I smelt a flower a few days ago. I love smelling flowers, and do so automatically at this time of year. It is one of life’s pleasures. This was one of those lovely, perfumed old roses beloved by the Victorians, a deep crimson one. The scent was delicious, but immediately after sniffing it I froze. The rose was facing a public path! What if someone with the virus had smelt it earlier that day? What if someone had coughed on it as they were passing? Panic set in and took over as I realised I had possibly drawn in a huge viral load. Guilt too – I should have stopped myself! Have I unwittingly committed suicide and condemned others to sickness or worse? Five days anxious wait to know, possibly more, as deaths and cases continue to rise.
In this new reality, familiarity becomes unfamiliarity, conditioned responses have to be questioned and not acted upon, impulses to do perfectly normal things are followed a split second later by the realisation “that’s not possible now”. But that isn’t all, for cumulatively, over time, the fear and dread have built up and everything: thoughts, feelings and emotions, actions and their aftermaths, obsession with health and disease; everything has gradually coalesced into a miasma out of which an entity has emerged, a monstrous being with a mind and power of its own, the psychological and spiritual manifestation of the virus. What is it called? What gender is it? The name Psychorona came to mind. It sounded feminine and its smothering, all-embracing nature seemed to fit. So Psychorona she became. She laughs at me, mocks me; she creates all the symptoms of mental dysfunction and yet isn’t satisfied, for she also mimics the physical symptoms of the virus itself. Low body temperature and blood pressure lead to hot and cold flushes, lethargy, dizzy spells, a rush for the thermometer and oximeter. Stomach acidity causes indigestion, chest pains, sore throat, coughing. Will the bout stop in time?
No, Psychorona is not the virus as she has no physical form, but in a way she is the real virus. She destroys by stealth, by identity theft, like a fraudulent scammer who gets into your bank account. The theft is not of money this time but of something far more important: the foundation of existence, everything held dear. Patterns built up over years, what parents and teachers taught was safe, habits, reasonable behaviour, work, seeing friends and relations, enjoyable things to do, even religious observance. All dangerous now, even life-threatening. Opening the gate to go out – oh no, a delivery man came an hour ago! Going back in, washing hands, twenty seconds happy birthday, locking up, going out again. The latch is closed once more. Then a runner or cyclist passes silently from behind with inches to spare. Panic again – did he cough? He hasn’t heard about the two metres’ distancing, or he doesn’t care. Why do I care when he doesn’t? All eating away at the mind and spirit, at sanity, at identity itself. What’s left?
What IS left in this science-fiction-turned-reality world? Am I Psychorona’s only victim? I think not. We all share an obsession with “it’ll all be back to normal soon”, with “we’ll meet again”? Will it, will we, or will there be a second wave, a third wave, maybe a mutation, another virus or a different, greater threat, a permanent new reality? Is Psychorona a newly-crowned Ice Queen, a White Witch of Narnia who condemns the world to endless winter, making us freeze at the slightest hint of infection? Or maybe Medusa, her gaze turning everyone to stone, petrified with fear? The odds seem to be in her favour, so is there hope? Both these ogresses were ultimately defeated. As in war, the maxim is “know your enemy” and then plan your defences. I know Psychorona’s tricks by now, her ruses to get me to imagine the worst, and can forearm. Like all satanic testers, she has a purpose and that is to give us an opportunity to learn and change. As soon as we do, her power will wane and eventually disappear. May that day come soon.