Fear and Denial

About a week ago I woke up with a sore throat. Nothing outrageous – what felt like a little back drip, maybe from allergies, but I felt slightly achey, too. I’d been through periods of feeling somewhat unwell already over the course of the past four months, so I didn’t wonder too much about it, although I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind: what if it was COVID-19?

I’m not usually given to paranoia, which can at times be a strength, but the opposite can lead to denial, which is just as dangerous. For a week now, I’ve been living in denial about the possibility of having contracted COVID-19, going about my day, stuck at home, working and sleeping and all of that good stuff. But the feelings of slight unwellness didn’t go away, and this morning after my shower I thought I might be feeling slightly feverish, too.

So I made an appointment for tomorrow at a local urgent care, and … well, we’ll soon find out. But the thought processes in my head over the past week have, I think, taught me something about fear and denial.

I wouldn’t say that there’s much in this world that truly frightens me. I’m not scared to walk through a parking lot at night; I’m not scared of dying in a car crash; I don’t feel afraid of potentially threatening people most of the time. At most, I feel uneasy, perhaps afraid to act at times, but I don’t live in fear, for the most part, most of the time.

But I have to ask, of course, why I don’t live in fear. I mean, there are a lot of scary things out there in the world, and logically it makes sense – even from just a self-preservation perspective – to be afraid of them. Be afraid of alligators, be afraid of men with guns, be afraid of drunk drivers. These are real things, and they can really cause you harm. And I think the answer is that I largely deny these things entrance to my thoughts – I just don’t think about them, or consider the full extent of consequences of coming across them.

To an extent, I think this form of denial can be healthy; after all, if all of us worried all the time about all the things that can hurt us, we’d all be completely paranoid, and society would crumble. But taken to an extreme, and it can be almost as dangerous as thinking too much about things. On a personal level, my denial of the possibility of having COVID-19 could lead to a delay in treatment, which could lead to much worse complications. On a social level, it could be argued as outright irresponsible to my family and those I forcibly interact with (say, at the supermarket) to not have been tested sooner, as I walk through the world infecting all those around me (maybe).

And sometimes, we need to confront our denial the greater good of humanity. Denial is a strong coping mechanism to trauma, but it has its limitations. For example, there is a great deal of fear in the world right now around racism. Black communities fear, as they always have, that the protests and voices being raised now in the wake of George Floyd’s death will eventually be silenced, and they will continue to exist in a place where they fear for their lives because of the color of their skin.

But there are white people who are afraid, too. Afraid of the consequences. And I don’t mean in the sense that there are white people who are afraid black people will take their jobs, or steal their wives; I mean, there might be some, but no – the worse consequence of facing the racism in this country is that it is forcing people who would have otherwise lived in denial to see reality for what it is. White people who are afraid that, if they are forced to confront racism on their front lawn, it might reveal them to be racist themselves.

Think about it – the easiest way to deal with racism is to ignore it. Deny its existence; spout ‘all lives matter’ rhetoric and claim to be ‘colorblind’. Pretty much everyone, I think, is in agreement that racism is bad; but very few people are willing to admit that they might be bad themselves. Very few people have the courage to face their own racism, and to acknowledge that they are a part of the problem. But we have to – we have to, or we can’t be part of the solution.

So listen; if I can overcome my own denial about COVID-19 and accept that I need to get tested, then surely as a community, as a country, we can overcome our own denial of prejudice and racism and accept that we aren’t just part of the problem – we are the problem. And it’s a fixable one, too. It won’t be easy or quick, and will take check-ins every day to see how we’re doing in being allies to oppressed minorities. Some days we’ll do better than others. But if we can at the very least recognize our part – each one of us – in the systemic oppression of black and minority communities across the country, then perhaps things can slowly change for the better.

It’s okay to be afraid that you might have racist thoughts; it’s okay to be afraid of conflict, especially internal conflict. But the worse option is to continue living in denial.

Don’t live in fear; but don’t live in denial. There’s a happy medium.

Douglas Adams on Tea

Yesterday, I ate a small chocolate egg and it gave me a throat infection. It isn’t very nice, and put a bit of a damper on the last day of our friends’ visit from England.

In fact, it seemed a little weird that the egg should make me sick, so I consulted with my biologist wife, who confirmed that I likely had a virus/bacteria already colonizing the wetlands of my esophagus, and the sugar from the egg was like rain after a drought – they just ate it all up, and then made lots of nasty germ babies.

Anyway, the upshot of it is that I’ve been eating very little, and drinking lots and lots and lots of tea. I like tea; I usually poison myself with coffee most days, but only because it gives me a swifter kick up the ass. Tea is good at night, and good in the morning, and…well hell, it’s good pretty much all the time.

All this thinking about tea, coupled with our delightful British friend who drank somewhere between five to ten cups a day while she was here, got me thinking of what Douglas Adams had to say on the subject, and since it felt pretty relevant right now, I thought I’d share it with you all.

As a side note, I have no idea how copyright plays into this; I’ll give all due credit, and if someone asks me to take it down, so be it.

Tea

One or two Americans have asked me why the English like tea so much, which never seems to them to be a very good drink. To understand, you have to make it properly.

There is a very simple principle to the making of tea, and it’s this – to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boilING (not boilED) when it hits the tea leaves. If it’s merely hot, then the tea will be insipid. That’s why we English have these odd rituals, such as warming the teapot first (so as not to cause the boiling water to cool down too fast as it hits the pot). And that’s why the American habit of bringing a teacup, a tea bag, and a pot of hot water to the table is merely the perfect way of making a thin, pale, watery cup of tea that nobody in their right mind would want to drink. The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans HAVE NEVER HAD A GOOD CUP OF TEA.  That’s why they don’t understand. In fact, the truth of the matter is that most English people don’t know how to make tea anymore either, and most people drink cheap instant coffee instead, which is a pity, and gives Americans the impression that the English are just generally clueless about hot stimulants.

So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this: Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you’re staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to a boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful – you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a teapot, swirl it around, and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the teapot) of tea bags into the pot. (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness, I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let’s just take things in easy stages). Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let it stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk, then it’s probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea*. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea, you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon, then, well, add a slice of lemon.

Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you’ve come to isn’t maybe quite so strange and crazy after all.

* This is socially incorrect. The socially correct way of pouring tea is to put the milk in after the tea. Social correctness has traditionally had nothing whatsoever to do with reason, logic, or physics. In fact, in England it is generally considered socially incorrect to know stuff or think about things. It’s worth bearing this in mind when visiting.

Taken from “The Salmon of Doubt”, published 2002 by Macmillan

Original text written May 12, 1999

© Completely Unexpected Productions Ltd. 2002

And that’s how I’ve been drinking my tea for the past few days. Thank you, Douglas.