Get bitten by a dog, and disconcerting canine contemplation will hound your train of thought until your ticket gets punched. Work, friends, your next meal, or a new haircut – it all gets swept into oblivion as your focus narrows to a perpetual left-right, right-left, up-down, down-up scan of your immediate environment and an obsessively avoidance of perceived threats from any type of pooch. Your brain will be raining dogs and dogs.
Once bitten, 100 times shy. An attack from an Alsatian will see you fill your trousers at the first sniff of a Chihuahua’s tangy breath. As long as your surgical mask is not covering your nose, that is.
This is hypervigilance: you’re looking for hounds in every orifice. Well, it is a dog-eat-dog world, after all.
Now, you might call it paranoia, but there are clear differences between the two afflictions.
Firstly, hypervigilance is about an obsessive state about being ‘on guard’ – an ultra-heightened state of being on alert. Paranoia on the other hand is all about specific untrue events. Paranoid fears relate to what is harmful and happening in the here and now, whereas the hypervigilant guard against the future.
The scariest part is that the paranoid truly believe their delusions and are not conscious of their ailment. This is a question of definitive mental illness, and the numbers represent a low percentage in society. The hypervigilant are not mentally ill per se, so the at-risk number is significantly larger. What is more, they might even understand that there is little objective reason for their permanent sense of being on edge, but they still cannot lower their anxiety.
That’s a game-changer in terms of coverage and the potential for affliction. Everything becomes even more precarious in a post-fact society because you don’t need to be mentally ill to be freaking out. Being immersed in a culture where accurate facts no longer garner approbation, bombarded with constant reinforcement by an always-on social media machine, and all tied up with enforceable laws, and you won’t be seeing too much slack in the highly strung any time soon.
And a commonly cited feature and key component of hypervigilance is the overestimation of a situation’s threatening nature. Sound familiar?
Give it a week or so, and a sneeze will now see us hitting the deck like the citizens of downtown Mogadishu when a car backfires. Even now, out on our one permitted daily sortie, everyone is automatically assumed to have the coronabug even though we must know that this is unlikely.
Everyone who appears to not be meeting the requirements of the government guidance is on the receiving end of our intensified ire. Police in multiple regions have already had to put out press releases asking their good citizens to refrain from reporting their neighbours and tripping out when others might have exceeded their solitary permitted trip out.
Forget intentioned social distancing – hypervigilance necessitates your removal from society by definition. It underlines the division between our obsessive compliant attention and the laxness of ‘the other’.
And it ratchets up a few notches when the perceived threat is unseen.
Once it’s all over, who knows what laws will be allowed to lapse. We may see all these restrictions continue indefinitely under ‘preventative’ measures. Now, that’s when it all could get rather interesting. Well, certainly for those with a nostalgic yearning for the Cold War and the former Soviet state apparatus.
And a final cherry on the cake: if we are released from our house arrest, don’t underestimate the psychological impact on us of our enforced detention. We’ll have safeguarded the physical health of our communities at the expense of our mental health.
Many of us will be prisoners of our own minds.
It may well then be twitching curtains for us all.unsplash-logomostafa meraji