I get sick a lot. Most of the time it is a simple cold. Occasionally, my body turns sniffles or a cough into bronchitis, strep throat, pneumonia, or some weird iteration of the flu. My immune system is compromised for an unknown reason. Like many people with chronic diseases, my body is angry and permanently fighting. Inflammation runs wild, allergy markers live at high levels, and constant new symptoms emerge. I’m at a high-risk for contagious diseases.
Because of this, and my underlying conditions, I have a cautious life. Not by choice, of course, but by necessity. Since fevers pop up often and shortness of breath is a regular occurrence, thin skin is easy to cut and joints are slippy, vomiting and fainting accompany daily dizziness and migraines, rashes rub skin raw and pain permeates each fiber of my being… my life requires careful navigation. This is especially true during flu season or when something new, like the Coronavirus, jumps from locally possible to probable.
The chronically ill are masters at preparation. We have to be. We don’t have the luxury of casual sanitation or haphazard medical supplies. Our pantries are always reasonably stocked with dry goods because we don’t know when we will have the capacity to go grocery shopping. Refilling medications and supplements can’t be last minute ideas. We stash hard to get items that help us feel better and always have a backup plan for getting to our critical appointments. We spend too much time thinking about our supplies, medication refill schedule, and excursions into public spaces. Our purses, vehicles, and bags are loaded with “just in case” pills and “what if I can’t make it home” necessities.
With all that said, I’m a firm believer in avoiding panic. I don’t think it is a productive or useful way of operating in the world. Being prepared is different than living in fear, chaotic hording, or being a prepper. Having an awareness of your surroundings and taking extra steps to avoid aggressive germs is common sense.
Unfortunately, for those of us with invisible illnesses, the stares and comments get bolder during times of global infections or pandemics. We don’t look sick or vulnerable. Many of us are too young to be visually categorized as at risk. Most of us would pass as healthy moving through a crowd. But I see you.
If you wear a mask or gloves, it’s because you need them. It isn’t an overreaction or silly decision. If you’ve taken the steps to get extra medications or stay away from people, that is perfectly fine. You have to do what is right for you and your unique body. It takes a combination of personal autonomy and care for your community to keep everyone as safe as possible. Listen to medical professionals and your own instincts. Wash your hands and cozy up for some self-care. It’s going to be okay.