Haunted by the virus

An exclusive article relaying personal accounts of CSUMB students who experienced mental hardships when testing  positive for COVID-19. 

Despite my best efforts at following the CDC Guidelines of keeping myself safe, on Christmas Day, 2020, I got the call that I tested positive for COVID-19. 

I submitted my last final on Dec. 15. Two days later, what started out as heartburn and difficulty breathing turned into the swelling of my throat so tight, it felt like a permanent asthma attack. I was out of breath from simply talking. The walk from my bedroom to the living room felt like a marathon. 

I spent most of the following days in bed. The symptoms were worse at night, likely because I pushed myself during the days I was feeling better. I kept going through the symptoms list, unsure if I was feeling phantom pains and anxiety-induced headaches. I checked off most of the symptoms, which included a fever reaching 101.4 degrees fahrenheit at its highest. 

My mother didn’t think I was sick with COVID. At one point I went to her crying because I couldn’t breathe, and she hugged me. Always a stubborn one, she believed she could take away my pain. I believe that a part of it was that she wanted me to feel the comfort of her arms, and she was willing to risk her life to make me feel at ease. 

As I began experiencing more symptoms, the panic set in, because I realized that I’d never felt these symptoms with any other illness or infection, including bronchitis. I felt my mom’s hug like a ghost on my skin, terrified that if I gave her the sickness, it would be the last hug. 

My mother has respiratory illnesses and other medical comorbidities that make her particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms. My father is also a high-risk individual. We had a health scare with him in January of 2019, and when that happened, I knew that I never wanted to experience that again. 

While I was sick, I laid awake at night, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning. Some of it was surely the COVID related insomnia, but a lot of it was guilt and anxiety. I was wrecked with the terror that I may have brought home an illness which as of Feb. 5 surpassed a death toll of 450,000 people in the United States. I lost three people in my family to COVID-19. I was terrified that I may be the cause of two more. 

The psychological effects of contracting COVID-19 cannot be understated. This pandemic has had a negative effect for everyone, whether from job loss, food and housing insecurity, lack of access to adequate education and the immeasurable grief of losing people to COVID-19 and not even being able to gather to mourn the loss. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, “the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing.” 

Emergency and catastrophic events cause stress and anxiety for a lot of people, and exacerbate existing mental health conditions. I myself have bipolar disorder and often struggle with cycling intrusive thoughts. Knowing that I had COVID-19, the cycling increased, but now included the worry and concern that I would spread COVID-19 to my family. 

Other folks at California State University have experienced battling COVID-19 as well. Elizabeth Wiles, a CSUMB senior and humanities and communications major, tested positive for COVID-19 in early November. She learned pretty quickly that she had been exposed and made an appointment to get tested, but by the date of her appointment arrived her symptoms had worsened. 

She had severe headaches and said her migraines were so horrible she “couldn’t even look at a screen.” This made attending classes and completing assignments almost impossible. 

It was challenging to contract COVID-19 in the middle of the semester, as finals were approaching. Fortunately, Wiles felt attending an institution where professors are supportive and have their students’ best interest in mind helped alleviate that struggle. 

“My professors were very understanding,” said Wiles. “I kept in contact with them and was able to catch up on work before the end of the semester.” 

Having received positive test results, she made the decision to refrain from seeing her family. Unfortunately, her grandfather passed away in January of this year due to conditions unrelated to COVID-19. 

“The most challenging aspect of having COVID-19 was not being able to see my grandparents…it breaks my heart to know that I will never get that time back with him,” Wiles said. “However, I do not regret isolating myself to protect my loved ones.” 

In terms of the psychological effects of COVID-19, Wiles also said “the time I lost with my grandfather affects me the most.” 

Nayeli Sandoval Gallo, a junior and liberal studies major, recently tested positive for the illness. Luckily, she did not have severe symptoms. Upon learning of her diagnosis, she swiftly isolated herself from her family and quarantined in her room. 

For Sandoval Gallo, the most challenging issue she faced was worrying about her loved ones, especially her parents. Her grandpa also recently passed away due to COVID.

Sandoval Gallo also experienced intrusive thoughts when battling COVID. While she was in isolation she “would overthink a lot of stuff that made me sad and having COVID-19 made me view life a little bit differently,” she said.

However, the time to herself also gave her some clarity and allowed her to rest and refrain from worrying about outside problems. She was able to focus on her recovery. 

“Overall COVID-19 has affected many people’s daily lives,”Sandoval Gallo said.

Everyone who comes into contact with COVID-19 has a different experience, and Wiles eloquently explained this after having a close up experience with the virus. 

“There is no set guidebook given after you test positive for COVID-19,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have a support system, but some people are not.” 

She recommended that people “seek what help you are able to” and reiterated that those battling COVID-19 are not weak. “You are not exaggerating. You are not a bother. No matter what age you are, COVID-19 is serious.”  

This global pandemic has rendered many people defenseless and unable to cope with the taxing realities we are facing. The CSUMB Personal Growth & Counseling Center offers resources for students to help navigate these troubling times. They host Conversation Couch events that can be beneficial to students looking for an outlet. They also offer 24/7 crisis support. Students experiencing difficulties can reach out to PGCC at 831-582-3969 to receive immediate support outside of business hours. 

Though constantly distancing can be difficult, we must remember to continue following CDC guidelines for preventative measures, including wearing a mask – it is now recommended to wear two masks and a filter – washing hands, social distancing, and continuing to make the best decisions possible for the health and safety of our loved ones and our community. Implementing community care efforts will go far to support each other and help draw this pandemic to a close.

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