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The Coronavirus Anxiety You're Feeling Right Now Is How I Feel All the Time With Chronic Illness

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a new viral strain in the coronavirus family, was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COVID-19 (like fever, cough or shortness of breath) can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to appear.

Many states and counties are limiting gatherings of large groups of people. Our local university has moved all classes for the rest of the semester online and many employers, especially in large companies, are asking employees to work remotely.

It feels like a lot of people are panicking right now about the implications of this illness. Healthy people are worried about their families getting sick but they are also worried about the isolation required to stop the virus from spreading.

What people don’t realize is this increased level of everyday anxiety is how chronically ill people feel all the time.

Of course I think we should be worried about COVID-19. But I also think we should be worried about all of the other viruses and flus circulating and claiming lives. A friend of mine recently pointed out that the truly alarming thing to her is how many people were apparently not washing their hands and using good hygiene before this. That comment really hit home for me. My husband (bless his heart) seemed surprised at how often and for how long he should be washing their hands. Not touching his face is a huge inconvenience. But all these things are good and important for stopping the spread of disease all the time, in every year.

I’ve heard a number of people saying how “stir crazy” they will become if they have to work from home for more than a couple days. In my experience, self-isolating is just a normal part of the winter months (and sometimes the warm months as well). I am grateful that most of my friends will tell me when they are sick so I can avoid being around them, but it seems like until now, most of them didn’t think about the effects isolation had on me. I too become restless when I have to stay home for days on end. I also need social interaction to be a healthy human being. It’s hard to make those decisions. For me, isolation leads to depression pretty quickly and depression can be a hard hole to get out of.

As a member of a vulnerable population, it’s hard to see the healthy people around me so out of touch with the reality I live with every day. I can’t possibly know what it would be like to become sick with COVID-19, so I won’t pretend to know anything about that. Instead let’s briefly talk about how I would experience the flu.

As vulnerable populations go, I’m a fairly mild case. I have mild asthma and several other chronic conditions that would impact this only tangentially. If I got the flu, I would probably not die. There’s a higher chance I would be hospitalized than a healthy person, but even that I could probably avoid through the use of inhalers and other medications. The main difference for me would be recovery time.

The average person recovers from the flu in one to two weeks. I would not. I typically have active symptoms for about twice as long as a healthy person and then the fatigue just continues on after that. I would be unable to do normal daily activities for probably about a month and then I would need to work my way back to normal activity levels slowly. By slowly, I mean that it could easily take another month or more before I am back to doing even basic things like dishes and cooking dinner without becoming exhausted.

This is my reality all the time.

This is what I face every single winter.

If you want a reason to get your flu shot, get it for people like me. Get it for the people who are much worse off than me. When the WHO or someone else develops a vaccine for COVID-19, get that too. Wash your hands and please, please, please stay home if you are sick.

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GettyImages photo via bunditinay