On Wednesday, October 5th, I tested positive for COVID. However, that's not where it began. To explain that, and the complicated feelings mentioned in my previous post, I'll need to provide some background.

I spent much of the pandemic in Canada. My partner is from Canada, and at the time was still living there. I work remotely, which gave me the ability to travel, while she could not. So, I was in Canada when COVID started, and spent 9 months straight there during the initial lockdowns and border closures. This meant that much time away from my family, as well. While the border was still closed, Canada enacted an exception to their "reuniting families" laws to include long-term relationships, that stated, if approved, a non-Canadian could cross the Canadian border. I immediately applied, was approved, and headed home for the first time in nearly a year. This was for a couple of reasons, including that I could not get the COVID vaccine in Canada, but could easily get it in the US. I scheduled the trip around the vaccines. I was finally able to see my folks again for the first time in ages. My parents are smart, thoughtful people, who took this whole thing seriously. I knew they had been incredibly careful as well throughout the pandemic, following lockdowns, wearing masks, etc. My mum is essentially a frontline worker - she is a psych NP, and sees patients for mental health purposes. Her office went entirely to telehealth, and though she hated it, she knew it was necessary, and went with it. The one time they came down with something when we were already scheduled to be there, they were up front about it, we decided to visit anyway, and everyone kept their distance for the evening. Turns out it was my folks' first experience with COVID, and we did not catch it. This situation told me I could trust my folks to be forthcoming about symptoms and such, giving me the opportunity to make decisions with the proper information. The point of this is that my folks' place has been a COVID-safe space to me throughout the pandemic.

This year (as with most years, minus a break during the pandemic), my folks went to Italy for most of September. Before they left, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to an NFL (American football) game with him on October 2nd. He asks me regularly if I want to go, and since the pandemic started, I have turned him down every time. I genuinely feel bad when this happens, and I feel certain I've disappointed him, but my fear of tightly packed crowds feels worse. This time, one factor was different: my dad's birthday is October 1st. I felt like I couldn't say no, so I agreed. Not long after I asked my mum for a chat, told her that I was panicking about it, and wanted to discuss it with someone reasonable who wasn't in my head. She gave me some COVID facts, pointed me to a highly effective N95 mask, and said wearing that, I could be in that level of human proximity for extended periods of time with very low risk. I decided I could do it, and ordered my masks. Every time I saw it on the calendar, I still had panic-pangs, but I reminded myself that I said I would do it, and powered through.

While they were in Italy, I asked my dad what he wanted to do for his birthday itself. He said stay in and have me cook dinner. We decided on the meal and that was that. My folks came home from Italy the Wednesday before, which gave them a little recovery time before we were planning on being there for his birthday. My mum was probably the most excited to see me, considering she said a couple of times towards the end of their trip how much she missed me. When I got there, I prepped charcuterie, and we all caught up over afternoon snacks. Between that and dinner, my mum and I caught up more personally. Dinner was delicious and the evening was lovely. My dad enjoyed his gifts. We packed up and headed home to get some sleep, so I could get up early for the football game.

On game day, my dad picked me up, and we went through his usual routine: park, head over to a specific restaurant for lunch (I always have breakfast), and then head to the stadium for the game. I brought my N95 mask with me, but did not intend to use it until the game. The restaurant wasn't packed and has high ceilings, so I felt ok there. He asked me while we ate, "So, are you up for doing this again?" I replied, "Let me get through the game before I make that decision." He looked a little confused, and I remembered he had no idea what I had gone through to agree to join him. I explained a short version, that I had to overcome a lot of anxiety about COVID and crowds to be able to come with him, and that deciding whether I could do it again would have to wait until I got through the truly anxiety-inducing part. He said ok in a compassionate tone, but I know it was a little awkward for him, as dealing with my mental health issues isn't exactly his bailiwick. As we left and headed to the stadium, I masked up, put a cloth mask over the N95, and prepared myself for being in a huge, tightly packed, energetic, and eventually drunk crowd. Most fans were not wearing masks, but this was expected. My dad recently moved his season tickets to a new location. His seats are up against one of the exits from the field, so there are other seats on only one side of his. He graciously offered me the outside seat, which he called the "healthy seat", I gladly accepted, and we settled in for the game. I felt comfortable for the most part. The game was kind of a shitshow, and our team ended up losing, but it was nice to spend the time with my dad. I also felt proud of myself for pushing through a fear, and getting out again. I did not unmask until we were well out of the crowd outside.

The following evening, Monday night, I had a mild sore throat. I brushed it off as likely to go away, and went to bed. The next day, the sore throat had worsened, and now included a cough, headache, and sinus pressure. We looked up how long after exposure to COVID and a cold you were likely to begin showing symptoms: COVID was average a week, and colds were 2-3 days. It seemed unlikely I had caught something at the game, which was my concern all along. I mentioned to my mum over text how I was feeling. She replied that she had awakened on Saturday with a mild sore throat, but it went away, and she wasn't sick while we were there, so she didn't think to mention it. She said it was a cold, that she was at work wearing a mask, and her symptoms were mild. Somehow, this information overrode all of my COVID paranoia and fears, and I took it as fact. She felt bad for giving me this mild cold. I told her it happens. As the day progressed, I continued to feel worse, and that trend continued into waking up the next day. I finally decided to take a COVID test, and the result was positive. I, of course, told my folks, so they could get tested. My mum tested positive and my dad tested negative. This is where the most complicated feelings began. My mum had acknowledged having a symptom, did not tell me, I visited without that information, and ended up with COVID. My safe space had betrayed me. I struggled with this, and on some level, still am, a bit. It's not a direct discussion I ever expect to have. She felt bad about giving me a mild cold, I can only imagine she felt awful about likely giving me COVID. Especially after our pre-Italy discussion about my deep-seated fear of catching it. Any conversation around this would end up coming across as accusatory, and if she already feels bad, there's no point in making it worse. That said, I will certainly be asking about symptoms every time before I head over to their place again. Learning from this is the best I can do.

I haven't told him yet, but given that I didn't contract any of this at the game, I think I'd be alright with joining him again. I have struggled a lot with being able to go out again and be around people following 2 years of isolating, lockdowns and so many deaths. Going with him in the first place turned out to be an important step for me in my journey to reenter a world where COVID will remain a thing, and I need to be able to be a part of it. Turns out a serious, well-designed, properly fitted mask has helped me significantly. They seal super solidly, breathe easy, and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I highly recommend them. And if you catch something, they're equally good at protecting others from you. Until my mum recommended these to me, I was wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask everywhere I went. It did the trick, as evidenced by my lack of COVID until now, but I feel much safer in these new masks. And if you're feeling sassy, you can always cover it up with a cloth mask. I will say, though, that after the game, when I took off my cloth mask before removing the N95, I could breathe SO much easier. It's never been an issue before with the same cloth mask, but it was noticeable with this N95. I think in the future, I'll only wear a cloth mask over them if it'll be for a shorter period of time, and wear them standalone otherwise.

I'm not entirely sure explaining any of this was strictly necessary, but I wanted to share on the off chance something here helps someone else in a similar situation.