An 'Insecure Me' - My Week With Rona
Updated: Feb 15
We all have tendencies toward various personality traits; however, my recent bout with the ' 'Rona' and the forced segregation that came with it provided me an interesting perspective on how I perceive the character traits of others – and gave me pause to re-evaluate some of my own. This is in no way a scientific paper; in fact, much of what follows is based simply on personal observations and thoughts. But it is on personal observations and thoughts that the curious mind builds testable hypotheses in an attempt to answer questions toward a better understanding of and healthier tomorrow! I wonder if some of these thoughts might be generalized to the broader population?
Regardless of the long-standing safeties in place and our success in remaining isolated from the disease, a single breach in operational protocols introduced this highly contagious variant of SARS-CoV-2 into our otherwise healthy but captive population. Thus, unleashing what could have been – but fortunately was not – a medical catastrophe! We have a resident population in various stages of (addiction) recovery and a team of counselors and consultants that come and go daily to staff the facilities around the clock. One of the night staff broke protocol and showed up at work as symptomatic. Based on our brief initial interaction and subsequent understanding of his history, I'd say that at the time, he was both in fear of his condition and in a deep state of denial. Let's call him Al for now, although that is not his real name.
Al, a senior staff member with more than twenty years on the team, showed up to relieve me at 2300hrs on Friday night – the overnight shift. Al looked like death warmed over! He was feverish (by his admission), lethargic, and was coughing up a storm! I – was furious! (The problem was – as I came to learn – this was not his first time that week showing up to work in this condition!)
You might be asking, "Why didn't you insist he leaves? Couldn't you have prevented at least some of the contacts?"
Well, I did, and as it turns out… no, I couldn't have. I was the last or second to last contact Al had, assuring me that he would be gone in a few hours and isolated in the interim. There was little more I could do. I did what I could to get him back in his vehicle and to go home, but he staunchly refused. I got out of the same breathing space as quickly as I could, but I somehow knew the damage was already done, and I would follow up in the morning with my Admin. Approximately 72 hours later, I tested positive, along with six other counselors, administrators, staff – and many of our clients. His extended contact with others in the program had taken place long before I even showed up for work that day. Thus, my exposure was much more than the brief contact we had on Friday night.
Anxiety bordering on fear – that is the best way to describe the overwhelmingly prevalent emotion that overcame just about all of me as I watched the first line slowly materialize next to the 'T' on the Rapid Antigen test. A second test, to be sure, did all but confirm for me that I wasn't going anywhere – at least for the next five to ten days! Again – furious! Absolutely furious!
"What's going to happen? Am I going to get really sick? Thank God I've been vaxx'ed and boosted! This shouldn't be too bad – I hope! Who have I been in contact with? Oh shit! WHO HAVE I BEEN IN CONTACT WITH?"
I am a reasonably social person, as most humans are. As such, I'd had several social contacts across various age groups between Friday night and Monday morning, including a family birthday party. My thoughts of fear turned relatively quickly to, "O.K. Let's contact trace this back – who do I have to call? Let's be sure – where and who did I contact it from?"
That last question took about a tenth of a second to answer!
"Why? How? You inconsiderate, irresponsible son of a b****! "
Let's Start Here
Fear of what I might personally be facing as a life-long, inhaler-toting asthmatic quickly turned into concern that I may have inadvertently passed this thing along to others for whom I care deeply. Unlike the circumstances through which I was exposed – that of pure irresponsibility – had I exposed anyone without even knowing it? Aged and health-compromised, family and friends alike. Shit – again! I am a firm believer that negative bias feeds on itself, causing not only mental but physical damage to the body [1, 2]. If I am to stay well and keep this thing at nothing more than the mild congestion I have, I must (i) keep my mind occupied, and (ii) keep my head and thoughts in a positive space.
O.K. – no problem!
