So… I am recovering from this thing called COVID-19. Maybe some of you have heard of it?
While I write this, I’m feeling much better and recently released to what is now considered “normal”. I have managed mild symptoms for the past month and am confident I will be added to the “recovered” statistic soon. I appreciate thoughts of well wishes and kindness, however, please direct them to those that need it most: my good friend’s dad who is battling in the ICU; another friend whose fever has sent her to the hospital twice; and the nurses and healthcare workers surrounding us with their tireless efforts.
My relationship with COVID-19 has been an interesting one. It has been unlike any illness I have ever had before. It attacked so many of my friends and didn’t play favorites with who it went after… It’s a new virus. No treatment. Studies with small sample sizes. There are so many unknowns, educated guesses, assumptions. Symptoms vary. Time frames vary. Every day the protocol on how to manage it seems to change. Every day I check in with Nurse Michael to give him a temperature reading. Every passing week, I hope that maybe next week I can join the “new normal”.
In my almost 30 days of isolation with this virus, I have renamed it “my good friend Rona” or “the abusive ex-boyfriend Covid”. This is an attempt at finding some humor in what could be a devastating moment in time. The ex., Covid, hasn’t been around lately, thank goodness; he typically brings the joint pain and inability to function. But Rona… she likes to hang out and give the low-grade fever feeling. She occasionally surprises me for coffee or waits until happy hour to drop her bad news.
I’m choosing to share my story now. To raise more awareness and to hopefully help others manage the current state of their own situation.
A little background about me. I am generally more on the social side but do tend to walk the line between introversion and extraversion. I’d be just as happy having time to be at home as I am being at a social event and hugging every single person. I love hugs and laughter. I live with my dog and cat. They have been a lovely distraction while they selfishly enjoy the extra spoils of having their mother around more often… almost to the point that we may be tired of each other. I share a duplex with my tenants. Now, I find comfort hearing their footsteps above; makes it feel almost like direct human interaction… also, a good reminder to keep my music at normal levels.
At the beginning of March, I traveled with some friends out of state. We were gone for a week. I hugged old friends, we laughed, my team even won a silver medal at US Curling Club Nationals. It was such a fantastic and fun week. I won’t let Covid ruin that memory.
Before the trip… life was grand. I had a full-time job helping others and my curling non-profit was starting to take off; plus, a whole lot of other exciting opportunities.
I came back from that trip, entangled with Covid, and shortly to follow … filing for unemployment. Is this my worst nightmare? I don’t think it’s anything I could have dreamed up. I work hard, I have always paid my bills on time and usually bounce back from illness fairly quickly. Now, it’s been over a month and I have not seen income of any type, still waiting on that unemployment check (not to the fault of the overwhelmed unemployment office) or any of the government’s offerings. Am I concerned? Am I stressed? Am I scared? … We all are in some way or another.
The Rona appeared in a friendly manner. For me, the initial symptoms were comparable to when the monthly beast shows up. I felt a little “off” and was a bit more chilled on the ice. I didn’t think too much of it. The next day my period started and I assumed it was business as usual. This made it easy to justify not noticing Rona right away … until hindsight started to glare back through the mirror.
I have a friend who blamed her initial symptoms on allergies, one being exhausted from a long week on the ice and the other complaining of bilateral knee swelling. When I returned home and called the nurse-line, they told me to rest as it was “just the flu”. I isolated right away. This “flu” just didn’t fit right with how I was feeling. After a few days of having “just the flu”, I pressed for a COVID-19 test and 3 days later… positive. My symptoms did not fit the molded list handed out by the CDC so they did not want to test me…of the people I know who have it, very few actually fit the CDC’s Covid format.
Here is how my relationship with Covid happened in order of symptoms:
a feeling of fever - my highest temp was only a day and was 100, the rest of the time it bounced between normal and 99.4
joint pain - varied from extremely limiting to mild
loss of taste
loss of smell
an intermittent feeling of fever and bouts of lethargy
intermittent dry cough
intermittent days of feeling better followed by days feeling feverish - but with a normal temp
This list may go on. But, it starts to get to a point where it is hard to differentiate what could be normal allergy season or Rona hanging out for brunch.
When Covid was at his worst with me, there was little information on how to manage the symptoms and rumors were flying about certain medications actually aggravating the symptoms. This came with a whole other level of anxiety.
Here is how I managed the symptoms:
Light exercise as able
Hot and cold herbal teas
Let’s turn to the media for a moment….. “The novel coronavirus...” “A service member has died of COVID-19...” “Coronavirus cases rise by 11 ….rise by 3… rise by 9...” “The president blames China...” “Non-essential jobs...” “Healthcare workers with inadequate PPE...” “The number of deaths caused by COVID-19 increases...” “Pandemic...” on repeat a thousand times a day on hundreds of different platforms…. Whoa… that is enough to drive anyone into a major state of panic or depression.
Here are some definitions related to Rona and Covid that I have learned first hand:
“Hunker Down” - Stay in to help decrease the spread, the goal is to stay home, healthy and safe.
“Social distancing”- Stay 6ft away from others, when walking/running/hiking double the distance and watch the wind speed.
“Self-quarantine” - Something we do when we are showing symptoms.
