Dr. Tom Deighan

After a year of being locked up, masked up, and hyped up, things are actually looking up. Since Spring Break, COVID cases have dropped precipitously in schools and across Oklahoma. People are starting to travel and go to places like the movies for the first time since this started. Summer even looks like it might be somewhat normal; we might even have fireworks for the Fourth! COVID-free skies certainly seem to be ahead, but that does not mean this ordeal is behind us because in addition to being locked up, masked up, and hyped up – a lot of emotions are also pent up. As a result, we are starting to see fireworks much earlier than usual as we look forward to summer.

When I worked as an EMT, I remember panicked people arriving at the hospital behind the ambulance. Fear and concern consumed each of them, and often, someone was able to relieve their fears quickly. Curiously enough, this good news did not always produce relief and joy in them. Sometimes, upon discovering that everyone was safe, the fireworks really started! Sometimes they exploded in tears and sometimes in rage over the smallest thing. I remember an otherwise rational man shattering a hospital snack machine over a stuck bag of chips. We got free snacks that night, but I also learned that we never really know how traumatic experiences will affect us, so we need to be ready for unexpected emotions as COVID ends.

After a year of helplessness, we are all starting to sense a little hope, but fuses are shorter than ever. Regardless of which side of this thing you have been on, it has been stressful. People have lived in constant fear for almost a year – fear for their health, fear for their loved ones, fear for their livelihoods, and fear for their nation. Add an unbelievably contentious Presidential election and the politicization of virtually every aspect of life, and we are all walking powder kegs. Most people quietly endured it by focusing on their families and friends, but many of us are starting feel this pent-up pressure. I think it is due to Post-Covid Stress Disorder. (Disclaimer: I am not a real doctor.)

Initially, I thought I coined this term, but I Googled it, and sure enough, it is a real thing. After this long year of stress, uncertainty, and helplessness, people are suffering the lingering effects of the COVID age. Just when things are looking up and people have some room to relax, terrible feelings start bubbling up. The interweb is replete with videos of people losing it over the smallest things in the strangest places. Road rage has been replaced by COVID rage. Sadly, these people are as surprised as the people around them, because pent-up emotions can explode at the most inconvenient times and in the strangest ways. People rarely walk away feeling better, even if you get free snacks. It can happen to anyone, so if you haven’t had a COVID moment at some point during all of this, get ready. It might just sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Fuses are short right now, and short fuses produce quick explosions. It can happen at the drive-thru, at the grocery store, at work, or even online if we are not careful. As this school year winds down, I hope everyone can recognize all the stress we have been carrying around. Our school has managed to stay open all year, safely, but it certainly was not easy. We did not always agree, but by the grace of God it looks like we are going to make it. Children were in school. Parents were able to go to work. Businesses stayed open. As Oklahomans and as Duncanites, we are truly blessed.

For these remaining few days of school and the summer ahead, please be extra kind and extra patient with everyone, so we can save the fireworks for the Fourth of July. May we all continue to intentionally extend grace to each other as we finish this long journey, no matter how long it takes, so our children can learn how to finish strong, even when strong emotions so easily beset us.

Tom Deighan is Superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. He may be reached at tom.deighan@duncanps.org.

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