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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  How personal health barometers got indexed to Covid

How personal health barometers got indexed to Covid

Feelings of low self-esteem and dejection have witnessed a huge spike this year with the isolation and uncertainty
  • A study commissioned by the Boston University School of Public Health found that depression had trebled in the US
  • Medical Staff collects the swab sample for RT-PCR Covid-19 testing (ANI)Premium
    Medical Staff collects the swab sample for RT-PCR Covid-19 testing (ANI)

    A few days ago, I was feeling under the weather. Literally. The cold always does that to me. I’ve been particularly hating the Delhi winter this year, with its early onset and record-busting chills. So, there I was sitting in front of the heater (at an elevated setting), too weighed down to consider freshening up with a hot shower, feeling pained each time I had to get up to answer the door, and cursing the Covid pandemic that I couldn’t be ensconced in the warmth of Dubai or Goa or Kolkata. In one word, miserable.

    And then, it happened. A tiny clutch of dread started building up somewhere inside me and soon expanded into a big ball of terror. What if I’ve contracted Covid? Maybe I’m feeling cold and dank because a low-grade fever is eating me up; and maybe I want to sit hunched up in front of a heater because I’ve been ravaged by fatigue—of the Covid kind.

    I got up gingerly to take out a thermometer from a top drawer, and popped it into my mouth for a reading. No fever. That failed to reassure me. I felt whacked. So can Covid symptoms include fatigue only and no attendant fever and “dry cough"? I pulled out my phone from under a cushion. Google. Covid symptoms. They came up as soon as I typed in “c". After going through the list for at least the thousandth time, I typed in “fatigue causes + not Covid". Dehydration, poor air quality, being hormonal, not ingesting enough fruits and veggies—all of these were straightaway applicable to me, so why was I giving Covid the preferential treatment?

    A friend told me she did knee-jerk Covid tests every time she felt she was “coming down with something". “After half-a-dozen tests, I realized the exercise was becoming untenable and kind of expensive, so now I’ve stopped—even though a little voice in my head keeps saying, ‘It’s Covid, it’s Covid’, if I so much as cough."

    It’s annoying, irritating, unnerving—Covid’s halo of ready availability, its overriding omnipresence. Contexts of all other diseases—much deadlier ones, with way more intimidating mortality rates—have been diminished. It’s like there’s only Covid that ails the world… a progressive, degenerative march: “Do I have Covid?" “Do you have Covid?" “Did s/he die of Covid?"

    Even more wrenching is the battle with mental health. First things first: Expectedly, feelings of low self-esteem and dejection have witnessed a huge spike this year with the isolation and uncertainty. A study commissioned by the Boston University School of Public Health found that depression had trebled in the US; this was way back in April, so the numbers would have increased dramatically today, more than six months down the line. In countries like India, where there is almost no systematic tracking of depression, mental health services—limited as they are in any case—have become difficult to access.

    A former colleague who now lives abroad has ageing parents in Delhi. Lack of social interaction has severely impacted her mother, and a subsequent depression has accentuated her mild dementia into a more strident version. “I’m very angry," she told me the other day, “Don’t know who to take out the anger on, and yet I know there’s nothing else I can do except accept this as the new reality."

    There’s an alternate reality playing out as well: the fact that being emotionally vulnerable is equal to being depressed just because depression has become a subset of the pandemic ecosystem.

    The other day, I was having a long chat with someone, and articulating new normal frustrations I’m having to deal with. Not being able to meet someone at the drop of a hat. The contrived nature of meetings when they do happen: the physical distancing, the masks, the constant hand-sanitizing—and the constant hand-wringing. My biggest grouse has been not being able to travel to a different city in an effort to seek closure when a much-loved family member passed away sometime back.

    “Are you okay?" she suddenly asked at the end of it. “As in, are you depressed? You sound like a clinical case, Covid is doing this to everyone!" So I had to tell her, yes, I’m alright, but it bothers me no end that I cannot afford to sound sad or fragile without judgements being drawn on the state of my mental health.

    While conducting harmless banter on binge-worthy serials with a friend, I was batting for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which I’d found on Disney+Hotstar. He immediately confronted me with: “I notice you’ve acquired a penchant for watching the dark and the brooding. Is this because of Covid? Is this your mindscape these days?"

    “Wait, wait," I resisted. “I’ve always enjoyed noir as much as I enjoy romcoms and Friends—what’s the Covid connection?"

    “You know what it’s like," he said mysteriously. “Because our lives have become surreal, the weirdness is manifesting itself every which way."

    But only up to a point, surely? If I’m down after a fight with my best friend, it’s not because I’m Covid-depressed. And if I’m feeling unwell, I do not need to get an RT-PCR done on autopilot.

    Sushmita Bose is a journalist, editor and the author of ‘Single In The City’.

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    Published: 10 Dec 2020, 10:16 PM IST
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