There is a huge amount of information out there on how COVID-19 can affect your physical and mental health, along with many personal accounts of the pain and loss inflicted by the virus in all its variants.
However, I have often wondered how it feels to have COVID-19 - emotionally, that is.
Over the festive season I found out.
To date, these emotions have matched the mildness of my physical symptoms. I had bad aches and was exhausted, but just for a few days. I'm fortunate to be supported by family and friends, and am not worried about losing work or money.
Nevertheless, I have had some panicky moments. And no matter how much I tell myself that quarantine is an opportunity for rest and quietude, it is no holiday.
Here, then, is a blow-by-blow account of what it's like to have the virus. Others will feel otherwise, as the spectrum of COVID-19-related emotions is surely broader and more varied than its effects. But by sharing our emotions, faults, and struggles, we are better placed to help ourselves and others.
My first emotion upon receiving the ACT Health message "You have tested positive for COVID-19" was fear. Less for myself and more for my close contacts: my family. I was frightened for my parents, who I live with, and particularly for my father, who recently survived a stroke. The fact that my son won't be fully vaccinated for some time also raised frightening questions: How should I protect and look after him? How should I inform him that I have "you know what"? Should I reassure him that I'll be fine, and that we'll be fine, when I'm not so sure myself?
Fortunately, help was at hand. Indeed, the first sentence in the ACT Health notification after "You have tested positive for COVID-19" was "We're here to support you." I called the ACT COVID Care@Home Program, and someone calmly advised me on how best to carry out the tricky tasks of getting everyone PCR tested without spreading the disease and then segregating our household. Then came the fear and apprehension of awaiting results.
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The second emotion that I felt was regret. I fretted over how I had caught it, and stewed over myriad "what ifs" and "if onlys". What if I had not gone to the pub for that beer? If only I had bought my groceries online or got home delivery. What if we had said "no" to that festive interstate visitor? And if only we could figure out time travel, I could go back and insist on having a barbecue outside for Christmas lunch, and perhaps even ask folks to wear face masks along with those Christmas cracker crowns. I have my suspicions, but I'll probably never know how I got the virus and from whom. And while it may be natural to rue over "what if", it is far more productive to accept what is.
Registering and informing my casual and potential contacts evoked a third emotion: shame. Viruses and plagues, I worried, connote filth and fault. I have never apologised so much to so many people. I said "sorry" for putting them and their loved ones at risk, for transmitting my fear and regret, and - when PCR testing was required - for putting them out of action for days if not longer. Fortunately my friends and associates were generous and understanding, at least outwardly, and for now.
Fourthly, I felt confused and frustrated by all the shifting rules and regulations. Without laying blame on anyone or anything other than the pandemic, I have found it difficult to determine what to do, for how long, and for whom. And because conditions are rapidly changing, I wonder whether minimal quarantine compliance is enough, or whether I should ask more of myself and my contacts.
This is where prudence and the popular mantra of "personal responsibility" come into play. However, having and managing COVID-19 has convinced me there should be a new emotion that combines "confusion" and "frustration". The only issue is whether it should be named "confrustration" or "frustrafusion".
Finally, when this is over, I hope I'll feel relieved. I'd like to say that I came to grips with my emotions, asked for help when I needed it, and did my best to protect others. I will still feel uncertain over all the unknown unknowns. But for me and for now - notwithstanding all the fear, regret, shame, confusion and frustration - I can't think of a better place or time to get COVID-19.
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