Editor’s note: This is part 3 of 3 in the series by Katie Donnelly about her experience with COVID-19.
Read the second installment here: http://www.esubulletin.com/opinion/column-my-covid-epiphany/article_60a8049c-dda0-11ea-87fc-433b7f17c2d9.html
Over the next six days, I wasn’t lonely. I was much better off than I had expected.
On the first day, a woman across the hall knocked on my door and offered me two bags full of groceries. She was obviously generous but she seemed flustered. Dark under eye circles bled through the olive skin and became more apparent as she smiled through her obvious fatigue. I tried to make conversation with her but she seemed too unsettled. I couldn’t begin to guess why but I figured I could safely assume whatever it was started with the fact she tested positive for COVID and had to stay here. The Walmart bags were filled with jello, raspberries, peaches, apples and Gatorade.
I made as good of friends with the sweet woman as I possibly could. The only time we were able to socialize was when the fire alarms went off and everyone had to evacuate, which was twice during my six night stay. To my surprise, there were never any more than four people staying at the hotel at once, including myself, and they were all women, excluding the baby boy who stayed with the woman across the hall from me.
There were two fire alarms, one at 2 am and one at 9 am, both within four days of each other. The alarms were set off due to something wrong with the system. I learned a lot about the women during our brief interactions.
Both of the women I became close with struggle with anxiety. It was interesting being able to bond with people I had only met twice, each time they were eager to share their personal struggles with mental health and what was holding them back from either beginning or finishing school. They had panic attacks most nights during their stay which were made worse by the fire alarms. They woke up alone and in the dark, wondering where they were.
The startling alarms were almost a blessing—they were so happy to have human connection and conversation. It became obvious within minutes they were craving someone to respond to their questions and answers rather than a television talking back at them.
I kept myself busy. My boyfriend had been exposed to me, so he also had to distance himself from his family and friends. So, I was hardly ever alone, which kept me sane. I felt guilty about him having to social distance and miss so much work but even more guilty about how much I benefited from it. I spent every day at the lake, attempting to perfect my fishing cast. I caught a lot of rocks and moss.
My struggle is always the same when I’m sick, and COVID-19 was no different. I don’t like sitting still. I hate not seeing my friends. My body and brain get so conflicted. I want to be up and running around, but I’m too weak. I’m nauseous and hot. My shoulders feel sore and my head hurts. I hate myself for feeling lazy, especially when there’s beautiful weather I could be enjoying.
The most difficult part was constantly eating unhealthy food and not having the energy to work any of it off. I stayed typically happy and had good company but change is difficult, especially when it’s not a change you benefit from. In the journal I kept, I wrote on July 19:
“It was about 10:30 pm the third night at the hotel that it hit me—a self loathing I hadn’t felt toward myself or my body in a very long time. I have done nothing but the bare minimum of physical activity and ate an excessive amount of I-HOP. I tried working out yesterday but not only was there no room in my little hotel room, I still have a virus keeping me from feeling like myself.
All these thoughts and feelings adding to the reality of my shorts fitting smaller than they had last week I hardly feel like I have a purpose. No work to get up for has me sleeping until 1pm, no reason to get up has me staying up until 2 am both combine with the helpless feeling of not being able to do anything for anyone. The consistent offers to bring food by are sweet but I know they’re out of pity. I want someone to need me, not the other way around.
The feeling of not even wanting to look at myself in the mirror for fear of noticeable weight gain in the face is almost worse than the feeling of having to stay in to do school work on a sunny day. My too small shorts are the shorts I wear because my shorts from last year are too small. I think back to the years and years of eating disorders beginning in grade school, lasting through high school that ended my sophomore year of college. Every time I think back I remember how big I thought I was when in reality I was too small.
When I look back I wish I would have appreciated how I was. I know someday I’ll look back to today and wish I was this size again. I don’t even want to try to run. I know my shorts will get stuck in my thighs and I don’t want anyone to see.
I’m tearing up and telling myself, ‘Maybe it’s just nearing that time of the month.’ I want to punch myself for invalidating my own emotions just like so many misogynists have done in the past, mocking the strong and valid emotions of women, blaming it on their period—a word that still causes discomfort to some but shouldn’t. But I do hope the anger, the crying, and the bloating are all just from that—a period.
I wish I was zapped every time I think I’ll do something tomorrow instead of today. It’s near the end of the night so I hope tomorrow I really do run.”
I didn’t run but I did wake up content. I did learn a lot during my time in quarantine-- I have to stop saying “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I am loved, and I am beyond blessed. Most importantly, if we as a community and as a country don’t start acknowledging the seriousness of coronavirus, and more importantly the impact each of our choices have on each other, more than the 175,000 plus of the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in the US who have already passed will be in vain and the coronavirus will never leave us.