Last month, I was supposed to get on a plane to visit my best friend in North Carolina. As you might have guessed from the title, I didn’t get on it.
I spent the night before the flight shoving sweatshirts into my suitcase and prepping for the morning. I was pumped. I felt great.
After eventually drifting off to sleep, at some point in the night I had a terribly vivid nightmare. I was in bed at my childhood home. My mom was taking care of me at my bedside. I was in pain.
I was dying of COVID.
My mom’s old townhouse faded away and I woke up in my apartment coughing and shivering. I was laying in a pool of sweat and my throat felt like it was almost entirely closed.
My first thought was, Fuck, I have to cancel my flight.
After taking my temperature and seeing 100.4 on the thermometer screen, I called off my flights, texted my friend and my roommate, and went back to sleep.
That was two weeks ago.
Now I finally feel like myself again. And I want to talk about it.
Why tell this story?
As of writing this, there have been 107.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the globe and 2.5 million deaths.
Before I get into my experience, I must acknowledge the fact that millions of people have suffered far worse than I have; I know people personally who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Although it wasn’t fun at all, I’m lucky to have had such a mild case.
My goal is not to spread more fear or negativity or to beg for attention. It is to share the valuable lessons I gathered from having a pandemic-grade virus course through my veins.
I’ll break down my reflection into two basic categories:
- Where I’ve changed my mind
- Where I’ve been reminded of things I once knew
In both, I’ll discuss my shifts in perspective as well as how I’ll use those changes to create a better future for myself.
So, here’s what getting COVID taught me.
Where I’ve changed my mind
Everyone thinks they’re an expert and almost no one is.
Before I got my positive test results, I was certain I didn’t have it.
I kept saying, “I’m definitely sick, but I’m sure it’s not COVID.”
How the fuck was I sure? Where did these sudden medical expertise come from? I got really sick out of nowhere and I thought my general intelligence could figure out why. Similarly, I’ve heard incredibly smart people say things like, “Trust me, I know my body.”
Really? Your instincts can tell you when you have a highly contagious virus in your bloodstream compared to when you just have a sinus infection?
It was humbling to see, in bright red letters on my computer screen:
I took two tests. The following day, when I got my second set of results, I saw the same, piercing message. I said to myself, You know…I’m starting to think I have this COVID thing.
The death of expertise.
The CDC and health professionals have made some serious errors in their messaging and handling of this pandemic.
Despite the fact that they are experts in their field, they are still just a collection of human beings. They make mistakes. And they absolutely need to be held accountable when they do.
But they’re still the experts.
Just because the CDC has made some huge blunders, that doesn’t mean they’re just a bunch of crackpots who are winging it and stringing us along like puppets. These are people and organizations who have been researching and studying this shit for decades.
Experts messing up doesn’t make you or me an expert.
There’s a difference between being well-read and having expertise. You probably know plenty of people who are constantly up to date with the latest news and who can articulate their thoughts perfectly.
But would you take a vaccine from these people?
If your neighbor Tim handed you a vial he concocted after hours of research online, would you accept it after he pitched you his opinions?
No. You’d say, “Fuck off, Tim.”
There will always be information online or in the news that confirms your already-held opinion. Confirmation bias plagues every single one of us.
Trust the professionals. They know what they’re doing way more than you or I do.
You used to have to go to medical school for three years to have an opinion about a vaccine. Now you just sit on Twitter for 20 minutes.
— Mark Manson
I’m aware of how scolding and judgmental I sound, but keep in mind: I’m criticizing myself here.
I used to read a headline related to health or medicine and think, These idiots have no idea what they’re doing.
My new mindset: Don’t dismiss expertise. Assume that I don’t have all the information and that it is me who is, in fact, the idiot.
Rant over. Let’s shift gears.
Taking time off to do nothing is vital for your well-being.
This might sound obvious. We all need vacations and time away from work.
But a problem presented itself to me when I quit my full-time job and started my own business last year. I’ll admit, it’s a pretty good problem to have:
I love what I do.
Running a business to me is like a game. It’s creative. It’s helping and collaborating with people. It’s building my skills. It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
I’ve always known the importance of taking vacations. I take one every couple of months.
My problem, though, has been that even when I go away for a long weekend, I take my laptop with me to get some things done. What’s more, I’m itching to get back into my routine by the end of every trip.
At first I thought this was awesome. Most people count the days until Friday. I would count the days until Monday and work on weekends. Since I was careful to avoid burnout, this didn’t seem like an issue.
But then I got COVID.
One hour into my first work day while I was sick, I turned my laptop off and declared, “Yup. There’s no way I’m getting anything done.”
Thinking. Looking at the computer screen. I couldn’t even carry a conversation for longer than 10 minutes.
I canceled all my calls and decided to do something I’ve never done before: I took the whole week off.