“Isolation”- Once you are diagnosed positive you go into isolation until you are “72 hours past your last symptom”.
Unfortunately, these terms have been thrown into our reality. How terrible does the word “isolation” sound?! That word alone has the potential to be mentally damaging.
I only had two major breakdowns in the past 30 days. I say only because if I let my mind go its own direction I’d still be lying around feeling sorry for myself...a pity party for one … *pours self a drink*. Now, I am electing to manage by living in the “sunshine and rainbows” state of mind.
The first breakdown happened when Covid tricked me into getting excited about his departure, but a few days later he came roaring back with a vengeance. The second breakdown happened when I received news that even if I was healthy, I didn’t have my normal job to go back to and I needed to file unemployment. At this point, it was easy to feel defeated, becoming one with the couch. Through the first weeks of my relationship with Covid, I experienced all stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).
After the news of having to file for unemployment and reaching my breaking point, I recognized there were two routes I can take with my situation. I can continue down a dark path of lounging around, eating and feeling sorry for myself. This experiment only continued to feed my negativity and anger at the situation. It wasn’t productive and only made the situation worse. So, I opted to try the other route... I chose to accept the situation and focus on what I can control… I can accept when Rona visited, respect her for hanging on and allow my body to fight her by resting. When Covid and Rona were away, I focused on little items that I have been wanting to get done around the house that I otherwise wouldn’t have had time to do.
Changing perspective is not easy, especially at a time like this. Initially, it was a daily task. “Sunshine and rainbows”. Accepting how today is going to be and focusing on one positive step at a time … You guys! I have not had to wake up to an alarm in a month, how great is that?! No other time in my life will I have this opportunity. I have all the time in the world to work on projects, read a book (or three), not feel rushed while shaving my legs and enjoy making delicious healthy meals. I am forever grateful that we have the technology we do. Having the ability to “hang out” with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while has provided more healing and courage then they are probably aware of. Selfishly, what has helped me through this the most is the fact that we are all in this together. At least in my little bubble of sunshine and rainbows, we are...
If you are finding yourself struggling mentally, I highly encourage reaching out to someone about it. A close or even distant friend, a relative, or even someone you have never met before. Finding someone you can confide in is truly healing.
Here are a few ideas that have helped me through the past month:
Turn off the noise: I learned quickly that social media and the news only made me feel worse about the situation
Develop a routine: mine is a nice breakfast, a positive podcast or book, workout (as tolerated), house cleaning project, etc.
Long walks: can someone please explain to my dog why we avoid the other humans (I tried translating with barking at him but he just looked at me like I was crazy :-)
Say yes to hanging out virtually: my friends/family brought the humor when I needed it most (Yes, that is Russia from my backyard…)
Learn to accept kind gestures: I am usually self-sufficient so initially it was hard to accept kindness without being able to immediately reciprocate in some way
Setting small checklist goals: finish a project, read a book leisurely, start a blog, attempt to learn accounting, call someone every day
Do something I have been wanting to do: I organized my desktop and am working on a photo book I’ve been saying I wanted to do for the last few years.
Make little “rules” for myself: only watching two show episodes a day and not going two days in a row without doing something active (even if the activity is having a Macklemore dance-off with myself)
If you have a few tips of your own, please please share them.
At this point, you may know of others who are “isolated”. Reach out to them even if only to say hi and maybe tell them a cheesy joke. What you may think to be a simple gesture can really light up their whole day. I am eternally grateful for the random acts of kindness family and friends have shared with me… You guys really stepped up when a girl could use it most. Thank you! You pulled me through and really became a guiding light. Plus, those meals and cookies left me full for days :-)
Before I wrap up on my Covid story …
The most devastating part is hearing about how other humans are acting toward each other. Acting out in anger and focused on placing blame. People turning against each other in accusations and acts of racism. People who have ignored the “hunker down” orders by continuing to invade others’ space. This kind of behavior only makes the reality we are living worse. Hearing about this negligent, arrogant behavior makes me want to puke. Regardless of your political backgrounds, where you think this virus came from, or that you think it is not real and that it is some sort of political hoax, that is fine. You can think what you want. But please, please act in a manner that will save a life. Follow the precautions, “hunker down”, stay out of other’s space. The reality of our situation is …. There is a virus. It is here. It is real. It is killing our loved ones. It spreads like wildfire. We are all living this reality. We ALL need to do our part to try to minimize the spread, regardless of what our personal beliefs are.
Let’s all work to be a part of the solution and not contribute to the problem.
Thank you, thank you to the healthcare workers who have been thrust into the middle of a World crisis; who have improvised with their PPEs and continue to work their butts off. You are absolutely the superheroes. Stay strong and healthy. We still need you. Personally, I want to thank Nurse Michael who checks in every day and attempts to answer questions there are not yet answers to….(hopefully the “music video” and the terrible Covid humor brought some sort of respite to your day Nurse Michael… even if it only warrants an eye roll. :-)
Sending everyone virtual giant bear hugs. We can make it through this storm. xoxo
Jessica Schultz is a 2x Olympian, has over ten years experience as an orthopedic Physical Therapist Assistant and personal Trainer, and is the Executive Director for curlAK.