospital bed, our chests tight with terror, and he would say this:

“Fight it, beat it,” he would say.  “You can, and you will.

“You must.”

#Coronavirus: crisis comms in a crisis comms situation

Daisy Group has been around for almost 15 years.  Generally speaking, we are basically a war room for hire.  Specifically, we help folks through crisis communications situations.  Like coronavirus.

What has made things worse – what has made people anxious, and pushed them towards panic – isn’t the virus itself.  It’s how our supposed leaders have communicated to us about the virus.

Donald Trump has been in the news every day. He has ignored the threat, then dismissed it, then lied about it, then broadcast an address full of yet more lies and misinformation.  It caused a stock market crash and panicked people even more.

Justin Trudeau has done the opposite – he hasn’t been in the news much at all.  He has delegated communications to ministers who have zero experience handling a crisis like this, and his policy response – a billion dollars, a conference call with provincial Premiers – has been pretty puny.  He has essentially disappeared.  His wife may be ill, but Trudeau is a master of social media, and he knows how to reach people even when in isolation.  He hasn’t done so.  That’s caused some confusion and anxiety.

I teach crisis communications at the University of Calgary’s law school; I’m in fact teaching again today, via the Internet.  I have been using coronavirus as a case study for the entire semester.

Here is the story I will tell my students about how to communicate in a crisis like coronavirus.  It isn’t hard.  But our leaders need to do it.  Now.

At my Daisy Group, when corporate disaster strikes, we often refer clients to the Tylenol approach.  It’s an approach that works.  

Late 1982, Chicago: seven people are killed when they ingest Tylenols laced with potassium cyanide.  Johnson and Johnson, which owned the Tylenol brand, saw its share price plummet, and panic was widespread.

But the company didn’t disappear.  It did the reverse.  J and J immediately recalled all Tylenol, nation-wide. It ceased production.  It issued warnings to hospitals.  It announced that it was developing what it called “tamper proof” packaging – a phrase that has now entered the popular lexicon.  And, over and over, company executives made themselves available to the media, to answer questions, to describe the actions it was taking and – most of all – to take responsibility.

Johnson and Johnson didn’t poison its own Tylenol capsules, of course, and nobody believed that they ever would.  But the company’s willingness to be accountable, and to answer every question, generated tons of goodwill.  As the Washington Post wrote, admiringly, at the time:  “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.”  After tamper-proof Tylenol packaging was perfected, and reintroduced in the market, Tylenol would shortly go on to become the most popular over-the-counter analgesic drug in the U.S.

For Messrs Trudeau and Trump, there’s a lesson there, if they want to heed it.  In politics, as in life, the communications rule is this: what gets you in trouble isn’t the mistake itself.

What gets you in trouble, instead, is dishonesty and exaggeration.  What gets you in trouble is pretending to be an expert, where you’re not. What gets you in trouble is basically disappearing (like Trudeau) – or being on TV too much (like Trump).

What gets you in trouble is pretending that the crisis isn’t happening.  And saying nothing.

Because coronavirus isn’t nothing.  It’s changing the world.  Right now, today.



Trudeaus, Singh in self-isolation

Hope all of them are okay.  And that everyone exposed to this remorseless, foul pestilence are okay, too.