Is it medical trauma-induced anxiety or rational concern?

Heads up: I’ll be talking about my Covid-related anxieties. If this is going to make you anxious, you may want to proceed with caution or skip over this post.

I’m stuck. I’ve been stuck for a long time, but now, suddenly, I’m running out of time to become unstuck. There’s a big event in just over a week and I’m supposed to be there. It was supposed to be last year around this time, but as the pandemic got worse, they decided to move things back by one year. I wondered at the time if one year would be long enough. I’m still wondering.

These folks are so close to me. They’re like family. In some ways, we’re closer than family. Last week she told me that if I come, she’ll pick up food for me the day before when she’s in town to do other last-minute prep, and she told me to double-check the restaurant that she thinks will be safe for me, but that of course I can choose any restaurant in town that I want (it’s a small town, so not a big deal logistically.) How sweet and thoughtful is that? She’s preparing this enormous party (think like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or quinceañera), planning every detail, including hiring caterers, and she thought about my food needs! I told her that I planned to bring my own food and she said that she knew I’d be bringing a lot of food for the trip (I’ll be staying in a hotel overnight if I go) and that she didn’t want me to have to worry about bringing Tupperware to the party. I’m telling you this to illustrate how sweet and thoughtful my friend is. Wait, did I say that already? Well, it should be said again, because she is!

We’re close, and we would do anything for each other. But now “anything” is being put to the test. The party will be all outdoors. There will be a formal part, with 150 people sitting in chairs for 2 hours, everyone wearing masks. I will try not to melt in the August heat. Then there will be talking and food. Then back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours. That night there’s a party with 100 people. Almost no one will be wearing masks at the party. Many of the adults will be vaccinated, but there’s no way to know if they all will be. I don’t know if the teenagers will be. Of course, the kids under 12 (there won’t be many, but at least a half dozen) won’t be vaccinated. People will be eating, talking, and dancing.

I can try to sit at the edge for that first part. Drag a chair away from the crowd and wear an N95. I can stay away from the people talking and eating in the afternoon, and eat my lunch in the car or back at the hotel, if I’m willing to wait that long. At night, I can try to keep my distance as much as possible, again wearing an N95 (can I wear the same one again or do I need a new one?) I’ll need to avoid getting close to people I would typically be hugging. I wouldn’t dance, even during the culturally traditional dances during which I may no longer back to dance fully, but I would typically at least stand at the edge and clap and wiggle a bit. Instead, if I go, I’ll be pretty far from the action. I can keep my mask on when others eat, and eat my own food afterwards. It’s all doable. But I’m anxious about it.

(Side note: I know that this entire event would take a huge toll on me. I would need time to recover for all of my usual health reasons. No part of this would be easy, even if Covid weren’t a consideration. It’s just that those other parts wouldn’t stop me. I already decided that it’s worth feeling bad for a few days or more in order to be there. It’s Covid that’s the issue now.)

The problem is, I can argue both sides of this really well. I know that the odds of me getting Covid are really really small. My state (where the party will be) has one of highest vaccination rates in the country. Everything will be outdoors. I will take every precaution. I’ll wear N95 masks. I will socialize only with 2 friends, both of whom are as careful as I am (and who, as of today, are still planning to attend.) We will eat together, away from the others. At the hotel, we will check in and go straight to our room, and stay there until it’s time to head out to the afternoon party. In the morning, we will head home. It will be good for me to get out of town. It will be good for me to be around people I love. I want to support my friend and her entire family.

Now for the flip side. The Delta variant is pervasive. Yes, we have a high vaccination rate, but it’s still too low for herd immunity. Vaccinated people can transmit the virus. I have plenty of reasons to think that if I get Covid, I’m at risk for a more severe case. I got the vaccine, but I have reason to believe it could be less effective for me than for others. People will be talking and dancing, which will expel more air. There will be few masks. There’s a tent, so even though it’s outside, air can’t travel up. During the first part, we’ll be spending 2 hours sitting in chairs. I’ll try to be on the edge of everyone, but I’ll probably still be near others. We’ll be outside, but still, the proximity will bother me.

I could go on and on. And I have. Several months ago I didn’t think I’d go, but I was hoping that might change. Last month I was pretty sure I’d go, and I felt good about that decision. That’s when my friend and I booked a hotel room. We were ready! Then Delta surged and case counts skyrocketed. And now I’m in hell. My therapist this morning actually said that (well, she called it “purgatory”.) She feels that if I don’t go to this party, it will be due to anxiety, not legitimate Covid concerns. Her reason: I’m so careful because of my anxiety that that itself means I’m incredibly unlikely to get Covid. She’s probably right.

But still, I’m anxious. I keep thinking about all of the potential ways this could go wrong. Every time I think about missing this event, my heart breaks a little bit. This is a major life milestone for people I love and I want to be there. Our friendship will survive if I don’t go. She knows how much I want to be there and how much I’m trying to make it work out. She knows that if I stay home, it won’t be a decision that I make lightly. But I want to be there. I should be there.

The thing is, after 30 years of health problems, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’d be walking into the lion’s den. I’ve experienced medical trauma after medical trauma after medical trauma during those years. I have been scolded, gaslighted, and maltreated by doctors. I have been sickened, ignored, and abandoned by healthcare systems. I have lost relationships with people close to me. There’s some part of people that thinks, “It will all work itself out just fine.” I don’t believe that. I’m not sure that I ever have.

