Having a chronic illness is hard. But navigating a post-pandemic world with a chronic illness is ten times harder. For people with IBD or IBS, the pandemic was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to be comfortable in our own homes and use our own bathrooms. The shutdown was an excuse for me to treat my body better and be mindful of my stress levels, which has resulted in tremendous improvement in my disease. For some patients though, it wasn’t that simple. Re-entering the world post-pandemic has brought about emotions like fear, anxiety and worry. These emotions combined with the emotions associated with chronic illness can be overwhelming.
Growing up, I have always been a germaphobe. I always carried around hand sanitizer (even before the pandemic!) and was very conscious about being around sick people. Now, I am so happy that everyone finally understood where I was coming from. I have this constant worry of getting sick and I do my best to avoid it, even though I know it cannot be avoided entirely. Truth is, worry doesn’t get you anywhere – it only holds you back from living a full life. As I venture out into the world more often now that I am vaccinated against COVID, I do have peace of mind that I am less likely to get the virus, but I still feel a small sense of fear.
My fear of leaving the house mostly stems from my chronic illness, but is only amplified by the pandemic. What if there are no bathrooms? Will the bathrooms be close by? Will there only be Sani-huts? Will there be unvaccinated people there? These are things I need to know before leaving my house in order for me to feel completely comfortable. Even now that I rarely have any symptoms and can do most activities, I still ask myself these questions. Sometimes I feel stuck in this box defined by chronic illness and I limit the activities that I can do out of fear that I cannot actually do them. In reality, I am perfectly capable!
I still choose to wear my mask in places where I do not yet feel completely comfortable like the grocery store or church. Because I fall in the high-risk category for COVID, I choose to protect myself and others in the best way possible. As restrictions start to ease up and less people wear masks, it can be easy to feel discouraged or unwilling to go out. If you see people still wearing their mask and social distancing, please respect their decision. They probably have somebody in their family who is high-risk or they themselves are high-risk. You never know someone’s situation which is why we need to continue to show respect and compassion toward others as the world slowly opens up.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the impact of COVID-19 and the vaccine on IBD patients. I recently read a story on NPR Health News about organ transplant patients who needed a third dose of the COVID vaccine in order to reach full immunity. Some immunosuppressed patients are not receiving full immunity after only two doses of the vaccine and that is scary. Currently, research is being done on the impact of IBD patients who are taking biologics like myself to see if we are fully protected. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has a great webpage about coronavirus with extensive information on what IBD patients should know. I encourage you to do some research to understand the next steps to take in terms of re-entering society.
The pandemic is far from over and I truly believe that COVID is going to be around for a while. For those of us with IBD, the pandemic has brought about its own challenges and maybe resurfaced traumatic events. For those of you without a chronic illness, I ask that you be patient, respectful and compassionate towards your friends and family that do have chronic illnesses. They are fighting an internal battle each day and all they need right now is your love and support.
What are some things you are struggling with as the world starts to reopen? Share with me in the comments below!