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When my December 21 COVID-19 test came back positive, I wasn’t thinking about how my winter break was essentially ruined. I wasn’t worried about my health—after all, I’m smack in that 20-30 age group that’s supposed to scrape by with nothing but a sore throat. I didn’t think about how being sick would affect my ability to work.
What I felt, instead, was shame. And guilt. And, if we’re being totally honest, a nice hefty helping of self-hatred. Messages of masking up, social distancing and getting vaxxed from our local healthcare professionals had instilled in me a community responsibility to not get sick.
In the worst parts of this pandemic—when my favourite events were cancelled, when I couldn’t hug my mom, when I cried through my mask at my grandfather’s 10-person funeral—I looked everywhere I could for some sense of control. I followed provincial restrictions like my life depended on it. I cleaned everything I could get my hands on. And I took solace in the fact that I had never had COVID.
I knew, deep down, that avoiding the virus didn’t make me a better person. Worldwide, the pandemic has disproportionately affected poor and marginalized communities—with my access to clean water and PPE, my ability to work from home (not to mention having a home) I could hardly brag. Still, I told myself, at least it’s not you. It’s selfish, but it got me through.
Until December 21. I stopped thinking at least it’s not you and started thinking this is all your fault. A few days into my isolation, I posted my positive COVID status on Instagram. I did it because I thought the more sharing, the better—maybe the reality of my health would help convince others to be more careful. And, sure, a little sympathy would be nice.
What I got instead was a barrage of messages (52, to be exact) that made me feel even worse. Most of them fell into the following categories:
When you find out a couple broke up, the first thing you want to know is why. (Oh, you hate gossip? What’s it like to be so much better than everybody else?) You could say it’s because you care about their wellbeing or whatever, but we all know the truth: you want the info so it doesn’t happen to you. That’s what this question feels like. What did you do to cause this? What are your regrets? How do I make sure I don’t make the same mistake?
Folks who asked me this were likely looking for “Oh, it’s just a bit of a sore throat.” Like when you ask how someone’s weekend was and they answer “Good.” It almost felt impolite to tell the truth: my throat felt like swallowing nails, and I had a permanent headache. I was coughing, sneezing, and sniffling uncontrollably. My nose was raw and the skin around it was tearing. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep, because I had to think about every breath I took so it wouldn’t hurt. I lost my sense of smell, then on Christmas Day I got parosmia (look it up, it’s really fun). This was despite being double-vaccinated—I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s fair to say that without that sweet Pfizer I may not have been able to deal with my symptoms at home.
As you can tell from the above, I was not feeling not that bad. I had what they call a “mild” case, meaning I was not hospitalized. (Although I did beg my partner to smother me with a pillow around day five. Not my finest moment.) There’s a lot of space between sore throat and hospitalized, and I’m inclined to believe I was on the worst end of it. Plus, we’ve all heard horror stories of younger people dying from the virus. I didn’t want to be jinxed.
There are certain people who are justified in saying these kinds of things—my parents, close coworkers, true friends—but it was too much. I felt like total garbage. I couldn’t believe I had let myself get sick. Then, I couldn’t believe how sick I was. I watched other folks my age recover completely after a few days. Meanwhile, even once my isolation period ended I was still too sick to leave the house. All in all, it was 10 days before I was well enough to buy myself groceries.
I shared my feelings of shame online, and found that other people were feeling the same. There were folks who discovered, too late, that they had spread the virus to their elderly parents. People who regretted having a drink with a friend at a restaurant (something they were totally allowed to do). In all our obsession with doing everything right, with following the rules, with being “good,” we’ve made being sick the opposite by default. Equating health with morality is wrong.
I don’t mean to throw myself a pity party (though it’s the only party I’ll be going to anytime soon, ha). There are things I’m very grateful for. My dad brought us sushi the day we got sick, then groceries every day after that (and the commute from Richmond to Kits only got uglier when it snowed). Friends emailed Doordash gifts cards and sent ironic presents (thanks for the bottles of Corona, Bo). My partner binged 5 seasons of Modern Family with me when he would have rather watched some depressing Oscar nominee.
We moved our Christmas Day to December 30, and we celebrated like normal. Now I’m back to work and feeling fine. They say I’ve got the antibodies to fight off Delta now.
Yes, Omicron is not that bad—for some people. For me, it was bad. Not fatal, not hospital-worthy, but bad. Physically, bad. Mentally, bad. Cases are climbing, and many folks now believe that we’ll all get it, sometime. I would not recommend it.
But if you do get COVID, no matter the source, I hope that you can give yourself some grace. Focus on taking care of yourself, not spending hours brooding over what you could have done differently. As one of my friends aptly put it, “You are not a bad person for getting sick during a public health crisis.”
We’ve all heard “be kind” as part of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra. And regardless of your opinion on her, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Remember to extend that kindness to yourself.