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Are you prepared for a Coronavirus pandemic?

[Trigger warning: this post is coming at you directly from the brain of someone with severe health anxiety. It’s likely to contain moderate catastrophizing, combined with a generous dose of total hysteria. Please look after your own mental health and give it a swerve if you suspect it’s likely to be triggering…]

When it comes to the Coronavirus outbreak, most people I know (or see online) seem to fall into one of two distinct groups:

01. People who are just too cool to be worried about it, and are wandering around insisting that, “It’s just the flu!”, almost as if the flu isn’t a horrible disease that kills thousands of people each year anyway.

and

02. Those of us who are basically Rex from Toy Story right now:

In my case … well, I think you all know me well enough by now to know that I am NOT “cool”, right? Like, that’s not a word that’s EVER been used to describe me. You also know that I have severe health anxiety,  and can be kind of an asshole sometimes, so it’ll come as no surprise to hear that I’ve basically spent the last few weeks desperately trying to convince my family that the end of the world is nigh, and we should be stockpiling resources as fast as we can right now. In doing this, I’ve had the best of intentions, obviously, but, ALSO like Rex from Toy Story…

via GIPHY

(Actually, now I come to think about it, I guess there’s also a third group: those who are using humour to try to hide the fact that they’re ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED.)

So, yes, I’m Rex: pleased to meet you. Actually, I’m pretty much always Rex, but never more so than now, when every day – and sometimes every hour – seems to bring a terrifying new development in the spread of COVID-19 – or “The Killer Virus!” as the UK’s media insist on calling it: a development that’s hugely comforting to those of us already freaking the hell out, obviously.

I have four things to report here: 

01. I really wish I hadn’t read The Stand as a teenager. 

02. Or watched the movie Contagion.

03. I know Coronavirus doesn’t seem to involve zombies (SO FAR), but also kind of regretting all of those hours I devoted to The Walking Dead, tbh: I mean, I’d like to think it’s taught us something about how the world will be once the virus has done its worst (Again, probably – although not necessarily – minus the zombies…), but, time and time again, it’s been proven to me that TV isn’t the same as real life , so maybe not?

04. I’m joking about this purely to ease you into the absolute hysteria that the rest of this post will contain. Because, make no mistake, people: I am scared witless right now. And I didn’t have too many wits to start with, so…

Seriously, though: there’s a LOT I could write about how the last few weeks have played out inside my head, but suffice it to say that I am NOT OK. In fact, I am very much Rex right now. It’s a tricky thing, though, trying to keep health anxiety in check while the world teeters on the edge of a pandemic. Unlike many of the other health-related things I’ve worried about, no one can assure me that this is all in my head, or that there’s absolutely no risk: in fact, every time I switch on the TV (Which automatically comes on to a news station) or look at social media, I’m practically guaranteed to see something to confirm my impression that THE END IS NIGH.

Today, for instance, BBC news carries the headlines, “What are the chances of dying from Coronavirus?” “What’s the risk to your baby?”and “Unexplained Coronavirus cases raise fears in US.” (Also the headline, “I’ve never seen a snake eating a towel.” That has absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic, btw, I just couldn’t not mention it…) It’s almost as if the media is ALSO currently suffering from health anxiety, and as it’s not particularity  realistic to expect those of us who are triggered by it to avoid it all completely (I’ve dialled back my news consumption to just BBC and Sky News, but I can’t totally close myself off from the world. Or not yet, anyway…) it’s …. well, it’s a tough time to be suffering from anxiety, basically. 

floral detailSo while you’ve been happily going about your business as usual, I’ve been quietly preparing myself for the End Times: mourning the loss of life as we know it, and buying jars of peanut butter – because you could survive on that stuff for a long time, apparently. 

While you’ve been sleeping soundly at night, I’ve been lying awake worrying about what will happen to my toddler if his parents and grandparents all end up sick and/or hospitalised at the same time; and while you’ve been assuring yourself that it’s OK, because “It only kills people who are sick or elderly!” I’ve been having panic attacks at the thought that my husband and parents all fall into those groups (And, OK, my husband is immunocompromised rather than “sick”, and my parents would kill me faster than the coronavirus would if I dared to describe them as “elderly”, but you get what I mean…), and what if I’m the last one standing? 

The only thing helping with all of this relentless anxiety? 

YOGA.

HAHA, JOKE. Of COURSE it’s not freaking yoga, I mean, seriously, do you even GO here ?

