Fun fact about me: I am a nosophobe. Before you run off to Google and end up down a rabbit hole of searches…nosophobia is a fear of developing a disease or disorder, i.e. a fear of getting sick. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I became afraid of getting sick, but it was sometime in early adulthood. As a child I could have licked a gas station door handle and not give a hoot. As an adult, I literally go out of my way to not touch that same door handle with my hands.
You may be asking yourself why I am going on about my fear of illness…trust me, I have a point. Which is: this current pandemic has more and more folks who are normally not really worried about getting sick, TERRIFIED of it. I want to start a club….Nosophobes of the World Unite or some other catchy name. Maybe we could get jackets? Anyways.
I digress. And we all have varying reasons for being scared. For some it’s the fear of contracting Covid-19 and not knowing how their body will respond to the illness. For others, it’s fear of contracting or being exposed to Covid-19 and having to quarantine for 2 weeks or possibly more- feeling ostracized, potentially losing income, etc. For others, it is fear of getting ANY illness during a pandemic and not knowing or having others question you. Then, of course, you have folks like me, long time nosophobe …sitting here with a bottle of hand sanitizer welcoming the newbies to the group, asking them what they think about the jackets idea, but also keeping my distance from them because you know, I’m terrified of catching whatever they may or may not have. ( I want you all to know, I joke, however I am also serious about this….it’s a real thing and it can be varying levels of debilitating, I only joke to ease the tension).
With so many experiencing this new fear, we have inadvertently created a partner to the fear….shame. Being a therapist, especially being a therapist during a pandemic, I have been hearing the word shame and Covid-19 in the same sentence over and over. People who have contracted it express they feel a deep sense of shame and judgement from others- sometimes in their own head (i.e. “I felt ashamed that I had gotten Covid, I should have…..”), sometimes from their social groups (family members telling the person who contracted Covid “why weren’t you more careful? You should have been more careful.”….even if that person was as careful as they possibly could be), and sometimes the shame is both self-inflicted and inflicted by others. And covid shame, being the villain it can be, also touches those who haven’t gotten covid-19. It’s the shame one feels when their son, off to college in another state, contracts the virus because he connected with friends. The shame one feels when they are asked about a cough or runny nose and they have to answer yes because they always have a cough and runny nose- and then because they’ve answered yes, they are turned away from appointments. And it’s also the shame felt by those same people who have to make a decision to lie and say “no I don’t have a cough or runny nose” and then they doubt themselves later wondering “should I have said yes? What if I am asymptomatic? What if this runny nose isn’t allergies?????”.
My point in all of this is not to say we shouldn’t ask people about their symptoms, or we shouldn’t have stay-at-home orders or other safety measures. We absolutely need to be doing those things. My point is, however, to say: I see your shame, I hear you, I empathize with you. As a therapist, I hear it from folks in all walks of life. As a friend and family member, I hear it from the people I love and respect. As a person myself (usually), I feel it too. Shame has no discrimination.
I see your shame, I hear you, I empathize with you.
The other point is to say, the next time someone tells you they or a loved one contracted Covid-19….before passing a judgement about what they should or shouldn’t have done (and I can tell you I have many MANY people in my life either personally or professionally who have gotten Covid-19 and most of them took every precaution in the book to avoid it), just listen compassionately to their story. Empathize with them. Remind yourself that you too feel shame and fear, we all do. The fear and shame serve no purpose in that moment when they just need you to listen and empathize with them.
If you are feeling fear and shame that you don’t know what to do with, I encourage you to seek therapy (see links below). I encourage you to connect with people in your life who listen empathetically, compassionately, and withholding judgement. And most of all, I encourage you to be kind to yourself.
Until next time,
To find help:
Psychology Today has listings for therapists nationwide and in your area: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
Find Help by Aunt Bertha is a website dedicated to connecting individuals with services for help in their area. This isn’t limited to mental health. They can connect you with financial help, healthcare, daycare, pet care, and just about any other social service you can think of. https://www.findhelp.org/
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (aka NAMI) is also a great resource for finding and getting help if you or a loved one is suffering with a mental illness https://www.nami.org/help
Now Matters Now is a website devoted to connecting those experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts with help and coping strategies that they can use if they are struggling. nowmattersnow.org
Text4help: text the word HELP or NAMI 741-741 if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
National Suicide Hotline: call 1-800-273- TALK (8255)