That’s right, I am infected. So many thoughts and feelings have circulated through my head over the last few weeks as I processed this. As a therapist, I thought I was well prepared to handle the emotional side of this diagnosis, and as a young, healthy and strong individual, I thought I would be well equipped physically. However, it has been so much harder than I anticipated. Due to this, I wanted to share my experience and some of the key things I have learned in this process that may help you or help you support others in my situation.
The listed symptoms for Covid-19 are very vague and incomplete. Each person has an individual experience, but my experience was pretty severe. My symptoms looked like allergies at first. I was sneezing and had some congestion, but this is pretty normal for me. I began coughing on the second day and by the 3rd day, I was nauseous, exhausted and had a headache. The headache was extreme. It felt like my nerves were exposed in my sinuses. Every breath through my nose felt raw, and every breath through my mouth made me cough. My entire face was so tender, it often hurt my jaw to chew, and sound and light hurt my face. It felt like my brain was trying to come out of my temples, and I know how strange that sounds. I was exhausted and my chest was tight. I had a low-grade fever, was not hungry and I had diarrhea. These symptoms came in waves, so typically in the mornings I felt like I was recovering and by the afternoon I was curled in a ball. I was diagnosed with viral pneumonia on day 12 after realizing I could hear popping and crackling in my own breathing when exhaling. I am on day 14 of showing symptoms and have not fully recovered, but am hopeful that I am on the path to recovery.
Side Note: Wearing a mask can make you feel light-headed when already sick, do it anyways.
I couldn’t find a thermometer for the first week of my symptoms, everywhere was sold out, but I was certain I had Covid-19 and self-quarantined anyway. I notified those people I had come in contact with, but I could not find any testing. Community tests were reserved for those older than 65, at high risk or in an essential job role. After more than a week of being sick, the headache was the worst symptom and I called an urgent care. They told me to fill out their online screener or meet with someone online to screen me. The screener told me to go to the ER or call 911 immediately. My significant other drove me to the ER where I was screened for the flu and Covid-19. The test is horrible, they have to stick something way back into your nose and for someone like myself with severely congested sinuses with severe sinus pain, this was horribly painful. They told me the results from the Covid-19 test would take 2-5 days and to continue to self-quarantine in the meantime.
There is no treatment. The doctors at the hospital gave me an IV, and a few medications to relieve some of the symptoms which have not been that useful. They took chest X-rays and blood tests to determine if I would need to go on a ventilator, but otherwise could do nothing for me and sent me home. After my first hospital visit, the CDC had sent out recommendations to not use certain pain relievers to reduce the fever, but have changed their guidance on this. The hospital gave me guidance to quarantine until I had 2 additional tests for Covid-19 that showed negatives, but the Washington Health Department told me to continue to monitor my fevers, and I could go out again 72 hours after my fevers broke. No one has addressed how I will get these tests, where or who will pay for them. So needless to say the guidance has been confusing. Further, the media has talked about possibly being immune once you have had it, but there is no research to support this yet.
My interactions with others as I have struggled through this sickness have been either incredibly amazing or downright terrible. As a mental health provider, I know people are scared and anxious, so I have limited who I have notified about my illness and even then often downplayed how I was feeling in an attempt to protect others. Many have offered to send or bring me groceries or supplies, dropped off cookies, sent words of affirmation or simply checked in on my wellbeing. I am incredibly grateful for these responses. For the interactions that have not been positive, they have centered around shame. One of the doctors who treated me at the hospital asked me “Would you have come back to the hospital if you hadn’t gotten a positive test result?” before even giving me an exam. He went on to tell me how he would have kept his wife at home for observation and that even though he didn’t have experience with this, that the research showed only 1% were dying, and he didn’t think I was the 1% and that I should be getting better by day 12 so I shouldn’t have come in. He later told me I had developed viral pneumonia and that I had done the right thing by coming back in.
Even as I write, I am inflamed by that doctor’s response. He did not know that I was scared, and had not wanted to come back to the hospital knowing there was very little they could do to help me. He did not know that I had cried all the way to the hospital and that I understood he was afraid of me and afraid that they would run out of supplies and not be able to help the critical patients. He did not know that I understood the pain he would feel when patients were dying and he couldn’t help them, that I could empathize through my own work. Those who shamed me for potentially exposing others did not know the internal conflict I felt; that I could potentially be the cause of someone’s death, even if it were only hypothetical. And if they had died, no one would have known if I had given it to them or if the cause was elsewhere, but was I to carry that blame? Further, it is hard not to feel like a leper when literally no one wants to come near you. The doctors and nurses are taking all the precautions they can, so it definitely felt like I was in some sort of movie with the protective gear they dressed in. I mean I get it, but ouch.
On top of these external sources of grief, I grappled with my own mortality. With every news article posted about another young, healthy, individual dying-I thought, "would I be next"? One night the headache was so intense, I began giving my significant other my medical history, telling him I loved him and considering if I needed to get up from bed and update my will. I told him I really hoped this was not the end of our love story, that would be such a waste. I considered if I should say my goodbyes, tell my loved ones how much they meant to me or would that mean I was giving up? I felt helpless and scared and had no way to know what symptoms were tipping people over the edge. All this, and I haven’t even addressed the financial fears of not knowing what to expect and if I’ll be able to continue paying my bills.
I have really had to work hard to practice self-care and cope appropriately these last weeks. I have leaned hard on my support systems, done extra reading, watched TV, turned off the news, cleaned and organized and even took up a few new hobbies. I gave myself permission to curl in a ball and do nothing when I felt I needed it, slept extra and stepped outside when I felt up to it. I took time off from work to focus on recovering and only saw a couple clients. I even started to look for a new therapist as I recently moved to a new state (that’s right, even therapists need therapists too)!
I tell you these things to prepare you as I wish I had been prepared. Covid-19 is a physical health pandemic, but it has and will have a huge effect on the mental health of this nation. We will experience grief, shame, loneliness, fear, anger, anxiety and more. In spite of all this, I have seen many fellow counselors and empaths picking up the torch to support others and I send all my gratitude and positive vibes your way. My situation continues to develop, but I know I would not have made it this far without my amazing support system. I hope you take away from this article that it is ok to lean on your support system, be kind to yourself and if you need extra support, reach out to a counselor. Further, the situation is far from over, so be kind and considerate to those around you, you may never know the struggles they are fighting. Stay Safe!
Update 31 March 2020: Due to an overwhelming response to this article, I have begun recording video updates on my journey. To see these updates, follow the link or find me on YouTube at Stefanie Corbett, LPC, NCC: https://youtu.be/yvhkFq9bMJs