No, it’s simply being prepared – or as prepared as you can be in this kind of situation, which is to say, not very

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m pretty far from being this guy . (No shade, though: I’m pretty sure this guy really WILL be the last one standing…). For the past few weeks, though, we have been adding a few essentials to our regular shop every week – mostly in the form of tinned/dry goods that we’ll use up anyway if this whole thing comes to nothing, but which would be handy to have in a situation where we have to self-isolate/The End comes. We’ve not gone crazy with it, because, with limited space and budget (Our freezer, for instance, has just two drawers, both of which are usually filled with ice cream…), we just can’t afford to, but I’ve learned from bitter experience that the only thing that ever really helps with my health anxiety is actually doing something to make me feel a bit more prepared for whatever it is I’m worrying about – and, in this situation, it’s all I really CAN do. 

As well as some extra food, I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitiser, anti-bacterial screen wipes (Clean your phones, people! There’s no point in washing your hands constantly if you then just go and pick up your germ-ridden phone, is there?), plus other essentials like nappies, Calpol, medications, etc. It sounds absolutely nuts when you write it down, but … ooh! Nuts! That’s another one to add to the list! BRB…

Anyway, because I know the “It’s just the flu!” brigade have been having lots of fun mocking those of us who are scared out of our wits at the moment, I’m going to wind this one up for now. I’d really like to know, though: which of those two groups I talked about at the start of this post do YOU fall into? Are you just muttering “Keep Calm and Carry On,” under your breath, while telling everyone you don’t understand the fuss… or are you Rex?

If you’re in the second group, come and talk to me: we can all be anxious together. 

If you’re in the first group, meanwhile, BE MORE REX. Now, I’m not telling you to panic here, obviously – just that I worry that it’s the people who are completely unconcerned who’ll end up spreading it, and I really don’t want to have to say, “I told you so,” here. So, wash your hands, folks: or the anxious really will end up inheriting the earth – and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will…

COMMENTS
  • I have to admit, I fall into the “don’t care” camp. I can’t bring myself to feel at all worried about it (on a personal level at least). HOWEVER I know I am super privileged to be in this position, as I don’t fall into any of the at-risk categories and I don’t have any children. It must be super stressful for you at the moment and I *am* sympathetic! If stocking up on stuff helps you feel a bit better, then do it! x

    March 2, 2020
  • I wouldn’t describe myself as cool about it, but I do fall into category one. I’m being careful since I had radiotherapy treatment on my throat cells two years ago, which has had affected my breathing a little. I work in libraries so meet people all the time. But I am a bit concerned for my partner and family seeing as my parents are now in their early 70s and we have lots of little boys in the family now.

    What makes me cross about the “cool crowd” though is those who judge others for being understandably worried. The complete inability of some people to think outside their own little box, simply because they think they’ve got they’ve got all the answers and can handle it.

    March 2, 2020
      • Well, most days I’m definitely group 1 (it’s just a flu! What’s the worst that could happen?) But some headlines do make me panick (new case confirmed in the UK! A new superspreader is on the loose!)

        To make things worst, my husband is a doctor (working in a big hospital) and we live in London. If it gets to our side our borough, we are screwed 🤣 he’s at the front line! It’s like having VIP access to something really, really bad.

        He is not worried in the slightest, tough.

        So, I’m trying not to think to much about it. I’m washing my hands constantly, I’m trying not to touch my face and I’m cleaning door handles more often. No stocking food, not reading or watching news.

        Let’s hope it will pass soon! Stay strong!

        March 2, 2020
  • Tracy-Anne

    REPLY

    i love reading your blogs. It’s like your sitting chatting to me 😊
    I’m concerned especially as the first case in Scotland is in Tayside- where I live. I’m more concerned about those that are less hygienic than me, who don’t make sure their toddler’s hands are clean & nose is wiped before the go to the library/playgroup/soft play where my toddler could be!
    We’ve already spent two weeks on Hospital with her when she had RSV & croup! Don’t fancy another stay because people aren’t taking this and hygiene seriously.

    March 2, 2020
  • Antonia

    REPLY

    I’m Rex, and I’m also completely all-in for prepping to help cope with OCD/HA! I have friends who think I’ve gone mad, especially regarding the cost, but I see it as front-loading expenses we’d have sustained anyway. I’ve been very careful about only selecting things we’d normally have a use for (so no powdered eggs etc – just stuff we literally would use anyway, albeit frozen veg rather than fresh etc), or things we probably should have had anyway (e.g. cold medication – I’ve always just waited to develop a cold then bought meds, but having it in stock is probably a decent idea).

    Zero regrets about any of the above. Put simply, it has helped. I don’t think people who don’t have OCD/HA know how much preparation is actually of huge benefit; I would argue that these items are worth it *solely for the mental health benefits*, before you even get to the practical uses. In a way, it’s self-care: I don’t want to light candles or do yoga (so with you on that one – and, please, world, for the sake of me not flipping out about lung cancer, don’t tell me to focus on taking deep breaths to calm myself…), I want to be able to solidly answer some of the “what if?” questions floating around my head. So I prep. I still worry, of course, because I have HA and that thing is never satisfied, but there’s a real power in being able to snap back “ACTUALLY i know what would happen if we have to self-isolate…” or similar when a particularly nagging thought crops up.

