The impending toilet paper crisis triggers me

I’m having flashbacks thinking about empty shelves.

I’ve always been the type to be calm in crisis periods. And prepared. Maybe even over-prepared. That’s the way I stay calm.

So when, a year ago, Donald Trump announced the closing of borders due to the virus, one of my first thoughts was “Crap.”

And I was being literal. I knew that one of the possible consequences of shutting us off from the rest of the world, and the world towards us, would be a reduction, if not cessation of, trade. Even if toilet paper wasn’t primarily sourced in other countries, the states starting to shut down would have an effect on the supply chain within our own country. And it occurred to me that one of the essentials that might be affected was toilet paper.

This was before there was a mass exodus of toilet paper from stores. It would a few days until there were pictures on social media showing the empty shelves. I’m sorry to say that I would be part of the reason for those pictures. But, like I said, I like to be prepared.

Really, it was like the prisoner’s dilemma. This is a thought experiment in philosophy where two prisoners have to make a choice whether to rat each other out. They don’t know if each other is going to do so, so they have to make a decision based on limited information. They can both be quiet, and thus not incriminate themselves or each other. There’s a chance that by doing this neither will be punished. This choice only works if both stay silent. But, then they are told that they will be offered leniency if they implicate the other prisoner. But, only one of them will get that deal. In fact, the first one to implicate the other will get the best deal. They have to then make a decision: do they trust the other enough to take the chance?

It’s more than likely you’ve seen this scenario play out on TV shows. And, if you are like me, you are disappointed when the decision is made to not trust each other.

But, a year ago, I quickly made the moral decision that I couldn’t trust the masses to limit their purchases of toilet paper, and I wasn’t going to rely on my fellow (wo)man to make the decision that would allow my family to keep ourselves comfortably clean for the next few months.

We all lived through the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, so I don’t need to rehash this. You might be one of the minority who made the generous calculation to not rush and hoard. Or, you might be the sad soul who was punished by people like me.

My point in referring to these events a year ago is that something as simple as toilet paper is enough to trigger me. Because, when the sky is falling, you need something concrete to make you feel safe, something that you can control. You need something to rely on so you aren’t caught with your pants down…without toilet paper.

When I lived in Houston growing up, and we prepared for the yearly wave of hurricanes, it was about filling your bathtub with water. I guess the thought was if there was no drinkable water, you could use it, or at least use it in your toilets. I’m not exactly sure what the reason for filling the bathtub was. Didn’t we have containers we could put the water in? Regardless, it was something concrete we could do to prepare.

At a certain point, when you live in the path of hurricanes, you become desensitized. With little emotion, you turn on the spigot, fill up the tub, and then turn on cable news to watch the storm barrel towards you.

However, I guess I’m not desensitized to pandemics yet. Maybe because we were told it was a once in a century type event (or at least hadn’t happened at this level since a hundred years before). And, maybe I have to accept that with the increasing sense of relief that things are safer, there’s going to be a certain amount of collective PTSD. And, for me at least, toilet paper can be a trigger.

It’s important to note that this impending toilet paper shortage has nothing to do, from my understanding, with the pandemic. It has something to do with the Suez Canal. So, just like a real trigger, there’s nothing inherent in this that reflects an existential threat. But, just like any trigger, it brings me back to the anxiety and fear I felt when faced with the impending doom of a pandemic.

So, part out of practicality (because I’m told on the most reliable of sources, Twitter, that there really be a shortage this time due to no fault of us crisis inspired hoarders), I’m sending my son off in the morning to get us an extra allotment of toilet paper. We can’t really hoard because stores got savvy and still ration how much we can buy at a time.

But, just as I said, I like to be prepared. And even if I can’t protect myself and my family from everything, I can at least make sure we have a couple extra weeks of security. Even if it’s in the form of a couple of packages of toilet paper.