I became infected with Covid-19 in the middle of March 2020. I don’t know where--I had been to traveling, and work both at a church and senior care facility. This happened before there were any public health alerts or protection practices became widespread.
My symptoms lasted for weeks, and they lingered for even longer after the initial intensity of those weeks. I could not be hospitalized because of local restrictions, and tests were not yet available. Now, three full months since I began showing symptoms, I am still not back to 100%. I wrote a blog post, that chronicled the day-to-day symptoms and some of the feelings associated with my illness. While I had some horrible physical symptoms, one of the hardest things to deal with was how alienating this illness is.
When I was at my sickest, I felt completely alone. I was home, but my husband couldn’t stay in the same room as me. He would bring me food and leave. For his own safety, he needed to keep his distance. This virus is that bad. My mother had the virus at the same time, and she was similarly alienated in a hospital room. The full coverage of the doctors’ and nurses’ PPE further contributed to her otherness in the room.
In other times of illness, I’ve relied on the comfort of visiting family or friends and their gifts of time, conversation, and sometimes food. Yet this was different. I had family members who would regularly check in and a few friends here and there, but the majority of my community was afraid of me. The people where I work were most concerned with when I would be able to return. Colleagues only asked of my health when they were discussing work. They exchanged pleasantries as you would with a stranger. I learned that many people were not truly interested in me and my health. Rather, they saw me being sick as something that made their lives harder. They recognized that we’re all interconnected but not in a loving way. They had more work since I could not be at work. My wellbeing didn’t matter as much as my being in their way.
I have lived with severe depression and anxiety since childhood, and I know the alienating power that mental illness can have on me. I know when I am manipulating reality and making myself dwell in unhealthy thoughts or environments, but this was not that. I was pushed into a place of loneliness by my colleagues and folks who, I’m sure, thought they were trying their friendly best.
In a twisted way, my loneliness was something I had in common with millions of people. So many people have been alienated because of their exposure to and experience of COVID-19. It will be full-time work to make sure people who have been alienated are loved and supported. From this moment forward, this work must be understood as part of the Christian response of love to persons suffering in this illness. Loneliness in COVID-19 is different. This is the worst illness I have ever experienced, and the loneliness compounded my thoughts of alienation and death.
Even in my recovery, there are many folks who have continued to ignore me. Pandemic response has been and is a difficult and stressful time for many, but it is especially so for those who are experiencing this virus firsthand. Please, check in on your loved ones. Please, spread love to all you encounter. Please send kind words or food or flowers. Know that you are loved so that you might love, so that you might fill the world in God’s restoring creativity. Live into your relationships with one another and the whole world in God’s love, that no one might be alienated or forgotten.
Corrie Hermans-Webster is a United Methodist pastor in Boston, and is passionate about making the church a more inclusive and accessible place for everyone. She serves as a minister of music and a dementia practitioner.