In 2009, I got swine flu. I had just returned to college from summer break, and either brought it with me or I got it from my roommate, who got it almost as soon as we returned to school. I got it a few days later.
I had barely heard of it at that point. Online research says that in mid-September when I got it, it had already been around since April. However, no one was all that worried or panicked about it. There was no shutdown.
When my roommate and I contacted health services, they told us to stay in our rooms for two weeks and wear a mask when we interacted with others (and with our third roommate, who somehow avoided getting it despite sharing a two-room dorm room with us).
We were quarantined but felt too sick to leave anyway. I remember being exceptionally exhausted and sleeping for twenty-plus hours a day. I had to ask a friend to email my professors and parents to let them know what was going on.
I’m not going to downplay how awful getting sick actually was—it was probably the worst flu experience I had ever had and with my back, the body aches were beyond awful. But no one was all that worried. It sucked and then, at some point, we got better and it was over. Most of our friends didn’t get sick and the school didn’t change anything. The dorms were open, classes happened, and life went on.
I don’t remember hearing much about it beyond the usual coverage of the annual flu season—like CVS telling us that flu is widespread in our area and to stock up on cold and flu meds.
So the past few weeks I have been trying to understand why this pandemic is so different. As far as I can tell, the mortality rate is similar (sadly, I remember that someone at my college who as immunocompromised did die after contracting it) and it also spread through all states eventually. It was an official pandemic (not the first of my lifetime either).
But there was no widespread response—definitely nothing like the shutdowns we’re currently experiencing—and I am confused by it. I don’t know if this is better—on the one hand, if we can prevent many people from getting sick and dying, that’s amazing!
On the other hand, the panic and stress from the constant 24/7 media reports seem like the opposite of a healthy response. I keep trying to stay away and then isolation makes me wonder what’s going on in the rest of the world (or even my town) and I got back down the rabbit hole.
I wish we could proactively and compassionately respond to a pandemic in a timely manner without resorting to fear and constant anxiety. I’m not sure what that would look like exactly but a responsible media response has to be part of it. Fear cannot be the best way to convince people to quarantine or practice social distancing. I know that for the many with anxiety and OCD that it just makes everything so much worse. It’s incredibly unkind to everyone who is trying to do their best despite all the uncertainty.
So, like many of us, I’m going to keep trying to update myself mindfully and at strategic times, focusing on a few reliable sources and not click on everything, especially the scary, panic-inducing click bait articles. The keyword is “try.” I will probably fail again and again through this period, but I will try because if I don’t, I won’t be able to keep my anxiety in check and that won’t help anyone, least of all me.