It has exhausted all of us
Daily death reports, uncontrollable fear, no visits with friends or family, surges and resurges, shutdowns and more. For many, the coronavirus has exacerbated feelings of “COVID fatigue.”
It’s a real thing, studied, documented and categorized by health officials. The World Health Organization estimates that about half of the world’s population is experiencing what it defined as “pandemic fatigue.”
Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe, said COVID has mentally impacted the entire world:
“Citizens have made huge sacrifices. It has come at an extraordinary cost, which has exhausted all of us, regardless of where we live, or what we do.”
For the three individuals interviewed here, the physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion that has invaded their lives since early this year has come in many forms.
Rudolph V. Ray, 65, contracted the virus in mid-March. A retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in St. Charles, Ray was never hospitalized.
When Ray was finally declared “COVID free” in late April, he returned to his job as a course facilitator at Forest Park Community College. Unlike some 240,000 other unfortunate Americans, Ray survived. Yet, he’s literally “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” After some seven months, Ray said, some of the symptoms are still with him:
“Man, this COVID thing has rocked me hard. I’m still having problems with my taste and smell. There was always this medicinal or antiseptic smell and taste and every now and again, I get that smell again. When I do, I worry that I’m getting this thing again.”
The most disturbing residual from the virus, Ray said, is fatigue and loss of energy. He prides himself as a go-getter who travels frequently and is always adding additions to his home. He’s yet to return to his pre-COVID condition.
“For almost a month, I’ve been trying to paint my office. But, after working 20 or 30 minutes, I have to sit down. Then I’m nodding off like I’ve been up for 24 or 48 hours.”
Ray has upped his intake of vitamins and increased his exercise regimen. It helps a little, physically, he said. But, mentally, he’s grappling with an ongoing reality:
“This virus has taken my normal high level of energy. It just wiped it out!”
For Trina Steward, 36, a licensed cosmetologist, COVID-19 upended her path to self-dependence. In January, she closed the Creve Coeur salon she had operated for three years. Steward had a steady customer base, a business plan, bank approval and was on course to purchase an RV that she was going to convert into a mobile salon. She was even negotiating with a retired cosmetologist in Redbud, Missouri, but, as the pandemic spread, she said the elderly, sickly woman broke off all contact out of fear of contracting the virus. Steward tried to serve her regular customers in their homes, but coronavirus fears curtailed that effort as well.
Steward, her husband, a fifth-grade science teacher, and her three children were all stuck in the house. This, she said, led to food and utility bills multiplying with little money coming in. The stimulus money helped a little, but after all these months Steward is considering taking a job at a salon just to get more money flowing into the house.
“I wonder what the new normal will be,” Steward said. “COVID has deteriorated my clientele because everyone is afraid. Hopefully, it slows down soon, and I can get back to work and continue taking my business to the next level.”
Popular KMOX radio anchor, Carol Daniel, describes her new normal as “lonely.” The word came to when she pulled into the almost empty parking garage of the radio station.
“Work has been hard,” Daniel said. “We’re working remotely with a skeleton crew. Then one day I thought, ‘I’m actually lonely here.’ That word describes what I am feeling.”
Daniel’s sense of disconnect goes far beyond the workplace. In May, she had to make the difficult decision to place her mother and father (ages 85 and 89, respectively) in an assisted living facility. Her mother suffers from dementia. Although Daniel is satisfied with the facility’s care, abiding by COVID restrictions when visiting her parents has been extremely difficult.
“I think every child who goes through this feels some level of guilt. We can visit but we have to sit at a long table, six to eight feet apart. You cannot touch them, you can’t hand them anything, can’t decorate their rooms, can’t have breakfast with them or hug them. That’s just so sad to me.”
Daniel is not only carrying the burden of a daughter but also as a mother. The youngest of her and her husband’s two sons, attends college in Kansas City. Virtual learning wasn’t working for him, so he decided to leave college. Daniel feels helpless as her son’s academic journey has been derailed:
“I can’t fix it. I can’t fix the university or make the pandemic go away. I feel like that’s my baby out there and I need to rescue, save and protect my child.”
Daniel welcomed the opportunity to share her feelings and frustrations. It’s important for all of us under stress to talk, she said, especially during these difficult times:
“It’s good for all of us to name it and say, ‘this is what’s going on.’ Because not talking about it is problematic.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.