In my home growing up, I was told to prepare myself for The Great Tribulation.
The Great Tribulation, for anyone not familiar with either my work or the Last Days movement, is a doctrine within certain sects of Christianity that describes hardship in the end times. The prediction is that during this time of tribulation, 75% of the world’s population will be killed, paving the way for the antichrist to rule over the world.
For many, current news reports are triggering traumatic memories of toxic doctrine associated with the last times and the tribulation period we were taught to expect within our lifetime.
When I first heard reports of coronavirus and COVID-19 coming out of China, my heart went out to those suffering. It sounded awful to me, and while I expected to see some cases travel to North America, particularly in the PNW where I live, I never expected it to become a worldwide pandemic. I was caught off guard just like the rest of you.
I devoured every bit of news I could as the first US outbreak occurred in my own backyard.
I watched as my county – and two other nearby counties – were swallowed by this virus. More cases were being reported by the hour. I watched press conference after press conference as community leaders assured us they were able to contain the virus and protect the community. I believed them. I thought the spread could be contained in our state.
It didn’t take long for the panic-buying to happen in Seattle. Soon toilet paper, hand sanitizer, canned goods, and, for some reason, bottled water became scarce and valuable commodities.
A little over a week later, the WHO declared a pandemic.
The elderly were particularly at risk, children seemed protected somehow. We were told to wash our hands frequently. More and more businesses were shut down. The US/Canada border is being closed. Many places in the USA are under shelter in place orders, and we in Washington state are wondering when that will be us.
World economics are crashing. Experts are predicting a massive recession or even depression awaits us when this crisis is over.
Italy is floundering under the weight of a collapsing healthcare system. And the USA is projected to be only weeks behind them.
THE LAST DAYS
World-wide pandemic. Financial doom. Borders closing. Collapsing nations. These are literally all of the things I was told to watch for as the end of the world approached.
If you grew up in a similar home and religious culture, you know what I am talking about.
The voices from my past have started to whisper doom in my ear. They’re telling me that the world is collapsing in such a way as to make room for the greatest super-villain of all time: Nicolae Carpathia. Sorry. I meant, of course, the antichrist; the man who would present himself as the messiah who would heal the world economy and unite the nations.
It’s a very surreal time for everyone. This is especially true for those of us who grew up living and breathing prophecies about world doom and it almost appears as if they’re coming to life in real-time.
I rejected the Last Days movement as false years ago. I rejected it even before I left evangelicalism. It was a theological system filled with paranoia and fear that pointed people to fallible teachers rather than to God. I couldn’t find Jesus in it, so I left.
However, the last few weeks have seen my mind wander back to the teachings of my childhood. Last night, as I lay awake in bed, I could feel the familiar old fears I felt as a child when I envisioned my health and happiness being sucked away from me by a world that was quickly running towards damnation.
I was scarred as a child by being taught that I would have to one day risk my life for Jesus. I was traumatized by having to envision choosing starvation and torture over home, security, and food. These ideas were stored somewhere deep in my brain so that, years after I’d left the system, they were easily recalled the moment the world fell into chaos.
THE RATIONAL RESPONSE
The positive to all of this? I understand something that I couldn’t as a child. I have a choice.
I cannot choose when these voices from the past whisper fear into my ears, nor can I choose when feelings of despair or panic begin to inch their way into my heart. But I can make healthy choices in how I respond to these things.
I can remember that pandemics are not new. The world has witnessed devastating outbreaks throughout history. But the world has not ended yet. Humanity was struck hard in each case, and rebounded each time. We human beings are resilient and stubborn AF. You can knock us down, but you cannot wipe us out.
Financial crashes are also not new. The greatest depression in the history of the industrial world is still part of living memory It was a devastating and traumatizing time for many. And yet? The world got through it and much of the world didn’t just survive but thrived.
What we are seeing today is unprecedented in that we’ve not seen pandemic and depression happen simultaneously, but we have seen these things happen before. We have a long history which shows that that humanity is very resilient. There is no reason to believe that we have hit the end of existence.
There are those who will, undoubtedly, attempt to spiritualize what is happening now. Perry Stone, for instance, can’t make up his mind as to whether coronavirus is a judgment from God or an attack from Satan which paves the way for the antichrist. But when we look at the situation through a rational lens, we can safely rest assured that this is not the end.
A hard time? A potentially very traumatizing and deadly time for some? Yes. But the world will keep spinning and humanity will get through this just like we’ve survived every catastrophe that has hit us throughout world history.
THE HEALING RESPONSE
During this time of heightened anxiety, I want to encourage all of you to be mindful of your mental health. Particularly if you come from a background similar to mine where the end times were emphasized.
Become aware of what anxiety or stress physically feel like in your body. Does your breathing run shallow? Do you feel tightness in your chest or tension in your shoulders/neck? How does your way of thinking change? Do your thoughts race or do you tend to get tunnel vision so that you’re unable to think of little else besides what is on the news?
Get to know how anxiety/stress manifest in your mind and body.
Once you’ve been able to identify your general state of mind, there are some tools that you can equip yourself with to care for your own mental health.
Shine has created a toolkit to deal with coronavirus anxiety. The neat thing about Shine is that they’ve taken into account those who already struggle with anxiety disorders and have created a section specifically for those people.
Learn how to ground yourself. Shine includes grounding techniques on their website. My preferred method of grounding is the body scan meditation. This can be done in as little as three minutes or as long as 45 depending on the script or guided meditation you use (My favourite is found on the Stop, Breathe, & Think app)
Running cool water or placing ice packs on your wrists can also serve to ground you if you find yourself extremely triggered.
Be mindful of how much time you spend thinking about the pandemic and potential fallout. Be aware of how much time you spend reading or watching the news. We are not well equipped for a constant stream of updates, but our brains can be easily tricked into thinking that we need to stay up to date in order to be safe.
Let me be the one to say it: you do not need to be current on the latest news. If the news is important, it will make its way to you; you do not need to seek it out.
Make movement a priority. Go for a walk or a run. Ride your bike. Practice some yoga. If you have gym equipment at home, it’s time to break it out and put it to work. Your anxious energy is crying for an outlet. Exercise is that outlet.
Reach out to people. Maybe you are sick or in a location that is under a shelter in place order and cannot physically be with others outside your home. That doesn’t have to prevent you from socializing. If this pandemic had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Our society is well equipped to keep people connected from a distance. There are multiple video calling platforms you can use: facetime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and others. Chrome has created an extension to allow you to watch movies with friends on Netflix. Many churches are using Zoom to stay connected with prayer groups and Bible studies.
Keep your mind stimulated. Now is a great time to take a class online. You can take most classes for free on Coursera (there is a fee if you want the certificate at the end). Paint Nite is now offering virtual classes. Want to visit a museum? You can even do that at home now. Every day, I see more and more organizations switching how they share their business or skills with the world to make it accessible from a distance. Many of them are kind enough to offer these things for free or at a reduced price during the quarantine. Keep an eye out. That thing you’ve always wanted to learn may soon be available online.
This is a very scary time for all of us. I don’t want to downplay that at all. The stakes are very high for so many and for different reasons. But I do want to be clear on one thing. When the adults in your life taught you from childhood to interpret disasters like this as the end of the world? They were lying to you. Perhaps they didn’t realize it. They may have sincerely believed the lie. But it was still a lie. And it’s important for our collective mental health to name it for what it was.
The world is not ending. The antichrist is not coming. This is merely a moment and, like all moments before it, this will pass.
Take care of yourselves, friends. We are going to get through this.