I was a sophomore in college in 1985. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was getting tons of airplay in the press and I remember being affixed every morning to my local newspaper. Over a bagel with chive cream cheese and orange juice at the Rathskeller cafeteria each morning, I digested article after article proclaiming that toilet seats, shared gym showers, and kissing were sure-fire ways to contract this illness. Stop having sex with strangers they said, intercourse was definitely a gateway activity. I was suspicious of what was being messaged about this new ailment, but I was also curious. I just wanted to know the truth and it seemed the story was changing every few days.
Back then, not even knowing it, I was sharpening my skills to one day become a writer and a researcher, someone who would spend days and weeks collecting and corroborating facts and releasing them into the world in the form of an academic journal article, a grant proposal, an intermittent blog post or a free downloadable eBook.
A few weeks into my fall semester, after the guilt set in of attending too many fraternity parties and not prevailing at too many games of quarters, I convinced myself that I had contracted AIDS. I was still a virgin and not seriously dating anyone, but the pile-up in my brain of reading oodles of articles combined with my naïve neurosis finally got the best of me. I still remember the accepting, kind, and understanding nurse at the campus infirmary who asked me several questions and then sighed, looked at me with caring sympathetic eyes, and said, “You don’t fit the profile to even order a test. I can 100% say that I do not think you have AIDS. Come back if you start to have any of the symptoms on this list.” She handed me a list and I drudgingly returned back to my dorm room. What I wanted was confirmation that I was not going to die. I was seeking that fresh feeling of “start over”. You know, the way you feel when you have just filled your gas tank to the brim and there is an open road ahead and a weekend with nowhere you have to be. What I got was a printed symptom list and a head full of “what ifs.” Nothing seemed to comfort me that semester, I amped up my reading on the subject, visited the library so I could access the latest stories and I stayed away from intimate situations. Eventually, I learned to accede and live with the fear.
Fast forward 35 years to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each morning I wake up and go through a similar symptom checklist…Sore throat? Do I feel hot? Can I still smell things? Then I take a deep breath and move on with my day. There really isn’t a mechanism I can come up with to help me cope with the fear these big global health issues bring on. I think time helps me creep toward acceptance and I get used to a new level of toleration, but what I am wondering is, how is everyone else handling this?
What do you do to bypass the fear? I’d love to create a “Combat the Fear” list so we all can learn from each other. Who is willing to send in their anecdotes so we can create a community list together?