Falling Down the Stairs: Facing Fear and Mass Hysteria

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I heard it, or even exactly how it was worded, but at some point someone told me something along the lines of, “people who are afraid to leave their houses will die falling down the stairs.” As morbid as the image is, the lesson was not lost on me: you simply can’t protect yourself from everything bad that might happen.

Individually, this was an important lesson to learn. I have always been a cautious person, hesitant to do anything I did not feel comfortable with or prepared to do. In elementary school, it took weeks for my swim instructor to convince me to jump off the diving board because I was afraid of both the height of the board and the depth of the water, not to mention the somersaults my stomach did every time I so much as walked on the springy board. In high school, all of my friends got their driver’s permits the day they turned 15.  I didn’t even get my permit until after I was 16, and I was nearly 17 before I had my actual license because I just wasn’t ready to be behind the wheel (let alone on the same road as all my peers!). As an adult, I stayed for too long in a job that was affecting my family and my mental health because I was worried about the financial impact it would have, and I was concerned about burning bridges I might need to cross again. Despite my hesitation in these things and others, I eventually conquered my fears. I got out of the house.  I might have brought an umbrella with me in case it rained, a jacket in case it got cold, and a week’s supply of water in case I got thirsty, but I got out of the house.

As an adult, the “what ifs” my anxiety whispers to me can be pretty intimidating. As a mom, the “what ifs” can be down-right terrifying. But I always try to keep that phrase in mind. If I don’t voice my opinion on this issue now, I will constantly regret keeping my mouth shut. If I don’t let my child do things on her own, she will never learn to be independent. Fear is healthy, but too much fear creates stagnation, and stagnation is breeding ground for blood-sucking mosquitos.

I think this is also an important lesson for us to learn as a society, especially in a time when misinformation and fearmongering seem to be rampant. As I write this, local news stations are reporting the first case of COVID-19 in the state of Louisiana and an increasingly more daring crime spree in and around my place of employment. I have every right to be afraid, but I realize I cannot shut myself up in my house. I cannot stop going to work out of fear of the “what if.”

Even before the announcement of a case of Coronavirus in the state, mass hysteria had begun. Local bulk stores are running out of toilet paper and restricting purchases of water. Grocery stores, drug stores, and one-stop stores are running out of hand sanitizer, soap, cleaning supplies, and surgical masks. All of these purchases are made in the name of preparation, but what we a really doing as a society is throwing ourselves down the stairs. Preparation is important, precaution is necessary, but no one needs a 6-month supply of toilet paper to fight the Coronavirus. In fact, multiple sources have reported that this bulk buying is creating shortages in the places where these things are actually needed or increasing the cost of on-demand items, like masks, for the medical community that requires them. In other words, the very things we are doing in an attempt to protect ourselves may be harming public health initiatives.

During the second World War, The British Ministry of Information developed the now famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters in in an effort to quell similar fear and hysteria. Their intent was to communicate to the British people that daily life could not come to a screeching halt as a result of fear, and this is the same mentality we need to have today in the face of increasing fears about the spread of disease and public safety. We all need to keep calm and follow the guidelines established by world health experts. We need to keep calm and wash our hands, avoid touching our faces, and avoid large public gatherings. We need to keep calm and stay home if we are sick and follow the instructions given to us by our health care providers. We need to keep calm and focus on prevention, not panic.

If we are advised by the CDC to shut ourselves up in our houses to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, then I will do it, but I will do it because it has been deemed by the experts to be the best and safest measure for my family and for public health, not because I am afraid. I will approach this situation with preparation and precaution based on facts, not fear. I will arm myself with reliable information, step out my door, and carry on with my daily life.

About Kelly

Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 12 year and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (7) and Hannah (3). Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy and a proud fangirl. Though she loves to stay busy and involved, she recently left her job as a high school English teacher and sponsor to focus on her family and health. She is now teaching composition part time for a local university, working to revive her love of reading and writing, and focusing on being a more present mom.


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