Today I want to talk about an under-appreciated, under-reported side-effect of the Covid-19 vaccine: a significant shift in my mental health.
No, the vaccine didn’t magically cure my clinical depression and GAD; these are disorders that I will live with for the rest of my life. There is no magic cure that will make them go away, no matter how much we may wish that it was possible.
Instead, getting the vaccine lifted a suffocating weight off of my shoulders. When that needle hit my arm, I immediately felt a strong wave of relief that rocked me to my core.
To understand why this was so impactful for me, let me give you some insight into the last year of my life.
To start, I am considered part of an at-risk demographic. My family has a history of heart issues and stroke; I myself have an innocent murmur that reoccurs when I am battling serious illness. I am also asthmatic.
When Covid first appeared in the US, I was a little concerned, but not overly. Living in Idaho, my state has rarely been hit severely by the epidemics that caused public health concerns; I’d seen avian flu, swine flu, and ebola barely touch my communities while there was wide-spread panic. In my mind, this wouldn’t be any different...and then it was.
Before the state “shutdown”, our Governor closed off my parents’ community entirely. It was the source of the first cases found in the state; travel warnings were in effect, and suddenly it became more real. I started to worry.
My family is not one I would call overly healthy. My parents are in decent health, though my mom is also asthmatic, but my grandparents? Not so much. My husband’s family was also a concern; all are smokers, and of the grandparents one is a cancer patient and another a COPD patient. Even if I wasn’t worried about myself yet, I was starting to fear for them in a BIG way.
Then the state shutdown happened, a week after most of the rest of the country. My office switched to remote work, so did my husband’s, and we waited. It should only be a few weeks, we were told. It wasn’t.
As more information was revealed, and more cases arrived in Idaho, we limited our exposure to the public. Idaho has a very strong anti-mask presence, and it made every trip out a living nightmare; I became more worried about being attacked by a Covid Denyer in a state where open carry is permitted. The environment was tense; my mayor and governor were receiving death threats. Eventually, the governor caved. The mayor did not.
Every trip to the grocery store, the only reason we left the house, was agony. I had never been claustrophobic; I was now. One trip after state restrictions lifted, I found myself surrounded by people in the middle of Costco, disregarding distancing protocol. I couldn’t breathe. Tunnel vision set in. The only thought in the middle of the panic was “get out, get out, get out!” I basically sprinted to the check-out, and nearly broke down in the car. Anxiety attacks were now likely any time I got around too many people.
The tension grew, like a coil. We went almost a full year without seeing my family, even in isolation, and only a family emergency was cause for us to see my in-laws. My employer, a Covid-denyer, started pressuring me more and more to return to the office; even while the college interns we employed kept being diagnosed with or directly exposed to Covid.
I started to snap. The pressure was mounting, and I felt like a guitar string that was wound too tightly...I was starting to fall into a depression spiral, and something needed to give.
So, I quit my job, and started my own business.
This did help immensely; no longer being pressured to put myself at risk for no reason (I worked in digital marketing; VERY easy to work remotely) relieved a little of the tension. But Pandemic Fatigue was setting in, and I felt it in my bones. I stopped talking to loved ones. I started sleeping all day and staying up all night. I felt like it would never end.
This monotony continued; day in, day out, October 2020 until March 2021. In that time, the vaccine was released -- finally, some hope! -- but my state was so mismanaged that I believed I may not have access to a dose until the fall. I put my name on the waitlist, and accepted what I thought was inevitable: I was stuck.
And then I got the call. Being told I had a vaccine dose available was like a breath of air in the middle of drawing; it was real, palpable hope in the middle of the darkness. I had to move fast; my husband and I got vaccinated that night.
Suddenly, it was like the sun came out. While others seem to be taking the vaccine as an opportunity to cast caution to the wind, I’m just relieved. I can see family again. (Every person in our immediate family is fully vaccinated.) We can see friends again. We can go to a socially distanced restaurant and not stress. I can go to the grocery store, and not be on the edge of a panic attack the entire time.
A warm hug from my mother. A friend’s smile. A lunch date with my husband. All these little things I took for granted, now hold the greatest significance.
I’m not going to lie to you; my physical immune response to the vaccine was HORRIBLE. I had the most severe reaction of anyone I know. But...I would do it again in a heartbeat. The fever, the pain, the migraine. It was worth it to have the burden taken off of my shoulders.
If you’re on the fence about getting the vaccine, and you have no medical reason not to, do yourself a favor and get vaccinated. For yourself, for your family, for your community.
Together, we can defeat Covid. And together, we can release the decline in mental health from Pandemic Fatigue.