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Better a Dog in Times of Tranquility

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

We interupt our regularly scheduled program of aaaagggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..


To feel accepted. To feel secure. To flourish in life is a common goal for one and all right now. That which fuels the soul is a valued commodity these days, in the “interesting times” in which we live.


Commonly referenced as the English translation for a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”, does not actually have a direct translation. The closest Middle Earth equivalent may be “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos” (寧為太平犬,不做亂世人), suggests The Grammarphobia Blog. The expression originates from Volume 3 of the 1627 short story collection by Feng Menglong, “Stories to Awaken the World”, and has been doing the rounds of the internet this past year as we try our utmost to live our best lives in the pandemic of the century.


The mighty Wikipedia tells us Zeitgeist is, “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time”. As the season of toads on the road approaches once more, borders closed, birds flying around with blue face masks entangled on their feathery bodies, the spirit of this age is dominated by viruses, vaccines and anxiety. Living in interesting times is not all we thought it would be.


Thankfully, May is Mental Health Awareness month, and the internet is hopping with resources to put the brakes on the frenetic chaos of the mind that is the new normal. The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on all of us, so this May, take some time to check in with yourself and make self care a priority.


As early on as 27 Jan, 2020, China’s central authority in response to COVID-19 published the national guidelines on mental health interventions in an attempt to cope with the widespread mental health needs arising from this pandemic. This four-tiered package includes over 40 books and a plethora of online resources. The main goal is to promote mental health resilience during the pandemic; it is also designed to meet the distinct needs of different demographic profiles within China’s population. Online platforms and mobile apps make accessing this information easy, anonymous and personalised. Different resources have been crafted for, “children, pregnant women, the elderly, patients with mental disorders and/or major physical diseases” (Ju et al.).


Similar guidelines and online resources have been made available across the globe. In Ireland, online counselling, phone lines and text support have been made available through the Turn2Me, MyMind and Shine initiatives, among many others. Mind.org.uk offers easy to navigate resources, as does Rethink.org which names the mental health fallout related to COVID as The Silent Pandemic, which affects, “what we love to do, where we want to be and who we want to be with”.


The World Health Organization (WHO) opens its mental health resources for the pandemic by stating, “Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID pandemic”.


Great, that’s good to know. But many of us do not know what this fear or anxiety actually looks like, tastes like and feels like. Particularly for those of us in China, feelings of guilt add confusion to the mix, when friends and family back home are still in lockdown, or sick, or unemployed.


It’s been a year since we returned to school, to restaurants and bars, to some semblance of normality. And yet, our normality used to involve oodles of travel, regular reunions and delectable deep dives into new destinations, the planning of which was half the pleasure.


Stripped of this, the expat populace is constantly swallowing a lump in the throat, a lump, like gristle, that if we think too long on it makes us gag. And while in Ireland, they are still traveling from Costa del Kitchen to Santa Bathroom, a part of me still misses the time before COVID, when we were blithely oblivious to the privileges we took for granted on a daily basis.


The spirit of the age is one of resilience, of positivity and seeing the bright side.But this can be a double-edged sword when it means denying the very real feelings of overwhelm that swamp us at unexpected moments; Facebook memories, births, deaths. And that’s only the tangible stuff.


The Centre for Disease Control in the US recently reported that from August 2020–February 2021, “the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4 to 41.5 percent, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2 percent to 11.7 percent.” For those of you blessed with ignorance as to what anxiety is, it goes a little like this.


Anxiety: “What if these 75,000 bad things happen?”

Me: “But they won’t happen.”

Anxiety: “But what if they do? Or this other thing, that could happen too.”

Me: “Buaaah. No! I have nothing to be anxious about! What do I have to be anxious about?”

Anxiety: “Things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass.”


Living with anxiety is like constantly hearing the Jaws theme tune on repeat, but never seeing the fin in the water. It’s like having conspiracy theories, but only about yourself. It’s a Magic 8 Ball that only turns up dreadful outcomes.


The WHO has put together a list of some, but not all of the manifestations of worry on steroids.

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration

  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests

  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares

  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes.

Not only this, but preexisting conditions may also worsen, chronic physical and mental conditions and addictions may also spike; overworking, irritability, obsessive behaviour, overindulgence, paranoia and avoidance; it’s not just feeling worried.


In times of depleted hope, which will come and which will pass, the silent pandemic can be an isolating and heavy burden to bear. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Our silence becomes violence”, when the stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness experienced is minimised, mitigated or dismissed. Sharing the feelings of undefined disquiet is an act of benevolence. It makes everyone else struggling under the weight of the silent pandemic feel a little bit less of a loser.


It allows friends and family to listen, to apply unctures of tenderness and patience. It allows us all to feel a little less alone in these interesting times in which we live.

The universe has been expanding since the moment it exploded into existence. We are all basically haunted atoms trying to make sense of the chaos that is life. To feel accepted. To feel secure. To flourish in life is a common goal for one and all right now.


You are not alone.


We will now be returning with our regularly scheduled program of aaaagggghhhhhhhh......


First Published in The Nanjinger, June, 2021

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