An Unexpected Turn of Events

I used to love roller coasters. The anticipation. Climbing up, up, up … then the free-fall and the upside-down twists, speeding along faster and faster. One minute you are terrified and the next you are laughing with your hands in the air. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I prefer a steady, expected, clear path laid out before me so I can see where I’m going and know how to brace for the curves.

The last few weeks have been anything but steady. I have found myself on a most unexpected, unwanted emotional roller coaster and I’ve been silently screaming, “I want to get off right now!”

For several months, my closest friends and I had been planning a grand trip across Europe. We were so excited. The day to fly out finally arrived. I remember hearing the guy behind me on the plane coughing all night. He sounded terrible and I was on high alert. News of COVID-19 was just beginning to spread beyond China so I was sure to disinfect my seat and wash my hands thoroughly.

The weather was cold and rainy, so I didn’t think too much about my sniffles and scratchy throat initially. Perhaps I was in denial. Five days into our trip, there was no denying my symptoms. I was definitely sick.

There was uneasy laughter and careful joking about the coronavirus. It seemed like a “normal” sinus infection to me. So, like many others who were ignorant of the pandemic that was coming, I continued on about my business. I wanted to see all the sights we had planned to visit and I desperately wanted to enjoy the time with my friends.

A few days later, we called the National Hotline in Ireland for COVID-19, only to be told that my symptoms did not meet the criteria for testing. At that point, others in our group began to show the same symptoms. We were only halfway through our trip.

Early the next morning, I woke up to dozens of texts from friends telling me that the President had just announced a travel ban for people coming into the States from Europe effective in 48 hours. This was the moment I got on the roller coaster. My adrenaline went through the roof as my friends and I began booking last-minute flights back to the States. We rushed to pack and to get to the airport, uncertain of what would await us.

I thought that the chaos of returning home early and the extreme disappointment of cutting our trip short would be the worst part of this roller coaster ride. But I couldn’t see what was around the corner.

The news was spreading fast and furious about the coronavirus. The World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic, and cases in the United States began to rise. I cried when I realized that I had relegated my roommates to 14 days of quarantine with me. I hadn’t thought about the toll my trip and illness would take on others.

Worse of all, I started experiencing the shortness of breath and the deeper cough that seemed to line up with the dreaded COVID-19 symptoms. But it didn’t end there.

I spent hours on the phone trying to get an order for a COVID-19 test. When my physician finally ordered one for me, I spent several hours in an isolated ER room being swabbed, X-rayed and hooked up to a machine. It was scary to watch people suit up in protective gear with masks, face shields, and gloves before they could come near you. The next few days, we found out that two of our travel mates had tested positive for COVID-19.

Just as I was coming to terms with the idea that I would never know for sure — I just needed to continue quarantining and treating my symptoms — I got a call from the hospital

Two days later, I received a call from my physician telling me that The Department of Health rejected my test — they would not be reading it due to the shortage of testing supplies. And the roller coaster careened uncontrollably down another hill. Just as I was coming to terms with the idea that I would never know for sure — I just needed to continue quarantining and treating my symptoms — I got a call from the hospital. My test had come back negative! I was confused, skeptical, and relieved all in one fell sweep. I didn’t know how to respond.

News that would normally be cause for relief and joy was just another twist and turn on my emotional roller coaster.

Two weeks later, I am continuing to quarantine and take precautions as if I have COVID-19, but the path ahead feels so unclear.

If I haven’t yet had the virus, how bad will it be if I do end up catching it?

Do those who were exposed to me have a false sense of hope and are now unwittingly spreading it to others?

How long will the lockdown in my state last?

Will life ever feel “normal” again?

That last question is the hill I’m continuing to climb. It seems to reach higher and higher and I can’t find the peak where things finally stop so that I can see what lies ahead. But I am finding that this is true for everyone right now.

No one can see how this outbreak will affect all of our lives in the next weeks or months or years. I suppose the truth is that we never really could.

I prefer the illusion that I can control how things will go. I’m always looking for something secure in which to anchor my hope in the days ahead. The truth is that even when this roller coaster ends, another one will come along sooner or later.

It is tremendously helpful to know that I am not alone. My friends and family have been the greatest support when I share my confusion, anxiety, and fears about the future. I don’t know what I would do without the comfort and hope that talking to them brings, even when they just encourage me to put my hands in the air and enjoy the parts of the ride that I can. However, it is especially encouraging when I look next to me and realize we are sharing this ride together.

Photo Credit Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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