covid story Dr. RBF psychologist

I Prescribed Myself Kindness

It was an otherwise normal weekday evening. I figured I had a case of doing-too-much-exhaustion. I was just so tired.

By 7pm, I knew I had a fever. I found the thermometer…100.6°. I took a breath and decided to take an at-home Covid test. I’ve taken a few over the past few months. No big deal.

I stood, shivering with fever, waiting for the answer to appear.

I stood, frozen, watching time elapse.

I stood, staring at the pink lines, seeing the positive result.

I stood, remembering other moments of shock in my life. Those moments when I’ve thought, Okay, even though I know this is happening to me, I can’t believe this is happening to me.

I don’t know how long I stood there; likely only moments, yet time felt endless.

I ran a hot bath, stepped in, sank down, and let the emotions wash over me. Anxiety, a familiar one, lodged firmly in place. Guilt, another regular, made itself known. Shame, somewhat less routine, was definitely present. I lay there, soaking in the tub, drenched in my feelings. Slowly, I became aware of a tiny bit – just a small nugget – of what felt like relief. After almost two years of living in fear, the thing had happened. Now, I realized, I was curious to see what was coming.

Once out of the bath, I called my support roster to talk through next steps. My family had to be tested, schools notified. My kids tested positive, my husband was negative. Overwhelm hit hard again.

What is going to happen? How sick will I get?

What is going to happen? I’m vaccinated, how did this happen?

What is going to happen? I felt awful and exhausted; I dropped into merciful sleep.

The next morning, I felt a tiny bit better. Less like a flu, the symptoms had morphed into the worst head-cold ever. I went into the kitchen, and the guilt and shame flowed, mixing with my first sip of coffee. I had “done all the things” and had avoided this disease for close to two years. I stirred my coffee and wondered who else was going to be affected by this. Who else would get sick?

What is going to happen? pulsed through my brain like a heartbeat.

The World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and other government health agencies have spent lots of time, money, and effort to get the word out about the physical manifestations of Covid. Instructions on how to keep yourself safe, physical distancing, masking, and vaccines for example. As I sat there nursing my coffee, I wondered about Covid’s effect on mental health.

The American Psychological Association has deemed this pandemic a Mental Health Crisis. People are isolated, depressed, and anxious. In the more recent months, awareness of COVID-19’s impact on mental health systemically has become part of a general discussion. There is a lack of mental health professionals nationwide… basically, good luck trying to find a therapist right now. Reports of depression, anxiety, suicide, absenteeism, and divorce are all through the roof. But I wondered, How would Covid and quarantine have an effect on my individual mental health?

I am one of the lucky ones. My physical illness was fairly easy. We settled into quarantine, which was both busy and isolating.

Somewhere halfway though, just when I thought we could see the end of quarantine, depression hit hard, filling me with despair and exhaustion. Watching my kids live through their screens, engagement seemed futile, disconnection everywhere.

I reached out to people and I heard many folks who had COVID reported experiencing a similar sense of depression, seemingly out of “nowhere” which subsequently lifted just as quickly.

I spoke at length to friends, clients, and others who recounted their feelings of shame, of feeling dirty, unclean, or unwanted. Anger loomed large on lists: anger at the situation, anger at those who didn’t understand, anger at themselves for getting sick. Flavored by personality and background, guilt was ever present in everyone I spoke with; people feared who they may have infected, mostly without knowing if they had done so at all.

Armed with these anecdotes, I prescribed myself kindness. I rested as much as I could, took baths, sat in the sun, trying to feed my soul as I cared for myself and my family. Eventually, the harder feelings shifted, and I moved more easily through the days.

The night before returning to the world, I noticed feeling like I wanted to stay where I was. I teetered on the edge, one side yearning for reconnection, the other enjoying some of what quarantine offered. I’d grown used to no alarm clocks and wearing flannel pants all day. There was an ease of becoming indoor cats, even while I peeked my head outdoors to see what lay just beyond the horizon.

I am fortunate to have been only mildly sick, and that my kids all fared well. I have a job with a tremendous amount of flexibility, and we have financial security that enabled a certain amount of freedom. There were plenty of stressors, many of which I expected, some surprising. I hope that for those of you who may become ill, you are able to allow yourself the space to notice your feelings and care for yourself in whatever way you need.

Do you have a personal Covid story to share too? I’d love to hear yours in the comments.