I had planned to utilize the downtime to catch up on a certification I wanted for my practice. As it turns out, to stay occupied, all I really had to do was sit, observe, and take notes on what was going on around me – people, places, their reactions to me, my expectations versus what did occur. It was eye-opening, to say the least. I had plenty to keep me busy and lacked for nothing in the way of stimulation (I don't mean television – I don't own one, by the way. The reason I mention this will become more apparent later).
Calling Into Work
"This is as good of a place to start as any! If I am positive, it would be reasonable that a few of my colleagues are as well!" Yeah, well, it didn't take long to find out just how many of my colleagues had tested positive, and we all essentially had the same reaction to the contact.
"Al – You inconsiderate, irresponsible son of a b****! "
This was the common refrain on day one (and day two, and into day three – well, still…), it would take another few hours to test everybody, but initial evidence suggested the situation was not good! Not too quick to condemn absolutely, and even though I was upset I tried first to put myself in Al's shoes and honestly answer the question of, "Why?" Why would you knowingly come to work in the poor physical condition that I saw you in, understanding the transmissibility of the disease, understanding the limitations of the location, the frangible nature of the clientele, and choose to directly violate the protocols in place designed to prevent exactly this problem from manifesting? I really needed to understand that! Why?
I reflected on our brief exchange on Friday, Al's refusal to acknowledge the situation, and after considering the many possible answers to the question of why? I concluded what I thought to be the most likely explanation in Al's case: fear-based denial. It is a widely accepted tenant of psychotherapy that refusing to confront one's fear or trauma is an almost immovable obstacle in the path of the health and healing process, and there are indicators [3, 4] we exhibit, such as
· finding ways to justify our behavior
· blaming other people for the problem, or our reason for having to be there
· justifying our personal reasons for being there – "I'm OK!"
· promising to take care of the problem 'in the future' or 'tomorrow'
which are just a few of the outward signs. All of which Al presented and proclaimed to me profusely and argumentatively.
Knowing Al, I was pretty sure he was not exhibiting these signs due to a personality disorder such as narcissism or substance abuse disorder, or other conditions in which these traits often show up. Instead, these beliefs were serving as a defense mechanism. Refusing to acknowledge the problem while minimizing the potential consequences. Denial, in this case, his safety mechanism was functioning to protect Al from experiencing the anxiety and fear he was no doubt feeling having to face the possibility that he had this potentially deadly virus – despite his poor physical condition. In reflection, Al is an otherwise intelligent man with a long history in the addiction counseling field. Yet, he was so adamant in his denial it seems that the emotions of fear and anxiety had well and truly overcome his otherwise healthy coping skills. Honestly, he was terrified!
He was still in denial when he went to the hospital a day later and received a positive test, only to be admitted with pneumonia shortly after that.
Why Is This Important?
Remember the almost globally universal reaction when I called into work? My first reaction?
"Al – You inconsiderate, irresponsible son of a b****! "
Nobody wanted to hear that he might have been in denial; nobody wanted to consider that he might have been afraid! Most of my educated colleagues still don't – and tend to shut me down quick when I bring up the possibility. This leads me to another postulate. If fear was underlying Al's actions, could fear also be the underlying motivator of my colleague's refusal to see this any other way than to be angry?
Instead of my colleagues, what about the people with whom I had come into contact?
Let's hold that thought for a minute…
Calling Friends and Family
The calls to friends and family were met almost universally with resignation and an outward attitude of, "Oh well, what are you going to do?" This provided me with some sense of relief, fearing mainly that I would be blamed as the vector of infection for all these other people – intentionally or not!
As the week wore on, I gradually got the sense that although everybody knew I had not exposed them on purpose, to some degree, in some way, I began to get the impression that they were indeed upset with me, that I was somehow to blame for their current state of elevated anxiety. To what degree, I do not know, or honestly, if at all. I am also aware that these are some of my deep-seated insecurities surfacing, but I was a pariah.
