As the coronavirus pandemic rages across this country and the world, many people are faced with a difficult choice: either remain sane, which seems more insensitive and tone-deaf with every passing day, or go mad. If they choose the latter option—and many of your smart early adopters are doing exactly that—they can easily get lost in a maze of attractive possibilities. There are countless ways to lose your shit. If you intend to do it right, with panache, you have to stay on message from the jump. You have to build a brand that draws in others with its loony plausibility, while at the same time providing a pleasant escape from the steady tapping of reality at your doors and windowpanes. I can’t tell you how many people want to be in a straitjacket, but do nothing whatsoever to deserve one. A lot of today’s plentiful cranks, nags, and hysterics are decent people who never found the right on-ramp to Bedlam. All the methods I describe below are first-class tickets to Crazyville.
—Trust No One: This is a fun and subtle solution. At first, you appear to be exercising critical thinking. You raise questions about scientific studies. You hypothesize about the motives of the President. You take local governments to task. Nobody suspects a thing.
Then, without undue commotion, you up the ante. You post articles, on Wednesday, that completely contradict the articles you shared on Tuesday. You write winsome captions every time: “Food for thought!” “A well-researched article!” “A new perspective on this whole pandemic thing!” (Notice the cheerful exclamation points. That’s a garnish that never goes out of style.) You make objections based on unfathomable leaps of imagination: “How can we trust Fauci when, if you look at the 1918 flu pandemic, the worst suffering occurred in Philadelphia?” You post pictures of the coronavirus, under an electron microscope, adding arrows and question marks at random.
When you’re ready, you start filling up everybody’s feed with skeptical zingers. Your Facebook comments should be at least four paragraphs long, featuring statistics from at least two Scandinavian countries, one of them imaginary. If you’re successful, the original poster won’t even be sure what you’re disagreeing with. And yet everyone will pay homage to a new, inarguable fact: that you’re nobody’s fool. You don’t take anything—COVID, the mass media, dairy products, Daylight Savings Time, the social behavior of orangutans, etc.—at face value.
—Worry About the Side Effects, All the Side Effects: A pandemic is a goldmine of unintended consequences, and for some, the best way to go crazy involves panning for precisely these nuggets. For instance, did you know that people who wear masks are breathing in their own carbon dioxide? Your body uses exhaling to rid you of thisanaerobic scourge, which ought to be called by its proper name, “air garbage.” But a mask disrupts this natural cycle, leading to dizziness, coma, and in “certain rare cases,” even death.
The phrase “certain rare cases” is your friend; never try this approach without it. When you first take up the banner, beware: many people will point out that doctors and nurses wear surgical masks at their jobs. Your comeback: “Well, they have no choice. Hospitals are breeding grounds for infection!” Try to think of all illnesses as a side effect of the existence of hospitals. Then deliver a long, rambling anecdote about somebody you know who got sick or nearly asphyxiated. They needn’t have been wearing a mask. I don’t care if they were choking on zucchini. All that matters is telling your story and living your truth.
Once you’ve mastered mask panic, move on to more advanced side effects. These include heart arrhythmias from hydroxychloroquine, rising unemployment, and deaths caused by anything resembling a vaccine. That’s when you make your big move: posting about the side effects of quarantine. Alcoholism. Suicide. Domestic violence. The blues. Obesity. Acne. Impulse shopping. “Zoom disorder.” Nobody will see this coming, because you never posted about any of these things before the spring of 2020, although most of them did exist. But now you’re going to raise the curtain on everyone crushed (or at least fattened up considerably) by the “draconian” measures our government imposes. “Is anyone even studying this?” you should ask, as mournfully as possible. Then go very quiet and just listen. If there’s only a vast silence, a void where your question echoes forever, congratulations! In this complex world, so full of rare—but potentially fatal—consequences, in which nothing isn’t dangerous to somebody, you’re speaking truth to power.
—Experience the Simplicity of Simple Joys, Taking Joyful Pictures: A lot of people, stuck in their negative loops about quarantine and the coronavirus, never take advantage of all the possibilities for happiness that lie just within their reach. For example, there are a lot of recipes for complex, delicious foodstuffs—recipes you’d never normally have enough time to make. Now you do have the time. All you need are some groceries. This may seem like a dull errand, but don’t lose heart. You can share grocery stories online. People are dying to know how you managed to procure the kale and chutney you needed for some byzantine recipe. I’ve seen a few prodigies of joie de vivre in the time of COVID; they’ll post pictures of bottles of things before they’ve even begun to cook with them. All their readers see is a magical close-up of hot sauce. Now that’s exactly the sort of uplifting openness we’re aiming for!
Keep in mind that everything you do is a victory over the illness that’s ravaging our land. Did you go to the dog park? Snap a quick photo of the barren, dusty ground there, noting that you “braved” the trip out-of-doors. Did you see a relative? Try captioning the picture of them like this: “Great to see Bob—even from six feet away!” If your camera roll runs dry, find a meme that gives you the giggles. Then post it with a stern caption reminding everyone how important laughter is. You can also find joy in normally somber occurrences. The recent of death of Herman Cain, for example, can be a stirring reminder that we all need to start working together to solve this crisis. A quarrel with your loved one can turn into a witty personal essay, Facebook-ready, about the perils of close quarters. The happier you get, pulling up hard on your own bootstraps, the more happiness everyone in your network will feel.
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There are, likewise, many respectable ways to catch a bad case of nuttiness. I’ve only provided a few choice examples.
You may be skeptical about my methods. I understand that. You may worry about the side effects of lunacy. That’s as it should be! Or you might just be swept up in the inspired search for lockdown fun—and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. The important thing is finding a crazy that works well for you. The only thing worse than jumping off a cliff is surviving the moment of stampede. Then you‘re nothing but an exile, watching helplessly from a “safe distance,” while everybody else takes the leap without you.