I'm a disabled and immunocompromised person. The coronavirus pandemic brings out my worst fears.
For many of us, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought out a lot of unwanted firsts: The first time we worked from home for days on end, the first time we practiced social distancing, and the first time we felt truly isolated from the world. Yet while coronavirus-related anxiety and depression are, unfortunately, something many of us are experiencing right now, many disabled, immunocompromised, and/or chronically ill people are also having other mental health concerns brought on by our physical health being in jeopardy.
As a disabled and immunocompromised person with chronic asthma, I’ve gotten a lot of respiratory infections in my life, and I’ve been bedridden twice for pneumonia, so I’m used to having to stay at home. But it isn’t being inside that’s making me more apprehensive than usual. It’s the sickness déjà vu. Like many other immunocompromised individuals, I’m at a greater risk for getting seriously sick or dying from coronavirus because my immune system has a harder time combating infections, and the thought of this makes my already moderate anxiety about getting sick again worse.
And even after two years of being pneumonia-free, I still have a weird complication where, at best, I cough whenever I eat or, at the grossest, I regurgitate. I’m worried that coronavirus could make my cough more severe, possibly leading to breathing issues like I had in the past—and the tickling in my trachea is a constant reminder of how easily I could relive those experiences, just with a new virus.
Even if my lingering cough didn’t exist, though, reading new articles and studies on the pandemic makes my anxiety fester because I don’t want to be bedridden with a new host of complications—or dead. To prevent my mental health from getting any worse, I try to avoid taking in too much news about the virus, but the memory of pneumonia (which has some similar symptoms to coronavirus) keeps driving my fears regardless.
My concern about getting sick again has also worsened my sleep paralysis, which has been a part of my bedtime routine for over a decade; my waking hallucinations, too, have become more vivid and frequent. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I was able to manage my mental health and sleep issues with some grounding exercises and regular therapy, but now, it’s as if the situation has prompted all my most anxious moments to play over and over in my head.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone in this. “Having pre-existing health issues, such as a disability or chronic illness, can mean that the feelings of isolation are already there to some degree, and a pandemic only serves to exacerbate feelings of stress and loneliness,” Adina Mahalli, a mental health consultant at Maple Holistics, tells HelloGiggles.
For disabled people like myself who use mobility devices (I use an ambulatory wheelchair), the pandemic also presents major issues, like how to shop for groceries when you need zero-contract drop-off options. Yet while shopping is a problem, I’m more worried about getting the necessary treatment for my underlying conditions. As Mahalli notes, times like these can be particularly hard for people who, like me, require frequent care. “Those who may need regular doctor or hospital visits may be concerned about getting the treatment they need with hospitals being preoccupied with the pandemic,” she explains.
I’ve been waiting for over three months to get some diagnostic testing done for one of my pre-existing conditions, but my doctors want patients to disclose if they have a cough before coming in—and, as said, I have a chronic asthmatic cough. Although I’ve already warned my diagnostician about this, I’m worried I’ll be barred from my appointment, and the fact that getting the treatment I need is no longer guaranteed just adds to my stress.
Then there’s the problem of other, non-immunocompromised people not taking coronavirus seriously because, for them, catching it might not be a big deal. How I maintain and protect my immune health is something I can control; I know what actions I need to take to prevent getting sick. But other people are unpredictable. And when they go to beaches and bars rather than practicing social distancing, it shows that they’re not considering that getting the virus could mean spreading it to immunocompromised people like me. So even though I’m making my best effort to stay inside and temporarily weaning myself off my immunosuppressant medications (which will help strengthen my immune system to potentially fight coronavirus), it might not be enough. My roommates could still come in contact with someone who refuses to stay home, then get sick, and then pass the virus along to me.
I’m trying to alleviate my anxiety by attending virtual therapy sessions, which helps to a degree. I’m aware that coronavirus is likely a long-term threat, so I’m trying to learn how to adjust to the impact that it’s having on my mental health, just like I’ve already adjusted to being more diligent than usual in sanitizing my inhalers. As the pandemic goes on, maybe I’ll redirect my anxious energy to a new hobby, or think of a goal to accomplish when all of this is finally over. No matter what, I know that I’ll have to continually address my worries and take care of myself until the situation eventually comes to an end.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing worsening mental health symptoms during this time, or thoughts of suicide, you can reach The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line 24/7 by texting HOME to 741741.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, HelloGiggles is committed to providing accurate and helpful coverage to our readers. As such, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage you to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments, and visit our coronavirus hub.