Reassessing My Personality, Insecurities, and Weaknesses
I put the word out quickly to friends and family near and far that 'I was pregnant – a positive test, and pretty sure I knew who the father was' (a little humor never hurts)! That I would be O.K! Rather than keep it to myself, I chose to do this as a form of positive reinforcement – that yes, I was Covid-positive, but I was brave, confident, almost dismissive of my concerns about the unknown, and sure to let everybody know that I, Frazer Thompson, would be just fine! ('Denial,' you say? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of this more as 'positive affirmations'…!)
That is what it boils down to for us. Fear of the unknown. "Will I be one of the few that this afflicts so badly I will be in the hospital by Wednesday? Will I get a bad cough (I hate coughs!)? Will this affect my asthma? Will I be able to breathe? Well … will I?" After all, we have been constantly bombarded by the fear-mongering media now for more than two years – and I still honestly believe that I was one of the first to contract this dreaded disease in December 2019 – before the mainstream popularized it! The truth is, we can't as individuals answer those questions. In the absence of real information, our imaginations tend to run wild – and usually trend toward the negative!
"No! Stay positive! The 'experts' tell me that there is an extremely low probability that anything like that will actually happen" . I spent the week communicating with everyone primarily by text, sure to let whomever I was texting with know that I had few symptoms, and I was doing great! More positive reinforcement and affirmations!
What became interesting to me over the course of the following weeks were the conversations – who the people were who did reach out to see how I was doing and who the people were who didn't. Of course, I didn't send a SPAM BLAST message to my entire global contact list, but never-the-less, I found this – as Table 1 depicts – an interesting observation.
An Interesting Observation (Nothing More) of a Ten Day Quarantine (testing positive day 9)
So interesting, I felt compelled to write down my observation of the week and see if there's not a mental health research project in there somewhere? (That observation, which of course could be nothing more than pure coincidence, is the inspiration for this missive.) It was truly surprising that all week long, the people checking in on me consistently were those with whom I have the least frequent direct communication and most of whom have or have had the SARS-CoV-2 virus at some point in time.
What was bothersome was that I had not heard once from any of the people I potentially exposed. Yes, I have kept up in roundabout and indirect ways as to their health and how they are doing symptom-wise (thank God that none of them tested positive!), but I find it very interesting that none of them reached out to me directly.
Hmmm… what could this potentially mean?
Does this mean anything at all – really? Hell no! (Well – not really!) This is not an experiment, and no scientific data is presented here. As a psychologist interested in Groupthink and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (let alone an engineer who pays attention to all the details), I have been tossing around in my mind all week the potential 'what if's,' of how others across a broader population might interpret or answer the question "What does this mean?" or "What does this say about me?"
If you can get past the sociobiologist's complex view of the relationship between nature and nurture, ask just about any psychologist, and they will tell you that we do indeed all share common human needs. High among them is the need for companionship, the need to love and be loved. They'll also tell you that we all have our insecurities and self-doubt. Ask any cognitive-behavioral therapist, and they'll let you know that thoughts and feelings are interlinked and that our thoughts primarily control our feelings, emotions, and behavior . I personally, am a complex mix of both sociotropic and autonomous personality traits which often results in some very interesting inner dialogue!
The first and single most obvious aura I noticed this past week seemed to be the difference in how we think of 'fear.' Let me try and elaborate.
My fear of contracting the disease – and it was fear – before I got it was very different than my fear of having it. Anxiety and fear peaked for me when I got that positive test. As the days progressed and the symptomology didn't develop into the worst case with symptoms becoming worst around day seven and eight, anxiety and fear became more tolerable. Don't misinterpret; it never goes away, but what I found most interesting was the palatable level of anxiety and fear of those around me, especially those with whom I'd had close contact. Their level of fear never went down. Each passing day seemed to remain on a slow boil without changing. A constant simmer over a medium flame. Although I can probably offer several comparisons and explanations as to why, I choose not to do that but rather consider these emotions in the broader context of society and what it's doing to our overall mental health. After all, my situation is not an isolated incident.
