As Many People Return to Normal, Some of Us Must Remain Isolated
“Wow, look at the COVID-19 stats in the U.S.! Our numbers are awesome! With so many people getting vaccinated, we can finally start going back to normal.” — Seemingly everyone but me
It feels like I’m the only person in my part of the world that still has to stay isolated. Everyone around me is talking about how good it feels to go back to normal. But that’s not my story, and it won’t be for a while.
Overabundance of caution? Perhaps. Pandemic-induced anxiety? Probably not. Those of us with suppressed immune systems have to live differently and protect our health. Our heightened concern is valid.
Since my double-lung transplant three years ago, I’ve had to be more vigilant about my health. In a world with a potentially deadly novel virus, I’ve had to take additional precautions. I don’t have the luxury of taking risks when my immune system can’t ward off viruses as easily as others do. Despite my caution, it’s nerve-wracking to see people not wearing a mask at the grocery store.
I want to attend concerts, eat inside restaurants, and travel with no inhibition again. I would love to gather with all my loved ones without a care in the world.
But returning to business as usual isn’t in the cards for many immunocompromised people right now. I can’t afford to risk my health just because I’m itching to “do life” again. I have to keep the long-term goal of staying healthy in mind to cope with the short-term implications of being isolated.
Part of me is frustrated seeing so many people go back to normal. I watch highlight reels on social media of people attending crowded events. I’ve been invited to several community activities. I smile at the invite, but my insides turn in knots when I have to decline. “Sorry, I’m not doing that … yet,” I reply. My heart hurts with every “No” I have to send.
It feels similar to when I spent most of my days in the hospital. Fighting CF exacerbations taught me the art of being content in my circumstances. I learned that it was possible to be both happy for others that were out living life and also disheartened that I was stuck in isolation.
I don’t want pity from others. Instead, I’m looking for understanding (people not questioning my inability to attend in-person, maskless events) and inclusion (people taking precautions so that I feel safe and can participate in some capacity, too).
I’m tired of explaining why I still have to wear a mask. The stares from strangers make me feel like something is wrong with me. It’s the visible sign of being high risk. I wear a mask to protect my life, but it feels like it sends the message that I don’t conform to society’s standards.
Although I am kind of an outlier, there are people who get it. The ones who have walked beside me in this life are willing to sacrifice their comfort to include me. I’m grateful for my parents, who limit their interactions so they can visit me. Those that continue to wear masks around me, and include me in physically distanced activities like hiking, bonfires, and beach days, are such a blessing.
So, while my gallivanting days are still restricted to socially distanced activities with trustworthy friends, I have shifted my focus to writing projects, various Zoom groups, and outdoor adventures. And thankfully, the corners of Vermont where I live offer safe havens for sneaking away from society. I can explore, adventure, and enjoy nature while remaining distanced from everyone. I am content with what I can do, which brings me peace.
Although many parts of the country are returning to normal, my vigilance remains the same. My health takes precedence — that’s nonnegotiable. Expanding my circle has helped me to see that there are others in the same boat.
For those in the rare disease community who have to stay vigilant, I see you. I am with you. You are not alone.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.