COVID-19: Use Your Head and Your Heart
As a former ER nurse, I can assure you that I do not have an irrational fear of germs. As a mother I have always avoided over-sanitization because I recognize that exposure to mild pathogens helps the body develop a healthy immune response. (If my children were immunocompromised I would be singing a different tune.) Living under a perfectly-disinfected rock does more harm than good! Generally speaking, I am fairly relaxed about bacteria and viruses and their transmission.
I am also a mental health warrior; I have battled Anxiety & PTSD for most of my life. I am incredibly high-functioning, at least on the surface, so most people – aside from my family and close friends – are completely blind to my struggles. Does that mean my problems aren’t real? Absolutely not! It simply demonstrates that outward appearances are a poor method for evaluating the experiences of others.
COVID-19: Those at Low-Risk
As far as I am aware, my immune system is functioning adequately. If I were to contract
COVID-19 I would likely recover without facing severe complications or hospitalization. I am 31 years old, I do not have high blood pressure, diabetesor a clotting disorder. I am not receiving any kind of immunosuppression therapy. I also live in Ohio – the state that has effectively set the standard for all efforts to flatten the curve. For these things I am grateful!
Children also demonstrate remarkable resilience in the face of the COVID-19. Yes, kids have died from it, but some degree of mortality is to be expected with any virus that reaches this degree of prevalence. As a parent who has lived through a nail-biting PICU stay when our newborn twins contracted RSV, however, I can tell you that my Anxiety about COVID-19 does not primarily revolve around concerns for my immediate family.
COVID-19: The Vulnerable
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2020) those with preexisting medical conditions such as lung disease, diabetes & heart disease are especially prone to developing severe illness when exposed to COVID-19. Advanced age, and the physiologic and immune changes that accompany it, is a characteristic of a significant percentage of those who lose their lives to this virus.
Immune Systems: Don’t Judge a Book by the Cover
While factors such as age may be visible to the naked eye, the vast majority of conditions that cause impaired immune responses are invisible to the naked eye. Rheumatological conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis may appear “normal” to those who pass them in the street. Their physical presentation does not negate years of steroid usage and other treatments used to suppress inappropriate immune responses.
Asthma and other types of lung disease can also be subtle during when they are under control. Being functional in day-to-day life does not mean that a person’s lungs are equipped to handle the blow of severe respiratory illness! While children may not be at increased risk, those with underlying conditions are still less likely to bounce back from COVID-19.
Organ transplant recipients and those receiving cancer treatment may not appear sickly – but that does not mean they are not at a significant disadvantage during a pandemic. Heart disease, often a silent killer, and diabetes cannot be detected and evaluated with a single glance. You simply do not know what risk factors are causing others to be fearful.
Some of Us are not Ready to Say Goodbye – Again
I am a stillbirth survivor. After losing our son last September I became acutely aware of the brevity and instability of human life. My heart was broken. After months of grieving and soul-searching I gained a deeper appreciation of the time we are given.
Many of the people that I love, whom I feel blessed to still have in my life, fall into these high-risk categories. My mother, who has lupus and other chronic health issues, has been on immunosuppressants for over 30 years. My grandmother, who lives the healthiest lifestyle of anyone I have ever heard of – never touched a cigarette, had a drop of alcohol or even eaten a bite of meat – falls into several of the highest risk categories. She has congestive heart failure, COPD and is chronically anemic, on top of being elderly. My husband’s grandmother, who has diabetes and heart disease, recently started chemotherapy for brain cancer.
I am strong, but I am not ready to attend another funeral for a person that I love – especially if there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure. I know that I am not the only “healthy” person who feels this way.
Use Your Head and Your Heart
Buying into the hysteria won’t make things better, but neither will belittling the concerns of others. Before you judge someone else’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, take a moment to think about all the things you can’t see from their perspective.
Anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health issues can magnify the intensity of a person’s response to this outbreak.
This does not invalidate the way that they feel.
Someone may be worried for the same reasons I am: they care about the lives of others who might not survive.
It is 100% okay to care about other people; in fact, this is a good thing!
They may have a condition, or several, of which you happen to be unaware.
That is not your business – they do not need to justify their concerns.
They may be a healthcare worker who fears that wartime triage protocols could become a reality here.
Be grateful for those who are on the front lines fighting this pandemic.
Whether you are as cool as a cucumber, or on the verge of a mental health crisis, you still have the ability to make a positive impact.
If you feel the need to share information on social media – stick to facts and useful information. Avoid making sweeping, sensational statements that may come across as harsh, condescending or dismissive. Knowledge is power, and you can help empower others by setting a good example.
If you are clearing the shelves of supplies at the store, take the time to make some care packages for those who truly shouldn’t be leaving the house. Use your stockpile to put together toilet paper, hand sanitizer & basic groceries – then leave them on the doorstep for elderly and disabled members of your community. (But please, don’t ring the doorbell and expose them to any germs you might have!)
If you have baby wipes, diapers, formula or other supplies that your child no longer uses: pack them up and send them to a family who has an infant dealing with chronic health issues, or give them to your neighbor who has a newborn and is afraid to risk the crowds.
If you are going stir crazy and home with your kids – take a moment to be grateful. Appreciate the roof over your head, the time you are spending with your family and be thankful that you are all in good enough health to be there. Yes, there will be chaos (and shouting and tears) but realize that you are protecting the most vulnerable lives by practicing social distancing.
Everything is overwhelming right now. New information is flooding in on a daily basis. Recommendations and advice will change. Watching the news may be frightening. No matter what your emotional response is right now – you can still be a good person.