    Thinking of you x

    March 2, 2020
  • Eirian

    REPLY

    Hi Amber – I know exactly where you are coming from. I also have a immune system issue – so all those around me who aren’t in the least bit concerned, think it’s hysterically funny that I am main-lining hand sanitiser like it’s going out of fashion AND I’ve already stocked up on pasta, rice and tinned soup and tomatoes. Oh, and loo roll….

    But, just remember there’s a fellow red headed Celt (in sunny (ha ha) Wales) who is 100% with you!

    Eirian

    March 2, 2020
  • Kat

    REPLY

    I’m you. I’m absolutely terrified and I also work with the public daily and all of my coworkers think it’s funny and are traveling and going to airports in cities that have had outbreaks and I just learned one of my coworkers is ill but decided she’s going to come in to work anyway. And somehow I’m the one who is a nutjob.

    I am in the US and my parents and sister are in Canada. My sister is disabled and my parents are older and have bad immune systems. My husband and I have stocked up on things and so has my family, but I feel like I’m a ticking time bomb with this thing and I just want to hide away.

    So I really, really get all your anxiety and I will hope that you and your family come out unscathed.

    March 2, 2020
    • Janice

      REPLY

      Hello Amber — I also feel scared because I have asthma. And anxiety, which brings on the asthma sometimes. My husband is in the “Everything will be fine camp”.

      I noticed I was the only person in the grocery store wearing medical gloves yesterday. So I did feel embarrassed, but also safer, because I have a bad habit of sticking my fingers in my mouth when I’m nervous, then wonder why I catch all this stuff since I wash my hands as soon as I unload the groceries.

      March 2, 2020
  • Brenda

    REPLY

    Normally, I don’t get too freaked out. HOWEVER! I am a little concerned. Mostly because my son and I are supposed to go to New York at the end of March. Now I’m not so sure. He does have a somewhat compromised immune system and I really don’t want to endanger him. New York will always be there, I guess. I have heard that the media has really blown the Corona Virus really out of proportion as well. I’m just waiting a few more days before I cancel the trip entirely.

    March 2, 2020
  • May

    REPLY

    I’m definitely camp one here. It’s not that I don’t care about it obviously, real people are being affected by it, but I’m simply alert instead of worried or panicking. I do have to say I feel the media has blown it way out of proportion, selling it like it’s some of kind of monstrous virus destined to wipe out all of humanity or something. That only leads to mass panic, and that has never helped anyone.
    It helps me not to worry that I’m in South America, so in the exact opposite side of the world from where all the outbreaks are happening and with low chances of the virus getting here so far. Also we’re kind of dealing with a completely different epidemic of our own so I’m not going to waste precious worry energy on Coronavirus when I have a whole other virus at my doorstep, you know? Choosing your battles and all that

    March 2, 2020
  • Sally Hewitt

    REPLY

    I’m totally with you!! I have other illnesses, physical and mental so am freaking out! I have bought, using credit card online survival food. My partner fortunately hasn’t said anything negative! Too scared probably!! I truly think that no one takes anything seriously!!
    I’ve made my partner hang his clothes in another room, shower immediately he comes in from work, nagged about hands washing, use antibacterial wipes, hand gel and I keep looking at HASMAT suits ….? 😳🤯😢🤷‍♀️🙅‍♀️🙅‍♀️

    March 2, 2020
  • Lucie

    REPLY

    Hi Amber,
    I would say I am somewhere in between. I am a bit scared but I think spreading panic can be way worse than the virus itself (for our health and global economy). So I wash my hands all the time and try to stay calm.

    March 2, 2020
  • JoAnn Moran

    REPLY

    I’ve been preparing and still have many items on my list. I have kids and grandkids to protect. I’m in Colorado and no known cases here yet, but people are talking about possible quarantines. I’m supposed to go on vacation to Mexico in two weeks. Don’t know if that will happen. I will add you and your family to my prayers.

    March 3, 2020
  • I’m not too concerned. We do have days of food on hand anyway. The only thing we bought was additional cold/flu meds. Stuff that helps with the symptoms. The flu is very prevalent here right now so there are low supplies to being with.

    I had pneumonia for several months last year. So I get being knocked on your backside by illness. I also believe in being able to spend several days without outside help. In rural areas of the US it can snow bad, high winds, power out, roads flooded etc. You should always be prepared to manage until the danger passes or help arrives. I plan for 7 days of being housebound just in case. You cant worry about every little thing, but being prepared often has a calming effect.

