RA and the Shame of COVID
Last updated: May 2023
Well, it finally happened. Despite all precautions taken and warnings observed, I am now unclean! That's right, just shy of 4 years, I have now officially joined the ranks of those who have contracted COVID. It's a weird feeling - mentally, I mean, not physically, which of course stinks, but I didn't expect to feel so many feelings about it.
Testing positive after 4 years
Honestly, there's only one thing that keeps playing in my mind now that I have tested positive. Anyone who watched Game of Thrones knows what I'm talking about already - it's the scene where Cersei is made to walk naked through the town while a priestess strolls behind her, ringing a bell and yelling "SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!" Yeah, that scene.
It's ridiculous, right? Why should I feel shame for getting an illness that something like 70-80% of the population has already gotten?
Shame, fear, and anxiety
Now, I'm sure anyone reading this knows that when it comes to comorbidities, anyone with RA and chronic illness pretty much hits the jackpot in that regard. After decades of rheumatoid arthritis, my catalog of side effects and secondary conditions is longer than the list of features on a Ron Popeil late-night infomercial slicer, dicer, and air fryer. It also makes julienne fries!!
Basically, if there is a comorbidity that COVID gets supercharged by, I probably have it times 2. So yes, fear and anxiety seem like a no-brainer when it comes to the feelings that should be bubbling up in my head. I mean, let's be honest - I am not exactly in the lowest risk category, so there is a more than zero possibility that I could end up in the hospital. It is nerve-wracking, to say the least, and every twinge of chest pain or crackly cough makes me go, "Is this serious?" Fine, I get that... but shame?
I'm "not good at being sick"
Why the heck do I feel shame at getting this now-common illness? I did everything I could have done, and took all the precautions. Heck, I still wear my mask at the grocery store when 3 out of 4 other shoppers have long since forgone their own. It has definitely earned me more than a few eyebrow-raised looks and sidelong glances.
The way I see it, though, is that even if my PPE wasn't preventing COVID, it was preventing other illnesses like flu or RSV or even the common cold. Just generally a good idea overall for immunocompromised people, I'd say.
Not to mention I hate getting sick, and I am literally the worst sick person in the world. I know it's bizarre that a chronically ill person is not good at being sick, but it's true - you do not want to be around me when I am not feeling well due to a cold and/or a virus. It's not... let's say... pleasant, but that doesn't explain the shame.
My irrational COVID humiliation
As of now, the only reason I can come up with as to why I feel shame for getting COVID is that it somehow insinuates that I didn't take enough precautions and didn't clamp down on my PPE 100% like I should have. It means I did something wrong that made for a potentially very costly error. I didn't do what I was supposed to, and now I'm paying the price, and that's pretty much exactly how you'd describe the potential reason for feeling ashamed.
So here I sit, experiencing shame, Shame, SHAME, trying to get through the physical symptoms of the coronavirus while the humiliation covers me like a blanket.
I know it's absurd, you don't have to tell me
I can hear you shouting it at your screen, and I agree - it is absurd. I took all the precautions humanly possible in the scenario in which I currently live. Other than wearing one of those "boy-in-a-bubble" type plastic, human-sized hamster ball outfits, there wasn't much more I could do to prevent infection.
But as many of you know, the mind isn't always rational. Sure, your right brain may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your left brain is being ridiculous, but that doesn't stop your left brain from making you feel anxiety, fear, or, in this case... shame. After all, I am only human.
So there you have it - after nearly 4 years, I finally joined the ranks of the infected. Ohhhh, it sounds like I'm going to turn into a zombie when I say it like that. Ha ha, but in some regards, that's what it's like - the shame in my head comes back from the dead no matter how many times I "kill it" and bury it 6 feet under. Metaphorically, of course. Still, though, it's absurd, and it's still there, resurrecting itself.
Talk to you soon, hopefully when I feel better and less ashamed!
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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