In late April 2020, the coronavirus hit my immune system and completely shut me down for over three weeks. In the days leading up to my exposure, the meat plant in Worthington, where I live, was having a breakout similar to what happened in Sioux Falls’ Smithfield.
I had an inkling that my family members who work at the meat processing plant were only days away from being touched by the global pandemic.
My brother and dad tested positive, and the virus followed soon after for my mother and me.
The first few days of contracting the virus felt like a common cold with slightly more body aches than I had experienced before. I recall one night being curled up tightly in my bed, shivering and feeling like I was in a black hole. My eyes, whether closed or open, burned — the feeling was like having hundreds of needles jabbing my eyelids, which left a tingling, warm sensation.
My family members were experiencing COVID-19 together, but each of us had symptoms that ranged from mild to moderate. I hardly left my room. While there was a presence of life in our home, I felt so alone.
I also noticed my mental health shift.
The body aches, the on-and-off again fever, and continued jolting pain in my eyes kept me wide awake. As much as I wanted to focus elsewhere, like watch a movie or read, my eyes and fatigued body would not cooperate. It left me feeling out of touch with the world, almost like FOMO (fear of missing out).
Negative thoughts began to cross my mind, such as: “I am alone for a reason,” “No one cares about me,” “I could die right here, right now, and no one would know.”
My thoughts were so extreme that I started hating my weakness to the virus and how I allowed it to consume me in such a hostile manner. I am sure other things triggered my feelings, such as the lack of buzz coming from my phone.
I am often the friend who checks in on loved ones to make sure they are doing well. Since I was ghosting from social media, I felt like it might have caused alarm to my friends, but no one checked-in on me. Yet… how could they when I had not made my sickness public?
I did not want to message anyone and tell them what I was going through. I did not want to seem like a bother and make people think I wanted attention. Also, at that time, being perceived as “someone who got the virus” would have made me feel like a total alien. I thought it best to stay quiet, even with a new and incurable virus attacking my immune system.
At that stage of the global pandemic, not too many individuals had spoken out about their experience. Much of the U.S. was still in a stage of panic, alertness, and figuring out what the heck to do. Perhaps if I had encountered the experiences of others before my own, I may have reacted to my own physical and emotional pain with “it is okay to feel like this. I will get through this.”
Months later, I am aware that the coronavirus touches people in ways that I will not understand. I am left feeling gratitude — as my family and I are okay — but with the discontent of how we have not talked as much as we should about how this virus affects people’s mental health.
For now, I hope people continue to wear a mask (or two), keep their distance, and get the vaccine when it comes available to more people. And if someone has experienced COVID-19, I hope they can openly talk about their experience with others.