    March 3, 2020
  • I live in silicon valley in California, and there has been a lot of panic buying. It’s so strange to see Costco sold out of toilet paper! I keep meaning to expand on my piddly emergency kit, but every time I think to do it, it’s during an emergency…

    March 3, 2020
  • Diana

    REPLY

    Media is the worst right now – it spreads the panic faster than the virus would if there were no restriction measures taken. I’m finding myself alternating between “it’s just the flu” and “omg it’s the end of the world” states of mind on an hourly basis which is stressful in itself. There’s no Corona virus in my country yet, but there are already empty shelves in the supermarkets and medicines out of stock in the pharmacies. So I don’t know how dangerous this thing really is but the panic is real. I was going to say that I’m limiting my news and media consumption but that’s really not the truth – have an app on my phone showing the spread by countries, and read/watch the news several times a day. So I guess even though haven’t stocked up on much food besides tomato paste and pasta, I’m still in the panicking team. Or at least for the next hour or so 🙂

    March 3, 2020
  • Jean

    REPLY

    You know, Amber, I didn’t even think to be concerned for those in my life who are immune compromised. That’s shameful. I admit I fall into the “not concerned” category, but I certainly have many other anxieties so I completely understand where you’re coming from and would never, ever say something stupid to reassure you. I hate when people do that to me about my own anxieties… I’ll just say, but, but, but… and counter you, and it gets bigger.

    March 3, 2020
  • Marelize Wilke

    REPLY

    My husband and I are in the process of moving countries – from South Africa (hello, by the way, from your fellow redhead fan from a hot South Africa to the UK. I have general anxiety disorder. Full-blown, proper anxiety. Pair that with being in the throes of stressing about a countrywide move and potential travel bans. Oh, and have I mentioned, I work as a health writer for a prominent South African news platform, so I’m inundated with information about Covid-19 day in, day out? People still think it’s hilarious to joke: “oh, hahahaha, your flights might end up being canceled, your visa will expire and you will be separated for an indefinite period, hahahaha, funny.” I’m fit as a fiddle, so is my husband, we don’t have to worry about being immunocompromised – now imagine those who are. I can imagine how worried you must be about Terry. My late father-in-law (also Terry!) was on a strong round of oral chemo before he passed and I remember how anxious we were about him catching even the most significant bout of stomach flu or whatever was doing the rounds. I’m with you. I’m Rex. Ps, I recruited my friend onto your blog last year when she was pregnant. She lapped up the Pregnancy Diaries and quoted every funny line to me, daily! Huge fans. Okay, I’m getting awkward and gushy now. I’ll see myself out. Just never stop writing, please.

    March 4, 2020
  • I have to admit, that until recently I have been managing not to worry (as I know myself, if I start to worry, it will snowball, so up til now I have been treating it like you would a bear – don’t look directly at it and hope it goes away) but I am now into worry territory after a trip to London this week. I saw people wearing masks (not happening here in Yorkshire – or so I thought, getting off the train yesterday on my way home I saw two mask-wearers), and the weekly office staff meeting was taken up entirely with discussion of shutting down our events programme (we invite speakers from all over the world to get together in big groups – really not ideal!) and also colleagues cancelling speaking appointments abroad or investigating dialling in via weblinks etc to deliver their talks. I realised I was sat between one colleague who was just back from Nigeria and Aberdeen (in the same week) and another who has just come back from Pisa in Italy, and suddenly realised that the nature of our work means our global connections are that bit more connected, and I decided I won’t be going down to the office again for a while until we know it is under control. It really struck me that it is a reality now for a lot of people in our country too.
    And now I have loads of work to do so that’s keeping my mind busy, but I need to do a food shop this afternoon and you can bet I will be buying extra tins and loo roll and cold meds and making a proper list of supplies we ought to try and get (but like you, ones we will use anyway, not like your man from Fife who is going to regret buying those secondhand ration packs on eBay when he finally tastes them!). I owe it to my family to make some preparations just in case. And besides, we could just as easily have a heavy snow storm or more flooding and those supplies will come in handy, so it’s a good plan anyway. I just wish I had more space to put things or we would have a proper stock all the time!
    Thank you for writing about this in a way which highlights how scary it is for people at the moment without actually scaremongering, not an easy feat! xx

    March 4, 2020
  • I fall into the first group and my husband the second. Every day he gives me updates on the corona virus. To be honest I sometimes find his panicking a bit over the top but I would never mock someone who is worried about it, no way. But I have definitely been washing my hands more often and avoiding public places. The thought of my husband and I getting it and not being able to mind our daughter is scary though. I’ve been reminding myself that the majority of cases are mild. But ideally it would be nice to avoid getting it of course!

    March 5, 2020
  • I have to be honest, I am pretty worried. It’s scary how quickly it spreads, and how there’s the 14 day incubation period. You just don’t know who you’re coming into contact with when you’re going about your daily life. I really hope it’s just the media trying to cause panic, but it’s scary that someone has now died in the UK, I hope you and your family don’t get it xx

    March 5, 2020
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