By Ada Baser.
What does it feel like to be a college student with COVID?
Not good. But that’s the obvious answer.
The feelings come and go in phases. One moment, you’re grateful that it’s you and not your 80-year-old neighbor, which we have no shortage of in Menton. Next, you’re heartbroken because this means you can’t see your family or focus on your exams. Instead, you’re stuck inside, alone.
The loneliness is unsettling. People tell you that they’re there for you online. And they are. There’s nothing more they can do, of course. You would send the same texts and the same voice messages if you were in their place. And you did—when others got sick, you checked in and made sure they were okay.
This situation makes you appreciate the smallest of gestures which have the capacity to completely brighten your day—a friend stopping by on their way to the Nice airport, dropping off chocolate or making a list of movies to watch; someone sending a video of encouragement and reaching out to your friends back home to do the same; a video chat so you don’t have to eat alone.
But life outside your room continues just as it had before. People log off of your Facetime call early to go to class, or maybe they don’t pick up at all because they’re trying to finish a final. That isn’t their fault, but recognizing that just makes you feel even more like a burden, an inconvenience.
Later yet, you’re thinking about the people who you’ve seen and inadvertently exposed to the virus. After all, it’s “not your fault.” Everyone you saw face-to-face made a conscious decision to meet you, knowing the world we are living in. Around one in five people with COVID are asymptomatic, and critical, fatal cases among the younger population is close to 0%, although not non-existent. Or at least that’s what people tell you (and what you frantically searched online because sometimes seeing the statistics helps). How could you have known you had it?
But think of all the plans you ruined. Your roommates were about to fly back home to the US. Think of all the phone calls that were made, how many parents freaked out about the well-being of their children. You’re the cause of that, voluntarily or not. And that’s the kind of guilt that doesn’t go away.
You spent a lot of time thinking about what this might feel like before. But now, you actually have it. And you really are alone in this. Your parents can’t even enter the country legally since the borders are shut off to non-EU citizens. You get this image of yourself dying in a hospital, your family and friends unable to attend your funeral (although being buried at Cimetière du Vieux Château wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). And you laugh at how ridiculous that sounds coming from someone who doesn’t even have a fever. But the image stays in the back of your mind.
Another moment, you can’t breathe. And yeah, you fear that it’s a symptom, but that’s just the overthinking and the anxiety. And thirty seconds later, you don’t feel anything. So, you take out your computer and you try to explain it with words.
It’s like this surreal emptiness—your brain is kind of fuzzy and you’re reminded of that feeling you get after sobbing hysterically for a few hours. Maybe that’s sort of what you did. But it’s this calm after the storm, except you haven’t even gotten to the worst part of the tornado yet. You’ve just survived the first downpour.
People say it’s going to require strength to get through this. That’s not necessarily wrong, but they might just be overestimating how strong one person can be. They say it’s commendable that you’re dealing with this alone, in a foreign country. You don’t know what’s sadder: that you feel weaker than you have in a long time or that you can’t even respond to their kind messages because that just means accepting this is really happening.
Returning back to the original question, it does feel horrible, which is the nicest word you can bring yourself to type right now. Because you should have been more careful, even if you were one of the most careful ones around. And you’re going to spend the next few weeks wondering where you got it from. But that said, you have it now. This is your reality, and it’s the reality of everyone else around you too.
So stay at home. Don’t go out on walks until you’ve tested negative. Drink water and take Vitamin C, even when your brain is telling you to ignore everything COVID-related. Get some rest and try to distract yourself with the people who are here for you—they’re not going anywhere.
Oh, and Ada? Take your own advice.