On March 23, nearly two weeks ago, I tested positive for Covid-19. My symptoms are random and sporadic: dry coughs, intense fever, headaches, and a loss of appetite. It's surreal—not to be sick, but to be a certain kind of sick that the entire world is talking about. I have the very disease that's causing global lockdowns, tripling hand sanitiser sales, and shutting down schools. I caught the big bad virus.
The disease is real, the symptoms are real, but here's something they don't tell you—it's devastating for your emotional and mental health.
When I received the text message from Labaid stating that my Covid-19 result is positive, I was, well, overwhelmed. The realisation hit me that I would have to isolate myself for a very long time. Weeks, perhaps months. My small room in a Banani apartment would be my entire life—and the tiny adjacent balcony would be my great outdoors.
Yet this was hardly the most overwhelming part. It was the overflow of information. In the middle of a global pandemic, everyone is an expert. My family, relatives in Texas, best friend's cousin—everyone knows exactly what to do when you have Covid. They're not just sure, they're positive.
I was suddenly bombarded with lists of medicine, home remedies, and Covid-home-exercise plans. My inbox is littered with condolences as if I had already died as well as huge lists of vitamins to take. Some of the lists overlap, others are wildly contradictory. One list mentions a glass of milk every day, another says avoid milk all together since Covid patients are lactose intolerant. Going on the Internet was worse: do I believe the CDC website which says I should self-isolate for a month, or the MIT one which says if I don't have symptoms for 24 hours, I should get re-tested? There was an age where medical information was hard to come by. Doctors were the only ones who really knew anything, and they'd consult heavy books before prescribing things. Before that were darker times when no one truly knew what to do when one was sick, suggesting ailments like cocaine or chopping people's limbs off for minor illnesses. I wondered if the current age of excessive information was truly any different from the age of no information at all.
As your friends and co-workers find out you "have it", their reaction is sympathetic, but you can tell there is another thought looming. They are ruminating and calculating the last time they saw you. They are wondering how many feet away from you they were. They are telling their other friends who were there too. There are WhatsApp groups and Messenger threads where you are already being talked about, parallel to them typing, "aww feel better" to you. You know this because within two minutes of you texting a co-worker, your entire office texts you asking how you are doing. Within one minute of texting a loved one, her roommate's friend is "randomly" checking up on you. Of course, this is rational and necessary, to retrace your steps and take safety measures. No one is against you, they are just for themselves. They just want to feel safe, this isn't personal, right? Yet, why does it feel so personal? You feel like you let the world down. You weren't safe, you took the mask off at the restaurant and you didn't wash your hands for 20 seconds. Your family might be infected by you, your household help might get the virus. You feel like you're filthy, and anyone who is in touch with you is now scared of you. How do you know someone didn't contract the disease from you and die? Shame on you.
Then there's the isolation. You think you're used to the lockdown, but the entire perspective changes when you become the Covid patient. Suddenly, you're not staying home to protect yourself. You're locked up in your bedroom to protect the world—from you. The isolation eats at you slowly, invading your thoughts. At first, you think you have all the free time in the world. You'll get some much-needed rest, get a little bit of work done every day—micro productivity. But being stuck in one room for over a week kills your perception of night and day, work and leisure. There is no work-life separation, there are no boundaries, not to mention your symptoms keep coming and going, leading you to wonder if the entire result was a false positive.
I wish there was a conclusive way to tie up all these thoughts and emotions, but there isn't one. I wish I could write, I can't wait to recover and test negative again, but it's not that simple.
See, while the isolation is killing me, its coldness also feels warmly familiar. I am almost nostalgic of March 2020, when the first lockdown started. The most terrifying realisation from my isolation was the emotional toll that my "normal" life had on me. As a filmmaker, a communications consultant, and a writer, my "normal" was a relentless hustle. I had no time to breathe, yet all the time to prove myself to a world where the only way to establish one's worth is to be constantly productive.
Yet, I am too tired, too isolated to have an epiphany about my lifestyle. All I know is, while my physical symptoms will hopefully soon wear down, the emotional burden of this experience will continue to be an invisible weight that I must keep lifting. And just like the physical symptoms, it makes it harder to breathe.
Nuhash Humayun is a filmmaker, writer and communications consultant.