For the sake of general discussion – which this is – let's consider this in round numbers to make the math quick and easy. According to the University of Oxford , 70.5MM positive Covid cases have been reported in the United States. We have a population (in round numbers) of around 330MM. Therefore, 21% of the population has already tested positive for this disease at some point. Research  suggests that the media coverage of the pandemic has ranged from responsible and non-sensationalized at one end of the spectrum to irresponsible and sensationalized at the other, and absolutely everything in between! Keep in mind that's 21% of the population that has already reported positive, and granted, this is still a large number, but pretty much 100% exposed to media coverage.
Thinking about the possibility that those who are least sure of themselves tend to make the most noise (regardless of political affiliation), it is reasonable to think that perhaps the amount of misinformation propagated by various sources and parroted on the street has been (and continues to be) dangerously high. For the vast majority of the population, the media play a critical, if not central, role in communicating the public health and policy of the nation. That's how people find out what's going on. Thus, we are also going to be reliant on the media to help get us back on track again.
Nevertheless, right or wrong, the information out there is what it is and is being force-fed to us continuously. (No TV – remember?) It is propagating fear. It is up to the individual, each of us, to take that information and sift through it with a critical eye. Critical reasoning – a skill my seventh-grade elementary school teacher first introduced me to, and like those of the arts, a skill that has been cast aside, yet another casualty of the 'war for profit' on education.
Closing Personal Thoughts
The mental health issues that have seemingly become so prevalent since the onset of the pandemic: increased suicide, increased anxiety, increased drug use, and the prediction that these rates will go even higher [9-11] are not new problems within society. You don't have to look far to find supporting statistics for these predictions of escalation. The 'great resignation' and the increase in the mobile remote workforce, the challenges to the old organizational hierarchy, and the 'adapt or die' ultimatum that most companies in America are facing. All coming to the surface at once.
Again – these are not new problems!
These problems, issues, and challenges have always existed, and I suggest, almost to the same extent that we are reading about today. The major difference – not everybody realized at once or accepted they had issues to deal with. People are being forced to confront their personal challenges en masse right now. They are prevalent – all at once. We no longer have the task list of a 60-hour workweek to hide behind. We've been given no choice, made to face our shortcomings, our insecurities, forced to evaluate the limits of our tolerance. We have been bluntly confronted with the realities of 'us!' No longer relegated as the expert realm of philosophers, storytellers, and life or mood coaches, but thrust into the light – and daylighting these issues for many of us is something for which we were woefully unprepared!
When you're on the treadmill, it's easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of responsibility. Why is it that when you're forced to stop by sickness, by health, or by natural disaster or pandemic, when something finally happens that turns your world upside down – and it will happen – that is the only time most of us take stock of our lives and reflect on the 'what if's?' And why is it that anger seems to be a prevalent emotion in this process?
After days, weeks, and months-long emotional training by constant subjection to information (good and bad), as we seek to understand what's next in the uncertainty of this time, perhaps the anger and frustration that I perceive in others around me, others close to me, others I may or may not have inadvertently exposed – the anger and frustration I felt toward Al and in turn, the fear and anxiety he felt – is nothing more than a prodrome of a much greater society-wide underlying problem? A problem that has been with us for generations, a problem we are finally being forced to confront. Reality is, this is not and will not be a terminal disease for the vast majority of our population. Yet the degradation of our overall quality of life, a proverbial step backwards that we've been allowing ourselves to take each year, must be addressed if we are to get through this. Why do we crave a long life – to live longer than ever before if we have no understanding of what it is we are living for?
It has been many, many weeks since this incident now. Fortunately, all of us who were afflicted by contact managed to weather the covid storm without serious consequence. The symptomology was diverse among us but still comparatively light. As time moved on, we would joke about what was in store for Al when he was finally released from hospital – but he's still there. Al is in a hospital room being fed oxygen through a tube with about one third functional lung capacity. Anger has subsided and turned to empathy, yet fear is still prevalent in those around me – even though we have all tested negative for a while now – and especially in Al.
UPDATE - February 15: While travelling yesterday I received a text letting me know that in the last few days, Al had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and was intubated. Unfortunately, he passed away in care yesterday afternoon. RIP.
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