What do several individuals who survived COVID, someone who lost a loved one to COVID and the thousands of us who lived through over two years of pandemic struggles have in common?
Throughout the pandemic we have learned of symptoms of COVID, of people surviving COVID and long term effects of COVID. We became familiar with safety measures to prevent ourselves, our family and our friends from becoming infected, and how to stop the spread of the virus in our homes and in our community.
It seems that most of our familiarity with COVID has been with the physical effects and tangible concerns it brings. Yet one factor underlies almost every aspect of these challenges – the impact the pandemic has had on emotional and mental health.
Several local people recently shared the mental impact of their COVID survival experience.
It was one thing to experience the physical effects of COVID – the extreme fatigue, weakness, nausea, loss of taste and smell – the list goes on – but the anxiety of whether you will survive the virus and if there will be long term or permanent damage does not end.
It is the anxiety brought on by isolation, having to quarantine in a house shared with loved ones with whom you could have no contact. Days, sometimes weeks, of being holed up in a room with only an occasional glimpse of your spouse when the door is pushed open to slide in the food tray. Not being able to hug your children. Crying in the shower from the frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness of it all.
It is the loneliness that daily phone calls don’t cure, the lack of human interaction. The day after the day of being in and out of consciousness, the real and the imagined running through your head as you lose track of night and day. The disconnect.
It is the anxiety of venturing out again after isolation. Could you still be infected? Could you infect others? Would people shun you when they heard you cough or if you had to keep sitting down because you were still so fatigued? Could you get infected again?
It is the anxiety of sharing your experience only to have it fall on deaf ears, of people literally turning around and walking away, or trying to smooth it over. They want you to be stoic; they are more comfortable if you don’t express it because they don’t know what to do. They just don’t grasp the severity.
It is the anxiety of trying to warn how devastating this virus can be, and the total lack of responsibility people take for its spread and too often deadly consequences.
One person became infected at a church event and asked church leadership to alert the event attendees, but the concern was dismissed. Another COVID survivor asked management to take safety precautions to prevent workplace COVID spread and got a similar response.
It is the anxiety of losing a loved one and trying to imagine going on without that person. The shock that sometimes the fatality of COVID can be immediate, and if it lingers, the constant hope that the person will turn the corner and “get back to normal.”
But whether you have survived COVID, assisted someone, or lost someone who had COVID, you never “get back to normal.” The anxiety of the experience is always there.
There is the anxiety in those of us who haven’t gotten COVID and live each day trying to dodge the very real possibility of becoming infected.
It is the anxiety of trying to be normal but having to consider whether the “small” family gathering is small enough. Whether everyone is vaccinated and boosted.
Wondering whether someone who only has the sniffles or a headache may be infected. Whether the symptoms are just sinus, a cold, or the flu and not the virus.
Whether you should ask someone to test before you get together.
Whether you should ask someone to mask or to adjust their mask so it is worn correctly.
Anxiety exists in being safe. We live in a county on red alert, so we are justified in requiring certain information to better protect ourselves, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Along with this anxiety is anger and frustration and depression from a pandemic that we once thought would require just a few weeks of isolation and has just entered its third year.
A friend tries to make the best of it. She says her faith and continued outreach to friends and family, especially those who live alone, eases her anxiety, and gives her purpose.
“We are all in this together, and together we will make it through.”
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!.