Journalist talks covid19, anxiety

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this May 2021 people line up in cars for covid19 tests at the private St Clair Medical Centre on St Clair Avenue. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

Newsday senior reporter Jensen LaVende describes his experience after his encounter with the virus. He shares imtimate thoughts on the fragility of life and the anxiety and existential questioning that come when someone faces a possibly fatal illness.

I have heard people say they have anxiety and I always thought, “Well, change yuh thinking, or, more importantly, what you’re thinking.”

It’s not so easy.

Last year August I contracted covid19. I didn’t think much of it until one day the oximeter read 94. Which was the “call the doctor” mark. They said check my breathing every day and if it reached that low, call the doctors.

Seeing that number frightened me. It still does.

I got over covid, along with my family, but I have never stopped worrying about my breathing. I am conscious of it, always. Am I doing it correctly? Is there enough oxygen getting in? Lemme take deep breaths.

Stuffy nose for a second and my mind races. Call the morgue!

And some acid reflux in there and, well, boy, I done dead twice.

I remind myself often that I’m OK. That I’m breathing. That it’s not laboured. No auxiliary muscles are in use for me to breathe. The fact that I can do tasks without panting is sign enough.

But that’s not enough. Nothing seems to be enough.

Some of you see me question people in authority and think I’m brave, but I get mini-heart attacks to ask each question. I suck it up and do it afraid because it must get done.

In the latter part of last year I had crippling fear/panic attacks/anxiety. There were days I walked out of the office, aimlessly sometimes, just to escape. I felt I could not breathe. Nights I lost sleep, too afraid to sleep, thinking I’d die in my sleep, and had to call in sick the following day.

I had those before, in my youth. Watched TV all night until I fell asleep. No one knew. I didn’t want them to.

And I thought I was over that. I hated that feeling of dread then as much as I do now. It make me feel weak and helpless. I’m the helper. I’m the strength-giver. I can’t afford weakness. I hated/hate that feeling.

I know I’m fine. The oximeter says my breathing is above 96, at least that one time I worked up the courage to place it on my finger.

I am afraid to exercise because heavy breathing sends me into a tailspin.

I’m constantly worrying that something is wrong with me. What will become of my family? Will I live to see my daughter born? These are daily thoughts, happening multiple times a day, coming on stronger at night.

There were days I had to call my wife or pastor to talk me off my mental ledge. It worked for a while. I felt my prayers were in vain, because I would get an ease and then be back in my mental cage minutes later. Is my faith lacking? Is God punishing me?

Therapy – the few sessions I had – helped. Talking to people helps.

But I’m tired of the fear. I have no clinical diagnosis of anxiety, and I’m not taking any meds. I am tired of the constant worry. The constant fear of dread. The constant thought that there is something wrong with me, in me and because of me. I long for my carefree days when I brushed things off. I know now that’s not healthy. Neither is this.

I’m getting better, slowly, but surely, I have to.

So why type all this? Well, in order not to repeat history, we must know it. I am taking my story, making it history so you can learn from it and not repeat it. I am chatty, or can be, but I keep a lot in. Too much, I suppose. Everyone can’t know my business, obviously, but I should not carry this load alone. Cuz I tired.

I just wanna breathe.