TP for the Psyche

Mar 14, 2020

Like a bowel after a colonoscopy, the store shelves that usually brimmed with toilet paper were empty.

The Charmin, the Northern, the Angel Soft, the White Cloud, the Scott…gone.  The closets and drawers in our homes where we keep our toilet paper…full.  We were preparing for the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been comments on social media and television about our run on toilet paper (pun gently intended.)  Their tone has been mocking, exasperated, critical or sarcastic.  When I’ve read or heard them, I’ve wanted to say ever so gently “Leave us alone. We are doing the human thing.”

I was curious about what we used before toilet paper, which was invented in the 1850s. The list is impressive: clay, sponges on sticks, moss, snow, leaves and, in colonial America, corn cobs!  I guess the texture of cobs had scrubbing value. So, if you can’t find fresh corn on the store shelves, well….

And then there was the hand.  Some around the world still use the hand. Yikes.

When I took long bike rides through the woods, alone, I prepared.  I stuffed the little fanny pack I wore around my waist with emergency supplies: my cell phone, bottled water, a protein bar or two, money, band-aids, hand sanitizer and a plastic baggie holding wet wipes, pre-moistened toilet paper for bottom care.

I learned the survival importance of bottom care after having a bout of diarrhea in the woods for which I was unprepared.  I looked around for dry leaves to use.  I worried about poison ivy, oak or sumac. Being horribly itchy in those nether regions was no fun. Been there. Done that. That was my last time in the woods without bottom care.

So, as I prepared for social isolation, quarantine of unknown length, I made sure I had my cell phone, food, water, first aid and bottom care, toilet paper. It just made common sense. It’s the hygienic twenty-first century thing to do.

On our last foray to the grocery store to prepare for social distancing, Bill and I surveyed the almost empty toilet paper shelves, turned to each other and asked, “Should we buy one more package?”  We had just our normal supply at home.

Bill’s face is almost never without a smile or a laugh. In his Creighton t-shirt and faded jeans, he was the familiar, common sensical guy at the center of my world. In my Arizona-perfect cotton dress and hoodie, I was dressed for an ordinary day.  Our cart held products we buy on every shop: milk, eggs, nut butters, fruit, hummus, cheese and coffee. Business as usual.

But it wasn’t. Our cart also held items we rarely buy, canned fruits and frozen vegetables. Emptied out shelves looked stark and barren under the fluorescent lights of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood store. People glanced furtively at each other and kept a little extra distance. A few wore face masks. Like others, we had studiously sanitized our hands and the bright green handle of our basket before entering the store.

“Yes, let’s get an extra,” we agreed and picked one of the softer varieties off the shelf. I’m glad we did.  We have plenty and some to share if needed.

Bill remembers the forced isolation of the 1952 polio epidemic. For most of us, though, this coronavirus pandemic is a great unknown. It’s a little scary.

Our brains don’t like uncertainty and novelty.  As organs, they prefer patterns, stories and solutions. They will create stories like, “let’s buy toilet paper so we don’t have to use leaves or corn cobs. Let’s keep our balance, our sense of being in control and civilized, in a world that is tilting.”

Guided by our brain’s stories, many of us bought a few extra packages of toilet paper, to use or to share. Thankfully, we had wisdom that kept us from buying a pickup truck full!  Let’s go gentle with ourselves and each other, people, and nix the judgment. Getting anxious about our anxiety makes matters worse.

My spiritual teacher, Sydney Banks, calls anxiety a “psychological virus.”  He writes, “…before you start putting labels on people, try to understand such viruses are as natural as breathing…”  Sounds pretty natural to me!

Syd continues, “The secret vaccine…lies in your thoughts and your feelings. Feelings such as love, caring, sharing or being pleased by the good fortune enjoyed by yourself or others…can lift your spirit and clear away the unwanted viruses of negative feelings.”  

In times of trouble, Mr. Fred Rogers used to remind viewers of his “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” show to “look for the helpers. They are always there.”

Loving thoughts. Caring thoughts. Helper thoughts.  If we know to look, they are always in our minds.  They are the most important vaccination available to us as we find psychological and physical health in the face of the coronavirus.

Copyright 2020, Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.

The Enlightened Gardener Revisited, by Sydney Banks, page 88

Dr. Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, can be found at She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding and clinical experience in service to others. She is available for on-line consultations. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. Email her at