I’m Chronically Ill. The Lockdown Makes Me Feel Accepted.
My normal life is defined by limitations. Now that’s the case for everyone else.
A few days after Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order took effect in Virginia, my husband Dan stopped shaving. He usually wore a suit to work, was clean-shaven, and organized. But a week later, I watched him down bowls of cereal, snack on Wheat Thins, and spend close to 12 hours at his computer in pajamas. Every day, I watched him wither, until one evening he sat down on the couch and told me: “This is hard, very hard.”
“I know,” I said. Because I did. For the first time, he was forced to live the way I did.
Unlike Dan, I’ve been in isolation since 2016. I’ve quit two jobs — one full time, one part time — because it felt impossible to keep up with what regular work demanded: my availability 24/7, travel, and most importantly, an able body. I’m 33 years old and have a long history of autoimmune disorders. A recent diagnosis of neurally-mediated hypotension, a rare subtype of POTS syndrome, and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures left me functionally disabled because I began to have fainting spells one to three times a day. I cannot go anywhere without supervision. Unsurprisingly, this reduced my connection with friends and family to WhatsApp and FaceTime.
When the stay-at-home order was signed, the first things Dan prioritized were food and cleaning supplies. We have a one-year-old daughter, and as the single wage-earner in our family, he genuinely did what he thought was best for us. I, on the other hand, worried about what isolation might mean for us — especially for him. As a chronically ill person, I knew that able-bodied people were seldom forced to reconcile with limitations. Everything worked in their favor: trains, cars, workplaces, doorways, even cute neighborhood restaurants with stairway-only access.
In my world, normalcy has always been defined by limitations. I spend hours at specialist clinics scattered in the D.C.–Virginia area, taking care of housework or our baby. Most days, I go without speaking to anyone. I’ve fought severe depression and have grown accustomed to fighting off feelings of guilt and failure.