When a fellow resident in my student dorm asked on the WhatsApp group if they could host a New Year’s party to ring in 2021 with 50 people, the question was met with obvious brickbats, derision, and newsflashes about the ongoing global pandemic. But there were also people who took it upon themselves to educate those advocating caution with “facts” about how the disease only really affects people over a certain age.
Statistics were cited, for good measure. For every 1,000 people under the age of 35 who contract the virus, on an average, less than one case is expected to result in death. If we exercised regularly, took our supplements, and didn’t have any comorbidities, we would breeze through our advised self-isolation if we ended up contracting the virus.
On paper, these words might make sense, and even encourage some to continue partying and traveling as if the pandemic never existed. Why would you lose precious moments of your youth fearing a minuscule virus that doesn’t seem to stand a chance against you? And yet, when three months after this conversation, I tested positive for the same virus, none of these so-called facts mattered.
Now, I am a relatively healthy 23-year-old — I exercise 3-5 times a week and I don’t have any serious medical conditions. If claims about the virus going easy on people like me are to be believed, life should have gone on unaffected, regardless of what the test report said. But the reality was vastly different. In addition to the usual symptoms like cough, sore throat, and fever, I experienced severe fatigue of the kind that completely wipes you out and renders you incapable of performing even basic tasks.
As a student in her final semester of grad school, this meant I had to miss several online lessons, group work sessions, and request extensions for multiple assignments, including my Master’s thesis. Even as I slept through deadlines, the muscle aches that accompanied the disease made it virtually impossible to achieve the quality of rest that would help me recover.
On most days, I felt like a zombie — mechanically gulping down prescribed medication, inhaling steam, gargling with hot water as my parents asked me to, without putting any real thought into it amid the acute lack of trustworthy information. Yet, over phone calls to check up on me, my friends assured me it would be OK. After all, I was young, they reminded me, while they vacayed in the mountains or by the seaside. If only that helped.
I experienced severe fatigue that completely wipes you out and renders you incapable of performing even basic tasks.
Even after over three weeks of testing positive, I continue to feel extremely exhausted on many days. As I recover from the infection, I’m afraid my symptoms might persist, and if they do, might endanger my prospects of graduating with good grades, or finding a job. My fears aren’t unfounded, as experiences of others my age will tell you. A study has found that almost 50% of patients experience symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome six months after having been infected by COVID. Many other young survivors have experienced prolonged symptoms referred to as “long COVID,” which have had a debilitating impact on everything from their mental health to their sex lives.
Even as vaccination drives start around the world, an upsurge in infection rates is being noticed. This time around, newer variants are increasingly leading to infection and hospitalization among younger people who aren’t yet eligible to get the jab.
The past year has been unbearably tough for everyone, especially those of us who are young. We’re losing what were supposed to be the best years of our lives to this pandemic, as our future hangs in the balance, marred with uncertainty. As tired as we might be of living in restriction, please take it from my experience: young people aren’t immune to the virus. And the sooner we accept this and begin to take it seriously, the closer we will be to getting on with the lives we have ahead of us.