We are in the midst of necessary physical distancing from other people out of fear of spreading infection. Various public health figures and politicians have corrected the earlier misnomer of calling for social distancing - an acceptable oversight given the risks posed to human lives.
When it comes to military veterans, it is assumed that those I speak with must be having a particularly stressful time. This is not the case. They tell me that while everyone around them is trying to manage all the anxiety caused by disruptions to their taken-for-granted social worlds, they are surprisingly calm. One CAF member told me that he felt 20 years younger. "All the normal people out there finally understand a bit of my world." While I don't presume to speak for all veterans, those who are used to physical and social isolation because they are alienated from the world seem to have a peculiar bond with everyday people - however briefly this may be. Others tell me that all the pressure of having to be out in public places to prove to clinicians and family members that they are normal has evaporated over night. Now, vigilance, situational awareness, remaining disciplined and focused on priorities and routines, getting sleep, remembering to eat, staying away from 24-hour news churns filled with talking heads, connecting with buddies and family, playing video games, listening to music, or watching movies, going out only when necessary, and getting some physical exercise are common priorities. For a brief moment in history, before global economic forces and the mindlessness of consumerism push us back to where we were not so long ago, we all seem to be sharing a common reality. We each have to spend time with ourselves, to contend with boredom and figure out how to use our time creatively without resorting to booze or drugs to dull our senses, to reflect, and even reminisce without slipping into rumination over past mistakes. We all share these temporary challenges.
Veterans often believe and are sometimes told that following orders and putting other priorities ahead of themselves is misplaced in the civilian world. And yet, here we are right in the midst of these exact societal needs. This irony is not missed on military or veterans but I don't believe that they gloat over this fact, either. The skills of containing and not over-reacting to emotion, staying focused on facts, being task-oriented, maintaining situational safety, and not anticipating outcomes are hard-wired among most military and veterans. I believe that these learned skills and lessons may be incredibly helpful for family members and other civilian friends to hear as they search for direction.
At the end of this temporary hiatus in 'normal', many of these same people will have lessons to teach veterans about managing the anxiety of re-entering the larger society.
John J. Whelan
John J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the author of Going Crazy in the Green Machine, available now on FriesenPress.