We never dealt with the trauma of 2020. Now it’s created an even bigger crisis

by Mary McNamara

As I write this, it is Monday and I am sick, one of our toilets is clogged, and my husband is off to the vet with our elderly and now alarmingly panting dog.

But not before handing me a letter informing me that I am part of a Delta Dental data breach that will require me to take innumerable steps to insure my “safety.” This after it recently took five days for my husband to get his medication because a cyberattack shut down a bunch of pharmacies, including ours. Between breaches, attacks and scammers I have begun to wonder daily what it would be like to live off the grid.

It is Monday and the car that broke down last week was apparently just a shade over its warranty so now we’re paying for a new transmission, which will cost as much as my first car, and  a proposed Kroger-Albertsons mega-merger could raise grocery prices even higher and climate change is altering ocean currents in such a way as to potentially send Europe into an Ice Age. So stock up on peanut butter and if you haven’t visited Barcelona …

It is Monday, not even noon, and according to the Washington Post menopause is lasting longer than in previous generations. My husband says the toilet is now working, but I do not share his optimism, perhaps because I have just learned, via the New York Times’ ongoing coverage of Flaco the owl, that each year a billion American birds crash into buildings and die.

What is one clogged toilet compared with a billion dead birds? No wonder the crows outside my house seem perpetually agitated. For a while I thought they were heralding an orc attack; now it turns out they may just be grieving.

It is Monday and I am definitely grieving. The vet just called and it turns out that our dog, that irascible Toto-like terrier, with her adorable Grinch feet and take-no-prisoners attitude, is catastrophically ill, and we need to put her to sleep.

She is old. She has had a great life. I know that this is part of responsible pet ownership. But it still really sucks.

I would say I hate Mondays and that is true, but if I’m honest, 2024 has, thus far, felt like it was made up of nothing but Mondays. War still rages in Ukraine and Israel’s razed-earth response to last year’s brutal attack by Hamas is dividing the world. Disinformation threatens our democracy like never before even as media companies, including The Times, continue a pattern of spiraling subscription and ad rates leading to brutal layoffs. Another storm front is headed to soggy California, the man who sent an armed mob to attack the Capitol and overturn a fair and legal election keeps winning the Republican primaries and now Amazon is now making us pay three bucks more a month if we don’t want to sit through ads on its streaming service.

As if Amazon were not one big ad.

I am very sad about losing our little dog, whose name was Junior Mint. She didn’t like most people except for us and would give our other dogs, or any passing dog, random hell — including the ones who could have crushed her with one paw and swallowed her whole. It was a challenge to take her on walks, even as her aging joints made those walks shorter and less frequent, but you had to respect her refusal to recognize her own limitations.

I wish I shared that superpower at the moment but sometimes things come at you so thick and fast all you want to do is duck and stay ducked. I am sick, which doesn’t help, but everyone seems to be sick lately, with such a wide variety of ailments that it feels like every virus and bacteria got tired of COVID-19 stealing headlines for three years and decided to Make Their Presence Known.

I would very much like to blame someone or something for this terrible Monday, or fact that everywhere I look at the moment it seems like something awful is happening, or about to happen, or just happened.

But there’s so much blame flying around at any given moment that it seems pointless, even passé. The far-right House Republicans may indeed cause a government shutdown, but they are certainly not to blame for my busted toilet, broken car or dying dog (though I do wish someone could figure out how to stop all these data breaches).

I am certainly not going to blame “the media” because, of course, I am “the media” and the term is, at this point, meaningless — do I mean this or that newspaper? This or that cable network? Instagram? TikTok? Substack?

Like many, I wish I could look at the platforms from which I gather my news and see something a bit less Nostradamus, a bit more hopeful. But I also know that behind every hyperbolic “the end is nigh” headline, every second- and third-day story about a scandal, or a murder or a dead owl, is a news agency trying to stay in business. “If it bleeds, it leads” was never a conspiracy of diabolical editors so much as a centuries-old reading of their audience.

