Have empathy for those still afraid of COVID
Updated: Jun 16
Now that the people in my life are getting vaccinated and the weather is warming up, I’ve been going to gatherings again! They have left me with conflicting feelings, and the all-too-familiar sense of being left behind. Feelings that the recent CDC about-face on mask wearing has only exacerbated.
In some ways, these celebrations feel amazing. Outside, safely distanced, able to take off masks and connect with others, share tasty food, and just relax together! I hear them say “wow, this feels almost like there’s no COVID!” and at first I think yes, it does, in a wonderful way. But then, as people move indoors, unmasked, undistanced, with vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike, I panic. I want to scream BUT THERE IS STILL COVID!!
I have no judgement for your ability to return to life -- I’m thrilled to see friends and family with pep and laughter returning to their eyes. I am so glad to hear people back at jobs that gave them meaning, taking that trip they’d had to forgo, and hugging their grandparents again. If you are vaccinated and relatively healthy, I think it is wonderful for you to jump in and indulge to make up for a year in hiding.
But please don’t judge me for not being ready to take off my mask or hang out indoors.
I can feel peoples’ stares, hear the confusion in their voices: When I’m the only one in a mask. When I back up a few feet because someone who no longer worries about distancing has come to chat. When I don't go indoors with the rest of the party. When I take the time to ask questions before a meet up to make sure I will feel safe once I get there. It’s exhausting. And, frankly, it’s triggering. I have spent a lifetime of being judged for the actions I have to take and decisions I’ve had to make regarding my health and safety. Those cuts don’t feel great when they reopen.
I’ve had to have the conversations over and over this year, every time I interact with someone new who isn’t acquainted with my COVID boundaries, and every time those boundaries shift due to new research or CDC guidelines. It’s exhausting to the point that I’d honestly rather stay isolated in my three rooms by myself than have to go out and explain it all again. But the world doesn’t revolve around me, and some relationships are important enough to put in the work.
I always leave these conversations -- with healthy, abled friends or family -- feeling “crazy.” I hate using that word, but it is the one my brain chooses to repeat in those moments. In those moments it means irrational, over-the-top, overly anxious and emotional, paranoid, burdensome… all of the words that I’ve internalized from gaslighting and sexism and ableism.
But then I talk to my sick friends and they IMMEDIATELY get it. They are 100% on board with my boundaries. They understand the emotional labor that comes from those conversations. They are just as triggered by it all as me. I leave these conversations feeling sane, justified, grounded.
And every time, I hear from these friends how much they dread having the conversation again.
So, here I am, turning yet again to writing. If you are someone who’s abled, healthy, ready to move on, and not quite understanding the people in your life who seem paranoid, great! I 100% get where you’re at and don’t blame you for it. But it would help us out to have more people get what it’s like to be disabled and sick during this pandemic. Please read this guide to gain some empathy and understanding. If you are sick like me, (hey! How you doin’?) I’m hoping you can use the guide as a way to skip those awful conversations. Just send it along to do the talking for you. Once your abled pals have a baseline understanding, you can jump to the “here’s how I’d like this to play out” part.
Oh, and here’s a request that when we go “back to normal” we not go back to excluding disabled people.