Maybe a few weeks from now I’ll tell you that I skipped the event and I’m glad I did. Or maybe I’ll be filled with regrets, as we find that no one got sick and I could have safely been there. Or maybe I’ll go and be glad that I did. Or I could go and get sick and regret it, even though I know that last one is incredibly unlikely. But for now, I have a few more days before my self-imposed deadline to decide. I sure wish I knew what I was going to do.

I welcome your input. I feel stuck, and I’d really like to get unstuck. Two days ago I was pretty sure I was going. Yesterday I was pretty sure that I wasn’t. Today I think that I might. Can you offer me anything useful here to help me sort out how much of my concern is reasonable and how much of it is the result of past medical trauma that has no bearing on this decision?

7 Responses to Is it medical trauma-induced anxiety or rational concern?

  1. Wendy says:

    Hi Ms Rants
    Thanks for sharing – everyone in the “chronic illness” community deals with some version of what you’ve described on a regular basis, and it does seem that COVID has somehow landed in a different way than all other risk that we evaluate and do our best to mitigate or avoid in some way… plus all the media frenzy and insanity – it’s hard to cut through everything to figure out the answer to “am I being wise or am I being stupid”? Let me validate your feelings and say you’re entitled to all of them… I think the question you are trying to answer, or maybe categorize is “is this hesitation/fear/anxiety/…. serving me in some way?” or is it not. It’s very likely that often times our sense of caution serves us in a HUGE way – so it’s important not to dismiss it. However, it can also get in the way of living our lives… I’m just going on here restating what you’ve said… let me get to the point and try to be helpful!
    1. based on what you’ve said about the event set up, the relationship/significance of the people, the precautions you are planning to take… and my own situation – I would go.
    2. your friend sounds like she is very willing to go the extra mile to accommodate you, so I think you could likely request some more things to ease your mind – like – a chair that is six feet apart from the other chairs… and whatever else you can think of that would just help to ease your mind. Is there anything else you can think of that could be adjusted to really help you feel more comfortable with this?
    3. could you play it by ear – go out there – rest at the hotel, see how you feel, and decide what portion of the festivities (some or all) you are up to participating in?

    and finally – you’ve experienced a lot, as you listed above – gaslighting, broken relationships, trauma, etc… and those things have shaped you and brought you to where you are today – not by any means a pleasant education, but a HUGE one – and you are not in the same place now as you were when you were experiencing those things. You have a good medical team, you have supportive friends and community, you know better now what your body needs and how to support it to have the best possible day… and what you need to do if you wake up and it’s not a great day. So – I don’t know if that helps or not, but I think you can trust yourself… you are a very careful person and don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk – and I don’t think that attending this event changes that. But above all – trust yourself!

    • chronicrants says:

      Thank you so much for such and amazing, thorough, and understanding response. This really helps a lot, and I will be giving it a lot of thought. I’m emotionally wrung out today, but I’m hoping to look at this again tomorrow in a clearer frame of mind. Thank you – I really, truly appreciate this.

  2. Lorna says:

    Big gentle hugs before I start. Of course we have anxiety it’s seriously scary. I went into a big supermarket six weeks ago for the first time in 16 months the I was shaking inside by the time I got out. I was fine.
    You have looked at everything you have a,b and z. I think I would go. If the evening is too much you always have the option of sitting outside or going back to your hotel room. got
    I decided that there gets to a point where you have to decide if we clinically vulnerable people are going to claim some sort of life with other people back. Certainly on our terms and not feel guilty about being cautious and what others feel.
    I wear my mask all the time and most other people don’t in the UK. I have my stick and others tend to give you a bit more room!
    I hope you have a lovely time. It sounds like you will be looked after.
    Just remembered when I go anywhere like that my Doctor gives me an emergency supply of antibiotics and steroids so if I feel iffy I can take them straight away.
    More hugs from me and kicks and body wiggled from Tu -Lei the dog xx

    • chronicrants says:

      Lorna, thank you so much for your input. I’m glad you were able to manage the grocery store, despite the anxiety. I just went to a grocery store for the first time about 3 months ago, and it was definitely difficult. It’s still not as easy as it used to be, but it’s getting better. Now I go right before closing when there are fewer people and that helps.

      I’m going to really think about what you said. Thank you for your thoughts. And thank you to Tu-Lei also 🙂

  3. chronicrants says:

    Ok, I’ve decided to go! I’m still not feeling comfortable with it, but I’ll go. A lot of people gave me their opinions, but it was actually what you both and my therapist said that convinced me. Thanks for your input!!

  4. Vicki says:

    You could go to the less risky part of the gathering, sit on the edge as you mentioned, and skip the part with possible unvaccinated people. Your concerns are totally valid. If people like us get Long Covid, we could be back at square one after years of working on our health. Ugh. I thought the risk when outside was low and sitting on the edge with a mask might be enough showing up for friends while staying safe.

    • chronicrants says:

      Hi Vicki, thanks so much for your input! I agree, it’s scary to think about going back to square one. I’m really trying to avoid that, but it’s hard to figure out how risky each thing might be. Hopefully this will be ok.

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