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For Two Years, I Held Myself Back From Living to Avoid Covid, but Then I Finally Got Sick

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

By Emily Sharp

Not to be coy, but I think my Covid story is kind of funny.

For as long as I have lived under the crushing fear of contracting this disease, I have managed to evade it. This hasn’t been an easy feat, mind you: in February 2020, mere weeks after the World Health Organization declared Covid a global public health emergency, I hopped in my friend’s car and drove through the wee hours from Atlanta to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras (aka: the Superspreader Event Formerly Known as Mardi Gras.) Back then, there were no tests to determine if I was sick, or just hungover and burnt out from pulling all-nighters as I tried to finish my senior thesis.

In August 2020, I was my immunocompromised mother’s caretaker after she tested positive and fought through the most bizarre symptoms. While I double-masked as I took her oxygen levels and served her warm broth that she couldn’t taste, I didn’t wear one when we sat a guesstimated six feet apart on the couch and watched all three seasons of GLOW in a single day. Still, I remained Covid-free throughout both weeks of quarantine.

Although the world soon began to reopen, my anxiety often held me back. In April 2021, I had a spectacular burnout along with so many others around the world who had grown exhausted from a year of daily panic. I realized I needed to loosen my white knuckles as I received my vaccine with 66.4% of the country.

And I did, for a time: I slowly moved my outdoor dining reservations indoors, I began going to bars where they checked my Covid Safe App at the door, I even accidentally forgot to put my mask on while riding the subway — although it was just once and I was a little drunk so I can’t exactly say it was progress to celebrate.

But even then, I never caught the bug. Not when I went to the massive Women’s March in October, or when I had an actual exposure in November, and certainly not during December’s Omicron surge when my family pleaded with me to stop testing because I didn’t have it.

Although the world began to reopen, my anxiety often held me back.

I’ve had countless anxious spirals over Covid — convinced that I had it as soon as I did something “unsafe” and further convinced that the illness would be the worst thing I could imagine, despite having no way to prove this and, frankly, an ample amount of conflicting evidence. For two years, I held myself back from fully living, clinging to the conviction that the second I did I would be forsaken by the Big Bad Covid.

Then finally, the tides turned: earlier this month, I had a hardcore, in my face, best-friend-sitting-on-my-couch-for-hours Covid exposure… and I didn’t get sick. Suddenly, I was released from the two-year prison of my own creation. I could live my life, I could face Covid, and I would be okay!

And then two weeks later, I got Covid. See what I mean by funny?

For the first time in years, as soon as I started to feel sick, I convinced myself that it was everything but Covid: allergies, insomnia-related sleep deprivation, a head cold from the mercurial spring weather. But that optimism lasted all of twelve hours before I felt terrible enough to take an antigen test, “just to be safe,” and didn’t even have to wait fifteen minutes before my positive diagnosis started screaming at me.

Now that I’m sitting in isolation, I’m wondering what I was really afraid of all along. Granted, I feel a lot worse than I expected after three rounds of Dolly Parton’s vaccine, though I’m attributing the extra terribleness to the aforementioned allergies, insomnia-related sleep deprivation, and a head cold from the mercurial spring weather. When I put aside feeling like a trash can that has been set on fire, I’m left with the thought that maybe my anxiety over the last two years has had less to do with Covid than what the disease actually represents to me: the unknown.

When I put aside feeling like a trash can that has been set on fire, I’m left with the thought that maybe my anxiety over the last two years has had less to do with Covid than what the disease actually represents to me: the unknown.

Let me pull back the curtain a little: in February 2020, my college graduation was looming and I was petrified of having to think about what my life might look like after sixteen years cocooned in school, moving away from the best friends I ever had, and becoming an adult. In August 2020, I spent ten days worrying if the next would be the one when I had to call an ambulance to take my mom to the hospital where I would lose all control over her care and what might happen to her. In June 2021, I moved to Manhattan and spent months learning how to live alone for the first time in my life.

I didn’t know how the virus would affect me, if I’d be able to get a job, or when I would next get to see my best friend who still lives in Georgia. I didn’t know how bad my symptoms would be, whether or not my parents were going to be okay, or if I would be able to make it on my own.

I didn’t know, but now I do.

I know my bronchitis cough is back, proving the nurse at my college student health center was right when she told me the Freshman Plague never truly goes away. I know I don’t really have an appetite for anything other than soup and period dramas on Hulu. I know I might feel foul right now, but my case is mild compared to so many others whose pre-existing conditions make fighting Covid harder or those who have lost their fight altogether.

I know where I’ll be for the next ten days and not much else after that. But now that I finally had Covid, I feel like I can genuinely stop living in fear of it and all the unknowns it represented to me. Monsters are scary until we face them but when we finally do, they look an awful lot like Colin Firth — only sideways because our nose is super clogged on the right side so we need to lay on our left for a bit.

Emily Sharp is the Associate Editor of Moms Don’t Have Time to Write and the Associate Acquisitions Editor at Zibby Books. She writes and manages a weekly political Substack newsletter called Emily For President but most importantly, she’s trying to be funnier on Twitter.