Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Living with an anxiety disorder during a pandemic

Photo by @upyanose via Twenty20

According to the CDC, pre-existing mental health conditions can be exacerbated by the uncertainty created by a pandemic. In the case of my mental health, they are absolutely right. I feel the sheer panic of the world every morning I face the four walls inside my room. The world is in flames, I tell myself. But it feels like you’re the next one to go when you have an anxiety disorder. 

Sometimes I feel so anxious it’s difficult for me to leave my room without a bit of panic. But when the beginning of the New York City lockdown began, I felt trapped inside my building. In the morning I would pace around my tiny living room looking for things to do. I began to frantically call my family at home. The only way for me to ease the anxiety is to see the faces of people that I know. When I realized I couldn’t see my friends, classmates, and teachers, the quarantine turned into a dark place. I felt the panic increase as my thoughts intensified. 

Will someone I love be contaminated? 

Since the spread of the virus throughout the US, New York City has become the epicenter of COVID-19. In New York state, more than  122,000 cases have been confirmed and almost  4,100 deaths. Last week my parents asked me if I would rather stay in the city or fly back to California where my family lives. While I knew that I didn’t want to leave, I felt that I needed to be closer to them. Considering that quarantine could last months to mitigate the virus, I wanted to be where I would feel safe. 

I was sad to leave and I am still torn by my decision. I have lived in New York for one year and right now it feels like home-where I have made friends and walked miles throughout each of the city’s boroughs. But the streets and cafes where I would take photos, study, and see my friends have closed down. It feels as though someone I know is sick, like New York City is slowly dying. 

I left my apartment at 5 a.m. Thursday morning after packing for hours the night before. My list of precautionary items was jammed into my suitcase. Latex gloves from the bodega, masks, hand sanitizer, and hospital grade wipes that my mom told me to buy. I was prepared for a short flight back to California. 

I called an Uber driver because I was afraid to take the subway, considering the possible contamination. I walked my suitcase down my four flights of stairs, with no sleep under my belt due to the long night of packing. 

As I was about to leave the building and wave down the Uber, the zipper on my suitcase broke. A series of clothes and books fell out of my luggage, spreading across my building’s lobby. I started to panic. 

The older driver helped me put my broken suitcase into his car. “They may have something for you at the airport,” he said skeptically. I was worried I wouldn’t make my flight back home. 

He hastily drove the Long-Island Expressway, and a little too fast for my comfort, leaving me at the airport two hours before my flight.

I was worried. I didn’t know if the airport had a way for me to fix my broken suitcase and I couldn’t afford to miss my flight. But when I ran inside the airport to check into my flight at Delta Airlines, a repair shop appeared in the corner. A man was standing there selling large bags to enclose broken suitcases. Shortly after I met him, he became my hero. 

I thanked the man for helping me secure my luggage and I checked into my flight leaving for San Francisco. My anxious thoughts were under control at least for the moment. 

My flight from John F. Kennedy International to San Francisco International was eerie, and almost empty. JFK typically has at least 130,000 travelers, but when I went to board my plane at Terminal 4, the airport was completely deserted.

I arrived at my gate with time to buy breakfast and coffee before I began my journey back home. Six hours is the amount of time it takes to fly to California, but it’s usually under different circumstances. 

My time at home is normally spent with family. My mother welcomes me with hugs and laughter, and we drive a couple hours to the northern tip of California to visit my father. These visits usually ease my mental health, and calm my mind as I soak in the familiarity of the Golden State. They consist of warm embraces from my family and hikes in the redwoods with my friends.

But right now I can’t see anyone for two weeks. To make sure I don’t contaminate my mother and father, considering my dad is 70 years old and mom is 60, I am staying in my mom’s house while she stays with my father. I don’t want to risk contamination because they have had previous health problems. 

My return to California hasn’t been like my past trips back home. I am constantly worried that even my footprint will get my mom sick. But for now, my panic is slightly at ease.

I walk into my house after driving the 101 north from San Francisco. I strip my clothes and throw them into the washer machine. I take my sanitation wipes and clean the counters thoroughly. I leave my shoes outside in fear that the virus has followed me on the flight. I feel the sunlight on my skin as I get ready to wash off my body. 

My anxiety eases as I sit down and breathe in the warm California air, and my mind calms as I realize that I am safe. But my thoughts still linger, and I wish that I could see my family. 

I just have two weeks, I tell myself. Two more weeks and I’ll feel at home.




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