The Long, Dark COVID Of The Soul

I had COVID earlier this month. Finally, the axe I’ve been dreading since March 2020, fell. It was the second chop, the first being my parents catching it earlier this year. I am grateful that these have been mild variants & we didn’t suffer like a lot of other people did. It yet has been a softening experience.

I started with a raging fever and that brings on strange delirium and waking nightmares for me. Old traumas, regurgitated heartaches tend to act up. Living through these while in quarantine was hell. I really felt like I had worked my way through the dregs of existence, down to solitary torture & confinement. I thought I was going to die there. In the pain, I felt relationships and identity qualifiers I’ve clung to, fall away. Done being grateful for someone who was nice to me once after years of enduring abuse. Done being overly obsequious to those who behave badly as a norm, hoping their venom wouldn’t land on me. Over. It all went down the same drain as my health.

I resurfaced, from practical need, as I have done my entire life. A family member tested positive on my seventh day. There is a hard-headed efficiency machine in me that cranks out a robotic message, “Enough lazing. Get up and get to work. You don’t have the luxury of being sick or sad.” It’s well-known to me and carried me through the abusers with their mental illness justifications, the bullies with their lashing out, the vile destructive pieces of humanity that I’ve navigated before getting to here. I learnt to optimise this machine through my early adulthood and it gave me the kind of career that glorifies these as ‘strong work ethic’. I used to schedule falling sick for weekends & holidays because I just didn’t give myself the luxury of being less than.

I don’t like being sick. I say that because I find myself in a world that seems to enjoy being sick, traumatised and using these as badges of honour, identity cards to play oppression olympics. No, I don’t like feeling weaker. I don’t like the gleeful over solicituousness it brings out in people. I don’t like the gaslighting indifference it brings out in others who say “It’s not that big a deal; everyone gets COVID sometime.” I don’t like the world when I’m sick. I still have to go through poor health some of the time, as natural course.

I’ve tested negative for COVID since then. I’ve been given a clear pass by a doctor. And I’m continuing to take precautions as before, masking in public, frequently washing or sanitising my hands and staying low contact. The weeks since have been humbling. As a lifelong sufferer of respiratory issues, this has been a milestone. The lockdowns created healthier diets, more breathing exercises as matter of survival. And these were parallelled in my emotional settling, learning patience, healing old wounds, learning to stand up straighter, walk lighter, breathe deeper, think calmer. Post COVID, I feel like I’ve slid back several steps. But this time I know the way forward, having traversed it shakily and alone for nearly 30 months. I am learning patience. I’m learning slowing down. I’m learning gentleness.

And people are being kind. A friend yesterday told me that conversations with me bring her peace, they feel like meditations. I never thought of myself as being a space of peace but here I am. Another friend read deep into my single text of apprehension and send me a long, reassuring voice note that really boosted my flagging confidence. Others have given me hours of their day, just for long conversations about nothing in particular. This is such treasure in a time-starved city like Bombay. I sense a tiredness in the city, a weary laying down of the ammunition of hustle culture & big glam. The pandemic has been a humbling experience for us all, even the ones who survived & live to tell the tale.

I still wake up sad and in dread every morning. I still have trouble falling asleep. I am still in heartbreak about the numerous betrayals. But through these days when I’m foggy-headed stumbling through recovery, I’m realising I’m being helped along by gentle hands and kind words. I’m being given the space to be soft. And for that I’m grateful.

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