Consider this a sign: Check in with yourself, check in with your friends
I have COVID brain fog, and I’m sharing my experience to give a voice to what I know must be happening all over campus.
I was extremely careful. I was intent on getting out of the pandemic without getting the virus. And then I was close contacted. On day two, I started showing symptoms. I tested positive on day four and spent twelve days in isolation. The real struggle of the whole ordeal was the toll it took on my mental health.
People joked “At least you can get ahead on your work now, haha!” But I couldn’t focus on anything. It was the second week of the semester and I instantly started falling behind. The first assignment I got done was reading an article for my research lab, and I could only get through that because my parents sat on FaceTime with me as I read it aloud to them, asking questions about the material to help me retain the information. I felt like I was in the first grade again.
After isolation, things didn’t get much better. The panic disorder I’ve dealt with since freshman year of high school intensified. My first week out of the Q, I had more panic attacks than I had all of last semester. They lasted longer, became more exhausting. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I dropped a class. I quit caffeine again. Listened to a lot of music. Called home a lot. Exercised. Took walks to the grotto. Made trips to Target with my friends. Ate my favorite foods. Nothing helped. All these weeks later, I still have instances when I need to call my family to sit on the phone with me just so I can get out of bed. I’ve felt such a sudden and intense change in myself. I get quiet and withdrawn. I don’t sleep well. Tasks that used to take 30 minutes now take hours. I get restless sitting through class. I launch into fits of tears and desperation for no reason that can take four or five or six hours to subside and recover from. Often, I just want to give up and go home.
I share all these details not because I think my experience is exceptional. On the contrary, I share this because I know I’m not alone, and my first step toward combating the stigma surrounding mental health is transparency. If any of this sounds like what you’re going through, this is your sign to reach out for help. University resources are far from perfect, but they’re a start. The UCC gave me an excellent psychiatrist. The brain fog obviously doesn’t explain all of my psychological challenges, but it definitely explains why I’ve been too overwhelmed to cope on my own. I’ve started medication. Outside of professional help, I’ve been open about everything with my friends. I’ve set boundaries, let them know when I might need a little more support or more space. I’m not perfect now. I still miss the person I was before all of this. Some nights I feel like I’m getting worse instead of better. But I’m more patient with myself. I know progress doesn’t have to be linear. I may not be excelling, but I’m keeping up. And that’s definitely enough right now.
Please note: Don’t wait for things to get bad to reach out. Your struggle is valid. You don’t have to have lost anyone or have tested positive for COVID-19 for this pandemic to have taken a toll on you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends. Hopefully you’re as lucky as I am; my best friends are the reason I didn’t give up on this semester altogether. If you don’t know how to tell them, send them this. This can be their sign to keep an eye out for you.
So consider this your sign to check in with your friends. The ones you talk to everyday, the ones you only see on the weekends and the ones you haven’t gotten lunch with in a while.
Most importantly, check in with yourself. Quit gaslighting yourself. If you’re struggling, it’s not for no reason. Allow yourself the room to breathe, to recover. The campus-wide vaccinations may be the light at the end of the tunnel, but prepare yourselves. We have a long road of recovery ahead of us, and that’s not a journey any of us should have to make alone.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.