As an immunocompromised person, this pandemic has been incredibly taxing on my mental health, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, staying home all the time can be a bit boring, but thankfully since March, I have had the company of my housemates who all also go to UP. The reason it has been so deeply stressful is because throughout this time, I have been terrified that I was going to die.
I am 21 years old; I am finally at a place in my life where I feel proud of my accomplishments and excited for what the future holds for me. And yet, I’ve felt like my life was a burden to those around me, both because we’ve taken precautions the entire pandemic and also how stressful it would be if I, or someone else in my house, got COVID-19.
Starting in March, we immediately reduced the number of people we were seeing. We established boundaries that nobody would come into the house and we would not go into anyone else’s house. Thankfully, the weather began warming up around then and so this plan of action was relatively convenient. Although there were adjustments made here and there, and at times people made mistakes, this is largely the plan of action we have stuck with, even as it has begun getting cold. None of us have gone to parties, and any time we have left to go home and see our families we have gotten tested before coming back. I am saying these things that we have done, not because I believe we deserve props or thanks, but because I believe this is what is right and I hope to remind those within the UP community that we need to protect and take care of each other.
Now eight months into this pandemic, I can say with confidence that the actions me and my housemates have taken, though motivated by me being immunocompromised, are actions that everyone needs to be taking right now. Cases in Oregon are spiking like never before, and yet I have seen people partying and posting about it across social media platforms, both UP students and people who attend other colleges. I have seen students I have classes with post videos of themselves at parties or traveling across the U.S. for leisure, while they talk about the importance of social justice in our classes and on social media.
How ironic is this — that you claim to be an advocate for social justice and cannot wrap your head around how your actions are directly impacting your community. When you party, when you invite people over, when you post pictures of yourself out at bars, you are sending a reminder to the immunocompromised people around you that you do not care about our lives or safety.
At the same time, COVID-19 is a racial justice issue. COVID-19 is killing more people of color across the U.S. than white people. If you posted for Black Lives Matter this summer and yet are running around and pretending we are no longer in a pandemic, you are quite literally a part of the problem.
This period of time has been challenging for all of us. Many of us have lost our jobs, had our housing plans up in the air, had difficulty in traveling to see our families, and had negative mental health effects from isolation. To those of you still taking precautions and offering support to those of us who are immunocompromised, I thank you. To those of you who are immunocompromised/high risk, I see you and I’m sorry that our community has not shown up for you substantially enough. To those of you who have lessened their boundaries with time or say that it’s ‘only old people dying,’ I’m calling on you here to step up and show our community that you care. You should still care about ‘old people’ in the first place. People are not dying in order for you to party. Your actions do have serious consequences, ones that are literally life and death for people.
Almost 250,000 people have died in the U.S. Why aren’t we talking about that anymore? There are probably people like me included in that number. Do you know how terrifying that is? I am trying to finish my degree, I don’t want to have to worry about dying while doing so.
Meg Bender-Stephanski is a disabled, senior environmental ethics and policy major. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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