I don’t know how to say this without making myself look like a jerk, but I’ll risk it. When it came to COVID, my anxieties were centered more around missing out than around actual concern about COVID. COVID itself was strange and abstract. And while I heard all the horror stories from the hospitals, and while I knew people personally who got COVID and survived (pre-vaccines, vaccinated, and unknown status) and people personally who got COVID and died (vaccinated and unknown status), COVID still had this weird abstract quality to it.
[Just to be clear, I was never anti-mask nor anti-vax. I wore a mask whenever required or requested, and I got vaccinated once vaccine appointments opened up to my demographic in my state.]
The fear that was way more prominent in my mind was the fear of missing out on life as a result of COVID lockdowns and restrictions. It makes me sick to realize it’s been nearly two years of pandemic and that I have pretty much nothing to show for it. Actually, that isn’t entirely true – I did manage to go on a glamping weekend, take an overseas vacation, go to multiple weddings – all of that was only possible because I made a point of doing anything legally permitted and reasonably feasible to not be stuck. As recently as Thursday, I was annoyed that I hadn’t managed to book travel (preferably overseas, but I’d have been happy with interesting domestic travel) for New Year’s weekend or early/mid-January. Mind you, I don’t even really like New Year’s as a holiday. In fact, I slightly hate it. And I’m not even a “travel is my identity and passion” person. But what I hated more was the idea of missing out.
Then I got COVID. For Christmas. Which is a remarkably inconvenient time to get COVID, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas.
I fully expected this to be an “I didn’t learn anything from this” experience. But that is not entirely true:
1) Everyone Is A Little Bit Wrong
Scene 1: COVID testing location. I describe my symptoms. Doctor examines my throat.
You’re not in so much pain, right? Your throat is not so red.Doctor
I nod with agreement, thinking that is the mature reasonable response. I forget about my own miserably painful weekend. I don’t want to seem like some low-pain-tolerance sissy. Also, I can’t look at my own throat. So, if the doctor is looking, she must have some objective measure of pain. She must be right. I begin to feel like a fool.
The test center staff tells me I’ll get the rapid results back within a half hour. I sense them mocking me for coming in with some run-of-the-mill cold. I leave. Five minutes later, the staff called back and told me I had COVID.
Scene 2: Telling relatives and recently in-contact people the news. (More on that to follow.) Turns out my cousin (whom I have not seen lately) also has COVID. We compare notes.
“How long do you need to quarantine?” asks Cousin.
Turns out I don’t remember. The test center said 10 days. They must mean a starting day of today, right?
JYP: 10 days from today when I got a positive test.
Cousin: I was told 10 days from the onset of symptoms.
Husband: I heard 10 days after symptoms end.
At least one of us is wrong.
2) Here’s How To Tell People You Have A Sexually-Transmitted Infection (STI)
Early in the pandemic, I read an interesting commentary piece around the importance of fostering an environment for honest disclosure of COVID exposure status without stigma, not dissimilar to what we encourage for STI disclosure. (It wasn’t this article, but it makes similar points about stigma and shame, and I already
scrolled suffered through a parent-acquaintance’s obnoxious kid-centric Facebook feed trying to find the original, only for Facebook to crap out on me, so yeah, not doing that again.) Anyway, now that I had a positive test result, it was time to start notifying people I’d been in contact with lately, aka, my metaphorical sex partners.
- Friday lunch date girlfriend: She took the news well, responded immediately, and wished me well. We corresponded about testing options and availability. As good a disclosure conversation as one could hope for. I would definitely have metaphorical sex with her again.
- Shabbat dinner host: This had the potential to go really badly, because we were one of many Shabbat dinner guests and Shabbat Dinner Host has a large family too. But I had to do it, explaining that while I felt fine Friday and truly appreciated the invite, Saturday I started having symptoms and later tested positive. Shabbat Dinner Host took this better than I expected he would. I’d have metaphorical sex with him again too.
- Old Friend we sat next to at Shabbat dinner: I wasn’t close with everyone at the Shabbat dinner, but the people we were seated next to were good enough friends that they deserved a direct notification. I messaged Old Friend. He never responded. The irony is that I met Old Friend before I met Husband and thought Old Friend was a good-looking, fun guy. In another universe, I might have considered dating/relationship/sex with Old Friend (then again, we would have been incompatible, so maybe not). I now knew that I would not have metaphorical sex with Old Friend again, even if I’d once entertained the possibility of actual sex with this guy.
Of course, my willingness is irrelevant if these people aren’t willing to have metaphorical sex with me again. That’s what makes disclosure uncomfortable.
3) On Wanting To Live
What I’m about to write is the hardest thing I’ve ever written on WordPress: I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation. I want to be clear that I’m not in danger, I don’t have a plan, I’ve never attempted nor intend to attempt, and I’m not going to elaborate further and totally derail this post. I mention this for a specific reason which I’ll explain in a moment.
I haven’t yet written about the experience of having COVID, and for the most part, it hasn’t felt that different from a really terrible cold. That said, there were two moments that felt really, scarily different. One moment was Saturday night when I awoke with a high fever, coughing and choking on mucus and struggling to breathe, alone because I’d forgotten in my feverish state that Husband had gone out to pick up leftovers in a socially-distanced manner from the pseudo-Christmas party we were clearly not attending. The other was yesterday, when I experienced what felt like a sudden swelling of my throat (almost like an anaphylaxis reaction, only I don’t have those kinds of allergies and hadn’t been in contact with anything I’m allergic to) and while I could still breathe, it was noticeably more difficult, and I was really struggling, gagging and choking.
I realized in those two moments, that no matter how much I’d contemplated ending my life in the past, that actually, I really, really, really wanted to live.
Movie Version vs. Real Life
In the Hallmark Movie version of my life (I can barely type this with a straight face, which is bad because laughing hurts my throat), there would be this moment of appreciation and silver lining. I’d get over my stupid FOMO and focus on the important things in life. I wouldn’t feel bad about missing out on the possibility of an exciting New’s Years weekend because I’d spend New Year’s reflecting (did I mention I actually hate New Year’s?) My troubled marriage would blossom over the course of the 2 hour movie because of all the
quality quarantine time we’d be spending together.
Look, maybe I’ll be singing a different tune 10 days from now, but right now, I find this dubious. Right now, I’m annoyed that even low-key plans like free New Year’s workout classes at the gym, or New Year’s Eve karaoke at the bar (the one year that the bar decides to celebrate with something totally up my alley and I can’t even go…) can’t happen. And while it could be a lot worse, I do not believe for a minute that 10 days of quarantine is going to improve my marriage. I also do not believe that our marriage will produce hilarious quarantine moments for lists like these because that’s just not our situation.
But what else can I do? For the first time in a while since we’ve been in this pandemic, I have fears in addition to FOMO and I’m really and truly stuck.