By Meera Raman
After completing over a year at Zoom University at McGill, bent over with only a blue light filling my face as I completed my undergraduate degree, heading back to a campus to begin my graduate degree at the Boston University was meant to be a celebration; a return to normal and connection. I looked forward to interacting with my Boston University peers with no lag between us.
Yet at first the news about the Delta variant of COVID-19 made me hesitate to go completely “back to normal.” But with the BU student vaccination mandate, the city’s policies and mandate, and two shots of Pfizer running through my veins, I had a sense of security for myself. It was about time I felt like a normal 20 year old again.
Then came fatigue.
Two weeks after starting classes and in-person events, I started to feel tired. I thought to myself, “I was working too hard” or “I was going out too much.” After all, college was stressful for everyone, wasn’t it?
But it wasn’t just graduate student fatigue. It was “I’ll pass out right away” tired.
Then came a stuffy nose.
And, finally, this dreaded text.
“Hey, I just wanted to let you know I tested positive for Covid”
My heart instantly fell out of my chest and fell to the floor.
As a result of this text from a classmate, two COVID tests and an inability to smell my own obnoxious cucumber scent deodorant; I found out that I had somehow contracted a groundbreaking case of COVID-19.
The start of the semester had brought me so much joy. For a brief moment, as I was drinking with classmates and heading to a friend’s house to watch “Bachelor in Paradise,” the world I was immersed in felt like a post-COVID utopia.
Utopia being the key word.
The news put me in a state of shock. I clutched at straws, trying to understand my emotions. Mix that up with a burning headache and the intense fatigue I was feeling, let’s just say it was not funny.
Frustration and worry competed in my head. I was scared of who I might have infected and was bitter to know that despite the things I had been told to be okay, I had managed to catch the virus that I had avoided in stronger from the pandemic.
Not my classmates, not my roommates, only me.
No one prepared me for the emotional toll of having COVID. It is as if the world moves on without you as you suffer in isolation. The CDC will not warn of these emotional symptoms as fiercely as those that are physical.
My first major emotional symptom of catching the virus was embarrassing.
There’s a lot of stigma – and it’s exacerbated by the fact that it’s more evident when you’re sick when everyone’s back in person.
During the first three days after receiving my positive result, I felt overwhelming shame. I quickly jumped from conclusion to conclusion on what people thought of me and my respect for my face mask.
Then came the second symptom – FOMO: the fear of missing out.
Now that the country is (almost) back to normal operation, plans are still being drawn up. When you get sick with a cold, you’re out of plans for up to five days. COVID isolates you for 10 days, and doesn’t allow you to lean on anyone.
I was constantly thinking about how the friendships I had just started to develop would develop without me; looking at what looked like behind a window, seeing plans in progress, got me derailed.
Then the third symptom appeared: anger.
Why me? Selfishly, I was upset that I was one of two people in my cohort who tested positive. I kept asking – why me? The only answers I can think of is that I must have done someone wrong enough in my past life or that it is karma to never tip enough.
I started to resent those around me.
I felt that the people who had been exposed by my side only cared about their own diagnosis of COVID. And once they realized they were negative, they openly celebrated and seemingly forgot that I was in that exact position.
Not only did I feel a lack of empathy from others, but my academic institution failed to accommodate me.
Of my five classes, only one of my teachers provided me with accommodation, kindly offering to make a one-on-one call to review the lesson I missed in class.
I felt like I was left on my own with the other four, trying to make up for work.
You would think that thousands and thousands of dollars per semester would get me an email response – but maybe I’m asking for too much.
Then the next symptom hit a boiling point – sadness.
I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did.
I kept trying to remind myself that in the long run it’s only 10 days of my life, and I should be thankful for being fine. Sometimes that assurance just didn’t help. Sometimes it felt good to feel irrational.
The emotional toll of a COVID-19 diagnosis is real and it hits you hard. When you are in the midst of your isolation, 10 short days seem like an eternity.
The little things helped. A text from someone checking in, getting movie recommendations, and finally drinking enough seltzer water to create a 15-can pyramid.
Other students on campus will also have to deal with this in case other cases arise. And they’re not prepared not only for the lack of accommodation some teachers have, but also for the emotional toll that 10 days of isolation can take on you.
My diagnosis, along with the thousands of others in America, may be a sign that there is no return to “normal” yet, that there will not be “all clear” anytime soon. . While vaccines will help significantly curb the spread and more serious effects of COVID, the way forward is unclear – and we need to be prepared for things to get better and worse at the same time.
Meera Raman is a graduate student majoring in journalism at Boston University. Originally from Toronto, Canada, you can follow his work on his twitter, @meeraramann