Also, climate change is real and so is menopause. As for the story about those billion dead birds, well, you get what you pay for, and what you click on — we create the culture, not the other way around.

And right now, it feels like we are courting a culture of calamity. Despite a thriving economy — employment is up, inflation is coming down — many people feel like the U.S. is on a downward spiral; recent surveys reveal a widening gap between how Americans feel about their own financial security (mostly OK) and the economic state of the country (mostly not OK).

This being an election year, there is, and will continue to be, the expected negative messaging from the party not currently holding the White House (in this case, the Republicans) about how things are terrible and will only get worse if their candidate doesn’t win.

But it’s more than that. Depression and anxiety rates are up, and not just among the young, and you don’t have to be addicted to social media to know that nonstop fury has become, well, all the rage.

I know I am not the only person to face a particularly bad Monday and feel like if one more terrible, or simply upsetting, thing happens, I will crawl back into bed and never get out. (Here is where I acknowledge my great fortune to have a bed, and a house, and another toilet that is actually working —the unhoused crisis is also real.) As my family and I stroked our little dog to sleep, a grief as loud and racketing as a flock of aggravated crows rose up through my chest and battered my brain with a thousand dark wings. I loved Junior Mint and I will miss her but her loss, like every loss large and small, every problem, every irritation, that I have experienced lately, poked another hole in the rickety retaining wall I began building almost four years ago.

It’s what’s on the other side of the wall that so often makes a really bad Monday feel like the end of the world.

Four years ago, we were on the precipice of a global pandemic that would leave millions dead and the rest of us forever changed, physically, financially and spiritually.

As the country shut down, we discovered inner wells of resilience and community but also deep fault lines of division. Divisions that erupted first with protests, both peaceful and violent, over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans by police, and then on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of election-deniers, directed by the still-sitting president, swarmed the Capitol, physically threatened the vice president and members of Congress and attempted to derail democracy.

How does a nation more than 100 years removed from the last great pandemic and 150 years from its only civil war react to such a firestorm of events? How do we, as individuals, cope with the naked truths of our fragility, as humans and citizens, truths so many of us have ignored or papered over for so long? How do we move on when so many are spinning fictionalized accounts of what happened or denying that these things ever happened at all? When people we know, who experienced the same events we did, right next door or in our own homes, have entirely different understandings of what actually happened?

How do we address the trauma when the trauma is ongoing?

Historically, we look at cataclysmic events as having two parts: crisis and aftermath. But sometimes it is difficult to separate the two. Sometimes the aftermath is an even bigger crisis. After World War I, survivors flocked to spiritualists for the simple reason that they could not believe so many people could die in so short a time without leaving a tangible echo in the psychic realm.

My psychic realm is currently filled with nothing but echoes, clamor of unappeased and half-squelched fury, fear and bafflement. Sometimes all it takes is a bout of flu or a clogged toilet, a blown-out transmission or a glance at the day’s headlines, to make any given Monday feel like the end of the world.

Which, of course, it isn’t. Even the worst Monday can only last 24 hours and good news always pushes up through the cracks of the bad. Toilets can be fixed and there is still time to save Europe from an Ice Age, menopause may be growing more severe but the medical establishment is finally taking it seriously and the Federal Trade Commission is fighting the Kroger-Albertsons merger. We may still see more flooding in California but at least the snowpack is back up to healthy levels.

No one can single-handedly mend the state of our nation or the world but there are always things a person can do, including and especially vote.

When I feel totally overwhelmed by the echoes, or forces that seem outside my control, I often write them down on bits of paper, put them in a box and offer them up to the higher power of the universe (I say “God” but that’s just me).

Now, as I write, I will try to picture myself as Junior Mint — a small and scruffy creature, selective with her love and usually very cranky, but never afraid to confront things much bigger than she and give them random hell.

Mary McNamara is an American journalist and television critic for the Los Angeles Times.