In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve noticed some people with the illness trying to continue working as though there’s not a viral death sentence canvassing the globe. I don’t know if this is stubbornness or some sort of perfectionism. But of all the perfectionism traits, someone risking their own health and the health of others has to be the worst.
If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you’ve probably seen Chris Cuomo trying to continue his TV show while battling COVID-19 or UK prime minister Boris Johnson trying to run his government even while in the ICU.
As stupid as it sounds, it’s hard for me to fault people like this, people who try to go about their jobs and daily lives, unfazed by the reality of a deadly virus. It’s hard for me to fault them because, once upon a time, I did the same thing.
When I first got sick in 2010, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis and thought I could push through it, my perfectionism traits getting the best of me. I thought I’d feel like shit for a few weeks but I could suck it up and carry on with my daily life, fulfilling my obligations while waiting until the virus passed. But I couldn’t. As time went on, I found that I couldn’t keep up with my normal routine. I certainly tried though. I taught group fitness classes (my job at the time) and attempted to finish my last semester of college. It didn’t go well.
At the peak of my stubbornness, I stayed in bed for two days straight, gathering my strength to teach one of my fitness classes. I was trying to maintain my appearance as a healthy fitness instructor, but I was failing, and in the process I was making myself sicker. The lengths I went to for a little bit of normalcy were not worth the consequences.
My condition got worse and soon I realized that I couldn’t live my normal life as long as I was sick. I couldn’t push my symptoms aside until the virus passed because, at the pace I was going, the healing process would only be stunted and my body would never fully recover.
Sure enough, a decade later, my body still hasn’t fully healed. Did working while I was sick make my illness worse? Probably. It definitely didn’t help. Now I’m mostly bedridden, I can’t walk, and I struggle to speak audibly.
But even with a lethal pandemic plaguing the world, I can’t say that I’ve completely learned my lesson. Thankfully I don’t have pressing obligations like Boris Johnson, Chris Cuomo, or even a regular citizen trying to stay afloat in a downed economy. I’m too sick to have much in terms of obligations, and perhaps that’s why it’s easy for me to sit here and tell people not to work during this pandemic. Though there is a difference between working while you’re sick and working while trying to avoid getting sick.
It goes without saying that if you have the coronavirus, you should quarantine yourself and not work for your sake and the sake of everyone you could potentially give it to.
It’s a bit more complicated, of course, for the vast majority of people, those who don’t have the virus but do need an income. I know what that’s like too, having to work and go to school in order to stay afloat with a mysterious virus swirling around. My virus wasn’t killing tens of thousands of people, but the weight of it combined with my obligations and stubbornness felt like having sand bags constantly strapped to my chest. I pushed myself too far, which seemed like a bad idea back then (and still does), but I didn’t know how to stop myself from working. I didn’t listen to my better judgment because I was in survival mode, and sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to survive.
This is all to say that, whether you have the virus or you’re just trying to avoid getting it, it’s not a good idea to work. I understand the dilemma. It’s not an easy decision, but as I’ve learned the hard way, if you make the wrong choice and try to push through it, you’re body may override you. Then you’re screwed. So make the right choice and don’t push yourself too much. Whatever that means for you.