What’s behind my mask

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared…every time I leave to go to work…every time I go to the grocery store…and every time someone walks past me on the street as I walk my dog.  I silently think to myself as I hold my breath: “God please don’t let me come in contact with someone who has it!”  And then I smile and act like everything is fine, like I’m fine, like they’re fine, like I don’t have a care in the world. But this all just seems like one really bad straight to Blockbuster movie (you remember those days…when movies were really bad; ya I think that’s our lives right about now).  And I must admit…I never really thought I’d ever have to worry about living through a worldwide pandemic such as COVID-19 (seriously who came up with these crazy virus names anyways…I feel like it would be better to call a killer virus “this shit will kill you” because then people will definitely pay more attention to the seriousness of it all)!

But I suppose you also have a different way of looking at things when you live with a chronic illness like epilepsy as I do.  In a lot of ways your life is kind of like a constant pandemic when you have an illness and or disability. But at one point or another you become numb to everything else that exists around you because everything that is around you has the potential to harm and even kill you. That is just my life and I’ve become used to it. The difference between pre COVID-19 and well now is normally I can escape that reality. Normally I don’t have to read about it every two seconds on Facebook…I don’t get an alert every 5 minutes on my phone that someone is dying or has fallen ill…and normally I’m not listening to round the clock news coverage of the impending doom that exists if I step outside my front door. Honestly, I feel like I am being forced to read the obituaries over and over and over again while being trapped in a virtual morgue with millions of other isolated individuals who are currently experiencing the same anxiety and trauma while waking up day after day in this now twisted Twilight Zone we call Earth.  It’s all just so exhausting!

               And what bothers me the most about this pandemic is that society appears to underestimate the psychological impact that will occur to most individuals after all is said and done.  For example, I have struggled with anxiety for many years now, and I am one of those patients that cannot take a lot of medications.  To help alleviate my anxiety, I normally lean on therapeutic resources, such as yoga, painting, going for hikes with my dog, and writing.  I also do enjoy a good lazy day of binge-watching Netflix.  But what helps my anxiety the most, believe it or not, is people…being with friends and family.  So life as I know it now is a bit tough for me psychologically.  I do miss going out for karaoke with the girls, grabbing a beer at my favorite pub, and just randomly window shopping at my favorite stores. With the current pandemic, I now find myself feeling scattered even in my own home, especially when they initiated the stay at home order a few months ago (luckily that has since been lifted). Part of me just wants to pretend like nothing is happening and I attempt to shut the anxious valve off in my brain, but the other part of me can’t ignore the data. The fact that every day more people get sick….the fact that more people are dying….

               But then the rationale side of me knows that this data has always been there, so I find myself a bit at odds with understanding how this all could have even happened in the year 2020.  For example: “Influenza is a highly infectious disease that usually strikes during the winter season. Globally, it causes an estimated one billion cases of influenza, resulting in 290,000 to 650,000 deaths per year. A person can get the virus simply by being near an infected person that coughs, sneezes or talks, or by touching something with the virus on it.” I question why the media or government never talked about these deaths or educated the public about this information before.  And before COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization we have had four influenza pandemics since 1900. Why aren’t we educating people about that data as well?  Like many of you, I wondered: what is the difference between the influenza and COVID-19? I have learned the main difference is the speed of transmission. According to the World Heath Organization: “Influenza has a shorter median incubation period (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) and a shorter serial interval (the time between successive cases) than COVID-19 virus.” There are of course a lot of other differences, mainly the mortality rate, which is now just an estimate of 3-4% since the death rate of COVID-19 keeps changing. But what are the similarities? The main one for me is how they are both transmitted. Both the influenza and COVID-19 are transmitted by contact, droplets, and fomites (objects that can carry infection). (To read more about the similarities and the differences, I referenced the links down below.)

               With that said, am I the only one that is wondering why it took a super killer virus to teach the world about the cross contamination of viruses? Maybe it’s because I always am concerned about my health that I focus on this data, but I guess I see more in the similarities than I do the differences. People should always be concerned with transmitting a virus when they have one.  It is unfortunate that it took something of this magnitude for all of us to be this self-aware of how the transmission of one virus can take someone’s life. We are no longer talking about a 0.1% death rate as seen in the yearly influenza…we are talking about a rate much higher than that…one that doesn’t appear to be slowly down any time soon. And any death rate, for that matter, no matter how low is important…a person’s life is more than just a percentage…

               And for those that are lucky enough to come out of this without ever even getting the virus, this doesn’t mean they will come out unscathed. As I mentioned before, the psychological impact is going to be quite detrimental to many individuals. Many have lost their jobs, can’t leave their homes, don’t have any real form of socialization (except for social media, which we all know really doesn’t count that much), and what people do hear is constant coverage about COVID-19 (which for many can appear to be depressing and upsetting). So as my phone goes off with yet another COVID-19 alert, you’re probably asking how can anyone escape this right now?  If we are going to find a way to cope with what ever we are feeling in this very moment I truly believe the best way is to acknowledge your feelings (as sappy as that sounds) and to talk about it all, (the good, the bad, and the super ugly), with your friends, your family, your co-workers, heck with anyone that makes you feel comfortable so that you get it off your chest.  Meanwhile, try to keep in mind…we aren’t all going to feel or react the same way to this crisis.  Some people are angry…some are sad…some are scared…some are feeling every single emotion like it’s a rollercoaster they can’t get off…that’s how I feel.

But as trapped as I feel somedays, I do believe there is hope. I do believe we all will come out of this stronger, kinder…and hopefully emotionally healthier because of this pandemic.  Or at least I hope we will.  Do you remember the good ole days when you used to talk on the phone instead of texting or messaging online (and yes this means Facebook too)? Well, maybe it’s about time we all find a way to start talking on the phone again or do Facetime or Skype or something like that. Isolation isn’t healthy even for the most extreme of introverts. And after talking to a lot of my friends and family about COVID-19, I was comforted by knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt anxious by what was going on.  Simply knowing that I wasn’t alone in how I felt made me feel all that much better. I know I can’t stop what’s going on in the world but being able to open the anxious valve (as I like to call it) and let out all my fears sure feels great! And right about now it’s the best medicine for me….besides cuddling with my dog of course.

During this time, it is important to remember that even the strongest person needs to open that same valve. And I know my rationale side of the brain will never have all the data it wants to make sense of why people are dying…my brain will never know all the information it needs to prevent a virus from happening…I suppose that’s what scares me the most.  I won’t be able to stop something I can’t see…I can’t avoid what I don’t know is or isn’t there…all I can do is live…and pray it never finds me…or you.


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