I Am Living My Worst Fear: Health Anxiety During A Pandemic

Mar 27, 2020

I was barely in high school when I saw the trailer for Contagion. My family and I were at the Starlight Drive-In watching a movie I wish I can remember. The only thing I can recall from that night was Gwenyth Paltrow convulsing on the floor and the quick reveal of several people who fell sick from a deadly pathogen. 

I’ll never forget the panic attack that followed. With a wet face and snotty nose, my breath hitched as I tried to explain to my parents how afraid I felt. I don’t want to get sick and die. I don’t want you to get sick and die. I don’t want to see anyone get sick and die.

It was the year of 2011 that I started to suffer from health anxiety. I turned the common cold into cancer. I was scared of catching HIV from touching people’s trash when I worked at a movie theater. It took me months to pay off a $2,500 doctor’s bill from a panicked decision to get tested for STIs and other diseases. I even told my friends and family that I would rather die than live through a deadly viral pandemic.

Then, coronavirus happened. 

At first, the virus was in China. Then, before the first quarter of 2020, it managed to sweep through almost every continent. People are burning up with fevers. People are wheezing when trying to breathe. People are dying.

Isn’t this the moment I choose to die?

“Update: it’s at 10,000+ across the country [and] 4,000+ just alone in New York and almost 300 cases here," my friend texted me on March 19. "This stay in the house thing is going to last for a big minute.”  

Fan-freaking-tastic, I thought. I can't live through this.

Even though I work in news and I’m surrounded by facts about coronavirus, I am paralyzed with fear. I hold back tears whenever my fiancé goes to work because he'll be exposed to the virus. I have nightmares that my mother will call me and tell me my father is dead.

 

I have no choice but to see this pandemic through to the end.

I've been listening to Hovvdy's "Cranberry" album more often.
Credit Jade Abdul-Malik / GPB News

At this point in my life, I have an apartment, a job that I love, endearing relationships and I even bought a ticket to see my favorite band for the fourth time in June. I can’t kill myself now.

More than 20,000 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 and dozens of them lived in Georgia.

 

However, thousands have recovered from the virus. They stopped coughing and wheezing and can take in a full breath of air. There is hope.

Health anxiety is a common experience shared among at least 5% of the population and working in the media has put the coronavirus pandemic in every corner of my life. The intense coverage can be hard to escape, but I have found refuge. I cook more often, listen to my favorite tunes on my record player and cozy up on my daybed with a book.

I made chicken noodle soup for my fiancé.
Credit Jade Abdul-Malik / GPB News

I also remind myself that, as long as we all do our part by staying at home, this will be over soon enough. I’ll hug my father again without worrying if I am silently giving him the virus. I’ll go on a picnic with my friends and pick up where we left off weeks ago. I’ll be able to celebrate my fifth anniversary with the man I love.

Soon enough, life will be as it should.