Contagion phobia or what?

This guest blog is by Steve Sturman a Neurologist specialising in Neurorehabilitation

It used to be just unlucky people caught up in accidents, terrorist attacks or distant wars but things have changed. All the givens have been moved and now life is strange and different. How do we react? What does this all mean for my relationships, my future, well, for everything? 

This pandemic is incomprehensible. There is nowhere to run to and everyone is affected. And we’re all tired. Will somebody please change the music? But they can’t. It’s there, on the one hand weirdly fascinating, on the other, emotionally toxic. 

I must have watched thousands of people grapple with brutal life changing events in my career. This all seems just too familiar, except it is global. I recognise though,some of the reactions of people as we are caught up in this.  

There is subliminal denial. ‘This isn’t really happening, or if it is, we’ll just get on with things’. Until one day in your kitchen something poignant reminds you, that you are lying to yourself. The word ‘liminal’ has to do with thresholds, doorways. Don’t duck it, liminal stress exists. We are all going through change, and we will all be experiencing stress because of this. Denial wont work and will ultimately be damaging. 

Then there is the need to take control and find solutions. This has a more sinister dimension than the ‘let’s hit the rehab button’ that I am used to in clinical practice. ‘Keep your distance’ fuels contagion phobia and xenophobia. An ugly assertion of ‘my need to protect’ can be just under the surface. I’ve watched the fear grow over the last few months, affecting even people I thought were ‘together’ types.  

Maybe, more commonly, contagion phobia results in withdrawal and an agoraphobic response. Our local park seems massive now, having been indoors for six weeks. And do I really want to go back to work or whatever ‘normal’ used to be with the hassle of travelling and interacting with people? Stay safe, stay at home, protect… me. But it wont work, it will only alienate, propagate fear and ultimately damage me and others. 

Many people I have watched over the years professionally however, start to make the journey from ‘restoration’ ie. unrealistic determination to get back to normal, to ‘transformation’, that is, adapting creatively to the new normal. This is more than dull acceptance of the way things are, (which is really more a sullen hankering for ‘the way things were’). These people and their networks often surprisingly discover post-traumatic growth, as the ordinary and the menial become precious and valued. This has to be seen close up to realise it is not just a platitude, a sort of ‘consolation prize’. It is not readily comprehensible in our image obsessed culture. 

But what of faith in Christ? What difference does the gospel make? Jesus tells us that his teaching applied, is like a rock when everything else is liminal, changing (Matthew 7:24). His teaching gives a stable lens through which the complexities and uncertainties can be framed. This changes the narrative. 

And our God is determined to take us through a process of change with a goal that transcends the immediate and now. As we see and trust him in our circumstances then by his Spirit we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). The resurrection is the prototype for transformation and post traumatic growth.  

So I ask myself, not, ‘When will this end, and go back to normal?’, but rather ‘How are you transforming me Lord, to be more like you? Contagion phobia yields to contagion growth, in Christ. 

Steve Sturman

Steve Sturman is a Neurologist specialising in Neurorehabilitation in Birmingham,UK. Steve is the Associate Head of Doctors’ Ministries at Christian Medical Fellowship

Here are some links and information on CMF’s resources and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published by Nay Dawson

Hello and thank you for reading my blog. I'm married to Jon and live in Southampton with our two girls. I work with IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator, training staff and students across Europe. In 2019 I set up Passion for Evangelism a network of creative, public female speakers. I'm a Trustee for the Cowrie Scholarship Foundation raising essential funds for disadvantaged Black British Students. I'm also a Trustee for Friends International helping welcome International students to the UK. In response to the war in Ukraine I helped set up Ukraine Connect matching refugees and hosts across Europe

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