I spent every day reading, playing chess, watching YouTube videos, and I even introduced my roommate (she got sick too) to my favorite show: Avatar–The Last Airbender.
When I’m not productive, I get anxious. But after the initial shock dissipated, I discovered what most people preach on a daily basis: Doing nothing is quite enjoyable.
It’s also the perfect time to work on things that aren’t, well, work.
I got a chess tutor. I played chess every day and watched chess YouTubers analyze games for hours on end.
Yes ladies, I’m single.
What was once a hobby developed into a passion. I saw first-hand the value of dedicating hours to something I love, something that has nothing to do with what I do for money. It was lovely.
Studies show that the more time people spend on their passions or hobbies outside of work, the more they actually enjoy their jobs.
I realized that while I acknowledged the utility of breaks and time off, I never truly practiced what I preached.
My new mindset: When you do something, do it 100%. When you work, work your ass off. When you relax, be completely present with whatever you’re doing (or not doing).
Where I’ve been reminded of things I once knew
No one is going to take care of your body for you. It’s up to you.
When you test positive for COVID, you get a call for an interview. They ask you questions about how you might have been exposed, tell you about your quarantine, and give you a clear idea of what the next month will look like.
When I told her my symptoms appeared five days after being exposed, she said, “Wow. Your immune system really put up a fight. How much do you take care of your health? Do you exercise? Do you take vitamin D?”
My first thought was Miss, please stop flirting with me. This is serious.
But then I answered her questions. Yes, I exercise frequently and eat fairly well. Indeed, I do take care of my health.
This isn’t to brag. It’s to highlight an unfortunate truth: Winter is coming.
There will come a time where your health gets some type of stress-test. Chances are, it’ll be sooner than you’d hoped. When that happens, how prepared will you be?
If you’re unfit, inactive, and have a poor diet, how do you expect it will go down?
Though the virus affects everyone wildly differently (trust me, I’m an expert), I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I didn’t take care of myself.
I’m alive and well, but COVID was not fun. It was quite an uncomfortable week. How much worse would it have been if I had different diet and exercise habits?
I’m not talking about senior citizens or people with disabilities who are at risk. I’m talking about able-bodied individuals who could easily make small changes in their routines to become healthier.
You don’t really get to choose what tests your body’s capabilities or when. What you do have a say in is how prepared your body is when an unfortunate situation inevitably occurs.
Treat yourself with love and respect and the rewards will be tremendous.
Which bleeds into my last point.
Having good health is a miracle. Treat it as so.
Something we hear all the time is, “Enjoy your youth while you have it. One day you’ll wake up and you’ll wonder where it went.”
When I hear advice repeated over and over again by anyone over 50, I tend to believe them.
This is something people don’t like to talk about.
Next month, I turn 27. A decade ago, I was finishing my junior year of high school. That doesn’t feel like ten years. Where the hell did that time go?
I can only deduce that 10 years from now, I’ll wake up on my 37th birthday and think, I can’t believe I wrote that COVID article ten years ago. Where the hell did that time go?
Our grandparents were 20 once. They stayed up late, did cocaine, and danced (in that order?). They remember that time. And now they’re in their 80s.
I’m not saying any of this to bring down the vibe. My point is: This shit’s finite.
We have plenty of time to enjoy our lives, but we have to actually fucking enjoy them while we can. To be present and appreciative means, by definition, that we can’t procrastinate on it.
Being stuck inside for two weeks laying in bed reminded me of how amazing it is to be able to do things. You never truly appreciate something until it’s taken away from you.
When’s the last time you thought about how wonderful it is to have a right thumb? I bet if you had your thumb cut off tonight, all you’d be thinking about for the next few months was how nice it was when it was still attached to your hand.
If you have all your limbs, a bed to sleep in, and food and water at your constant disposal, you are in the 99th percentile of folks who’ve got it made.
Go for walks. Call your friends. Read a book. Laugh with your family.
There will come a day when you can’t do any of these things.
We can’t control that reality and that’s sad as shit. But what we can control is how wholeheartedly we take advantage of these things right now. Today. In the next five minutes.
The more you put these things off, the more likely it is that you’ll be telling kids to enjoy their youth before it’s gone.
It’s always the unexpected, difficult moments that show us who we really are. You never know what will shift your perspective or when.
Though you wouldn’t wish pain on yourself or on others, it is through dealing with pain that we learn what we’re made of. Our ability to persevere is exposed, as are our strengths and weaknesses. This can be violently uncomfortable but it’s necessary. It’s what growth looks like.
If I could snap my fingers like Thanos and make the virus go away, I obviously would. But since I made it out alive and with valuable insights, I see my getting sick as a net positive.
With any lesson, it’s important to know how you will change your actions going forward, to utilize what you’ve learned. I plan to do just that.
Whatever your situation, I hope you and yours are happy and healthy.
And remember, don’t listen to Tim.