Viral Anxiety

Anxiety is a funny thing. I know how it can look and how it can can feel. I have tasted it in a few varieties, from the panic attacks that require Ativan and work-at-home days, to a racing heart, to mild reflux. Somehow I am never prepared for the kind that sneaks up, though: anxiety over something I did not know was worrying me.

As I talk with different people about Covid-19, including my own high school students, I realize that the emotional response to a pandemic seems as diverse as the physical response to infection. Some folks are completely freaked out and have become increasingly agoraphobic and paralyzed by mysophobia, so much so that they are likely to need treatment for that when we are at last “freed.” Others, whose lives remain miraculously untouched by the virus, don’t feel frightened, feel like everything will be okay.

Most of us fall somewhere in between.

Most of us, I think, fall somewhere in between, exercising caution in ways we considerable reasonable. Making human mistakes. Hoping for the best. Washing our hands, wearing masks.

So when my husband told me he’d been sleeping all day, when he wasn’t in the bathroom or nursing his headache, my reaction took me by surprise.

I was so angry!

I couldn’t decide where to send my rage first–at the fact that I would now have to deal with everything in our household on my own (you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is A LOT), at the fact that he didn’t refuse to teach his college courses in person, at everything that has ever been difficult in our marriage, or swirling around our weekend plans (now up in the air) to join the extended family for our annual trip to the mountains.

When one day became two and three, I insisted he get tested. He had one test at a drug store at the end of day two, and on day four of his illness, no results in yet, I suggested he might want to go to a doctor to find out what he did have, even if it wasn’t Covid. He had a rapid test in a doctor’s office, and it came back negative. Then the drug store test came back negative, too.

He had a bug.

I would love to celebrate that (I do, I really do!), but all I can think about is how I could not calm down because he was disabled and I was not able to handle that. He slept and slept, and everything that was wrong in my world was exploding, imploding, breaking down. I was breaking down.

I have never been good about illness in the people I love. When my kids are sick, it makes me anxious. I am much better now than when they were little. When my elder child was wee and caught a stomach bug, it took everything I had not to run away from the house. I am not exaggerating. The first time that ever happened, my good friend Estee was there with her daughter Eva for our kids’ first play date, and she helped me through it. A time of firsts. Neither of us has ever forgotten. Nor have I ever stopped being grateful.

Even now, when the kids are 18 and 15, if they get a fever, I worry a bit more than I should. If my husband gets sick and is anything less than stoic, I now know, I am a mess.

My hair is falling out by the fistful. Despite a low-fat, low-calorie, healthy diet of whole foods and regular exercise, my body holds onto weight like it really doesn’t know when it might need this tire around my middle. I take my meds; I meditate. I make things. I go for walks. I color in my coloring books. I even take naps here and there.

Anxiety has hold of me like an invasive plant, tendrils of a root system winding their way through every system in my body.

Like the virus, it attacks, sometimes without warning.

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