Two Stages of Denial: Another Crappy Analogy

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A few months ago, I watched everyone around me and everyone in town open their eyes. Shit -- this economic thing was not going away. It was real. Change hit us like a sack of bricks and people seemed distracted, off-balance, and not very bright. Perhaps even sad, thinking of all that would be left behind. The denial that had existed was pretty benign: we weren’t pretending, we just weren’t looking very hard.

And after a time we sort of got accustomed to “things.” People spoke of “matters” indirectly: “things,” “changes,” “uncertainty.”

Now we’ve hit a second patch of something. Seems to me my circle (which includes NPR) is in a second level of denial -- we understand that the first shift happened, but we just don’t think it will get any worse. In fact, everyone’s talking about positive signs.

(In some ways we don’t want the crisis to end yet. Everyone thinks it’s good that we’re prioritizing time with family, saving, sufficient sleep, conservation, and even conversation over material things. There is a major movement of folks finding their true direction in life -- or at least, a more socially-valuable but lower-paying way to spend time [how many of them are actually jobs?]. So don’t end this thing yet. I’m planning a mid-life crisis, can I just tuck it in with this whole restructuring-the-economy dealie? [My personal favorite is that as we green and cut costs we are required to treat ourselves to $500 phones because they are now part of our increased efficiency! Even if we’re not, um, working right now. (Well how do you expect me to get a job without one?)])

Major flashback to dealing with cancer.*

First you have a giant shock -- diagnosis. Important advice: Don’t drive for the first 30 days. You’re a space case. Wait till you adjust to dealing with the inevitability of death as an everyday matter. You can handle it. Sure! Thousands of people do it every year. Even worse! Heck, people live in Sudan! We’re very resilient creatures.

So you make a way to keep going. You can even be happy. You say you’re living in the present. Wow, you sure say it a lot. But things keep happening. And they keep sending test results no matter what. You have to keep spirits up because healing has a huge emotional component!

The cells in this second period of denial are malignant. This stage is qualitatively different -- this denial hurts, maims, and kills. You are watching your loved one dying, or it's your own face wasting away day by day. It’s high stakes to say anything. Everyone’s already oversensitized and if you name it, you create it. It’s funny, the doctor might be trying to tell you something, but you had to get used to tuning her out in the first stage. And God, you do not want anything to escalate. So keep quiet.

But no, it’s a crappy analogy. The economy is not a human body and it isn’t destined to die.

It’s not like the U.S. has a midsection full of unproductive lumps or poison-spewing organs. It isn’t as if we were ignoring those sections for years whiel they weakened and dragged others down. It’s not a situation where a few cells were actively robbing the entire body of nutrients. We didn’t try to limit the spread through surgery, and it's not like we forgot that the hip bone is connected to the leg bone. No, with our economy, we’re fully aware that all the parts work together, bankers, banks, and bank customers. Plus, I mean, it’s a rule that home prices go up and up forever. It was true for our parents and we deserve it too. And that is not the equivalent of thinking you will live forever. And there’s nothing organic about an economy.

There’s also totally no parallel when patients and families expect big daddy Pharma (or Dr. God) to take care of everything, and damn if they can’t, it was their job to prevent it and they screwed up! (Huge institutions are super-useful when you’re pissed. Ask any ex-Catholic.)

Just forget I said anything, it was a superficial comparison from the get-go. As Miss Litella would say with her small syrupy smile: “Never mind.”

* Of course I’m speaking of experiences like my own, with my husband’s terminal diagnosis -- not situations where there are actual non-miraculous chances at 5-year survival, and excluding the pussycat cancers like the one Lance Armstrong had. Every cancer is different, every patient is different. (Didn’t Tolstoy say, “but every denial is the same?”)

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