Finding Certainty

I should have learned by now not to jinx things. That if I talked about how smoothly ECT was going some force somewhere would laugh in my face for acting so certain, so confident, that things were working out.

Because the very next night after my first treatment I started to feel feverish, with chills and a slightly elevated temperature.

I frantically googled and found obscure articles that I didn’t read carefully about fever being a side effect of both ECT and general anesthesia. So I told myself it was normal and decided to follow the fasting/medication procedures required to attend my next (Wednesday) session. This meant no water after midnight and none of the medication I normally took to help me sleep. I wasn’t sure what the rules were about Tylenol so I abstained. It was a long, painful night, but I still hoped for the best. Instead, I woke up feeling completely devoid of energy with a temperature of 100.2 and an increasingly hoarse voice.

I called and they said that I wasn’t allowed to come in with any temperature over 100, even with two days of negative rapid tests, but I could try for Friday.

I moved my mandatory PCR test to Thursday to give myself one more day to be confident one way or the other. Meanwhile my health continued to decline, and by the time my results came through I had just enough energy to pick up my phone, look at them, and groan as the realization hit me.

After years of taking dozens of these tests and seeing “Undetected” pop up across the screen, a little yellow highlight had finally popped up to tell me I had COVID.

At this point this is no longer an interesting or novel experience to report on, as nearly 60% of Americans have faced the same fate (not to mention that those numbers are from April; they have clearly climbed since then). But as someone who spent most of the pandemic being unusually cautious about COVID, this felt monumental.

If you’d told me in the spring of 2020 that I was going to get COVID, I would have spiraled into an absolute panic.

Unless, of course, you’d told me in the middle of April 2020, specifically, at which point I’d have flat out refused to believe you. At that time, I thought I was immune to it. One of my delusions during my psychosis was that I’d seen into the future and knew that Matt and Bailey and I would never get COVID. This was one of many ways in which I thought I was invincible: a common symptom of mania.

We only took one adventure out of the house in the two weeks of my psychosis: a trip to get my bloodwork done. My family was wracked with anxiety about whether I would continue to wear my mask, given my belief that COVID was not a legitimate concern. I did manage to keep my mask on, but only because I thought I was playing a game. I believed that this, like so many things, was an elaborate prank. People from my past were planted throughout the building hiding behind their masks to stay disguised. I spent all my time there guessing who each person really was and looking forward to the big reveal.

My inflated sense of security, without the watchful eye of my family, made it even more difficult to get me to wear my mask in the ward. We’d all been COVID tested before our arrival, so I was certain that masks were an unnecessary formality. But Stephanie-in-her-right-mind would have had a heart attack at the thought of spending that many days with complete strangers virtually unmasked. (I also remember refusing to follow their “clean phone, dirty phone” policy, insisting that it made no sense, because clean phones inevitably became dirty phones. Somewhat comically, I could not wrap my mind around the crucial step where they cleaned the dirty phone).

As my mind healed from the psychosis, my anxiety reclaimed its old familiar place in my brain and, as if to make up for lost time, made me beyond panicky about everything COVID-related. That whole first summer, I refused to go anywhere inside. Even outside, I only went if I was masked and could socially distance: no outdoor dining, no crowded beaches, no festivals. I went on masked walks with a mom friend and engaged in a limited number of outdoor-only family visits, where I insisted that we individually portion the food, stay six feet apart, and obsessively use hand sanitizer.

We have the most apocalyptic photo of my grandmother with her three new great granddaughters, where we are all masked and standing six feet apart.

As Bailey started daycare, I realized I was going to have to take on a certain level of risk. I had to cut my brain off from the constant calculus it had been doing about the chances of getting COVID from a cough, a surface, or only washing my hands for 17 seconds instead of 20.

With this newfound mentality Matt and I started venturing out into the world, dipping our toes back into the water of society. When my mother-in-law came to visit in the fall, we went outdoor dining: our first date night since having Bailey. We started carting Bailey along to outdoor events at breweries: even playing trivia and accepting that I couldn’t be sure who had touched the pen before me. Things were brighter for a little while.

And then the holiday surge hit. In November we got a message notifying us that someone in Bailey’s small, six-child class had been infected with COVID. I remember dropping to the ground on the stairs in hysterics as I called my mother, truly fearing that this would be the end of our entire family. Though Bailey (fortunately) never got it, we considered that our sign to pull her out of daycare all together. We kept her home with both of us working full time from November-March. I must have blacked out during that time period because I have no recollection of how we managed to do that.

There were many other peaks and valleys of my COVID anxiety, some more logical than others. But I can say that I feel a bit proud of myself that, by the time I caught it, the main feelings I experienced were not panic or fear, but frustration with the logistical effects this would have on me. The pandemic has evolved, and I’ve grown a lot.

Still, I thought through the journey that my specific virus must have taken. Which variant did I have? How many times had it mutated? Whose lungs had it traveled through? Whose death had it caused?

The pandemic, of course, has presented us with nothing but questions, most of which we will never know the answer to. It is this uncertainty that has been so difficult to live with for the past two and a half years. So I have to say that there was some relief in the certainty of the yellow highlight, the angry red line, telling me yes- for sure- I had it.