On the morning of 21 February, I travelled from Italy to France. That day, COVID-19 didn’t make it to the front page of many of Europe dailies, and the spotlight of our favourite source of information – social media – was still on China.
But within the span of 24 hours, things changed, drastically. “Fear in North Italy”, “First COVID-19 death in Italy”. Two days post my travel, the country was under the spate of the virus and panic reports zeroed down on Milan area as the infection hotspot. My six-hour layover at the busy Milan airport didn’t give me peace of mind. Italy was officially contaminated, and I could be too.
Could I actually be incubating the virus? I kept myself busy, but at the back of my mind, that small doubt had caught on and sprouted.
No rules existed yet to report your travel history in Italy at that point of time, but out of civic sense, I decided to call up the medical helpline to inform them about my travel history. They said, “Go into self quarantine. If you feel any symptoms in the coming days, call us again.” So I cancelled all my appointments and thought that I could use this time at home to catch up on pending stuff.
Meanwhile, my Facebook feed got flooded with increasingly dramatic stories. Not only it was flooded, but thanks to this mysterious thing that is internet logarithms, my feed was shouting “coronavirus” in English, Hindi, Italian and French all at once at me. Tension was soaring by the minute and for the first time, I realized what it meant to be in quarantine. A striking thought turned for me into a possible reality: Could I actually be incubating the virus? I kept myself busy, but at the back of my mind, that small doubt had caught on and sprouted.
It came out in full blow when I least expected, during an unremarkable ironing session. Hours of accumulated stress and exposure to flows of negative information turned into hysterical crying. An endless spiral of thoughts wouldn’t leave my mind. Could I die all of a sudden from coronavirus infection, without having fulfilled my dreams? Or without meeting my grandparents? Maybe I would be fine, but what if I had unknowingly contaminated somebody and that person dies because of me? I had developed persistent chest pain and had been sneezing more than usual, and that only made the matters worse. Despite being reassured by my near ones, I was almost certain something bad was going to happen soon.
There is no end to negative thoughts. They are just like logarithms; the more you indulge in them, the bigger and darker they become. Fed by an underlying fear of the unknown, we are unable to come to terms with our sense of helplessness.
I didn’t develop any more symptoms and completed my quarantine period in good health. A doctor confirmed that my sneezing was a long-time allergy that had come back, and the chest pain was due to reflux, caused by stress.
The point is, we can play an important role in managing our thoughts. I consciously decided to log out of Facebook to stop the trigger, and over the next few days my mood improved. Reading the news will keep us informed but it will not change the situation outside, nor will it make us any more or less prone to catching the virus. Staying home and following official guidelines are the only ways we can fight this battle, and we should do this for the wellbeing of ourselves, and that of our families and society. Many of us these days are experiencing fear and anxiety, it takes our conscious effort to keep them under check (and to log off from social media for some time, to break the chain).
Image Credit: Chiara Lo Faro
TEDx speaker and musician, Chiara is passionate about creating deeper connections between Europe and India. The views expressed are the author’s own.