Why I Am Begging You To Stay Home

Well. The last time I posted here, I wrote about deleting some news and social media apps from my phone in order to get more writing done… in my local coffee shop. There was no mention of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 or sheltering in place. I was acknowledging an ever-present anxiety, but maybe I just wasn’t ready to pin it on the then-occasional headspace I was beginning to devote to the pandemic in China, which was starting to escalate in Iran and Italy.

And here we are.

Within the next week, I stopped going to the coffee shop and significantly cut down on interactions outside my home. I did the first of two major grocery shopping trips. (No, I am not hoarding toilet paper; I got what I thought would last a month, and it’s a good thing I did because it all disappeared from the shelves two weeks later.)

As an adult, I have been something of a germophobe. Not enough to completely stop me in my tracks in the course of daily life, but enough to spike anxiety & spread it to anyone who has ever lived with me. My home is mostly tidy, but not necessarily clean-clean at any point. I have no fear of the outdoors and mucking around in dirt in my gardens. But public restrooms & public spaces in general? I’m usually scanning the situation and following some routines to ensure minimal contact with surfaces that I imagine are harboring all kinds of microscopic bugs.

I attribute at least some of this fear-mindset to struggling with diagnosed recurrences of the Epstein-Barre virus several times during adulthood, which start with flu-like symptoms, an overwhelming fatigue, and discernible depression. Sometimes I get weird, rare symptoms that I won’t go into here, but it’s clear my immune system is turning against me. When I was first diagnosed, in my late 20s as the mother of a 6-month-old, struggling to get up from the floor after playtime, it took months to recover. During the handful of bouts I’ve had since then, I recover over a period of weeks, rather than months, thank goodness. I abstain from coffee and alcohol during this time, drink a lot of water, try to sleep whenever I can, and up my intake of various vitamins.

I’ve been known to get sick, when no one else around me is getting sick. In the summer of 2018, after being at a conference in Atlanta and being on a few airplanes, I came home with a fever and pneumonia. No one else around me got sick. That wiped me out for the entire month of August. I worry that my lungs will be more susceptible to this coronavirus.

It is this medical history that had me scaling back my activities a month ago, and essentially sheltering-in-place two weeks ago. I’ve been out a couple times for groceries and a medical appointment, and I will probably have to go to the pharmacy this week for a refill. I have taken greater precautions as this pandemic spreads. You can bet I will be using the drive-thru, wearing gloves and a mask, and using cash — keep the change!

I feel like I’m just being reasonable. I am trying not to let “what if” thinking overwhelm me. But I — and many others like me — need everyone to pitch in by staying home except for essential trips out for food or medicine. There are many more vulnerable people than I among us. Let’s be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers for as long as it takes.