What it’s like to have coronavirus when you live alone

It pains me to admit that just a few weeks ago, I was sat in a pub arguing with a friend because I felt she was overly concerned about coronavirus having reached the UK.

Ironically, just two days later, I was in bed shivering from a fever, unable to move because my muscles ached, and with a throat that felt as if someone had shoved gravel up and down my tonsils. I’d contracted COVID-19 (or so I suspect, since I, as most of the country, have not been tested – but my symptoms more than fit the profile).

I’ve lived alone for over two years, and I love it. My independence is something I’m proud of – but it’s funny how getting sick changes your perspective.

My family live in Sweden, and my best friend is in Derby. I’m also a workaholic and I don’t mind spending time in my own company. Above all, I hate asking for help.

But as I was lying in bed, terrified and waiting for a call from a medical professional following a chat with 111 (I was having trouble breathing), all I longed for was for someone to be with me through the process. I also suffer from anxiety, and have for the better part of 10 years, which can exacerbate stressful situations, especially when it’s in regards to my health.

It didn’t help that my next door neighbour decided to throw a big party that same night, ignoring calls for social distancing.

I barely remember the first two days. My head cleared up after that – but unfortunately I started developing new, scarier symptoms soon after. The continuous cough turned into a wheezing and crackling sound in my lungs that got so severe one night, that the irrational part of my brain was genuinely concerned that I would fall asleep and maybe not wake up (note to future self: don’t ever Google symptoms).

Another 24 hours and a call with a doctor revealed that I had developed suspected pneumonia or an infection in my lungs, as a result of the virus. And so I was prescribed antibiotics, which I collected during a mad dash to the pharmacy, where they kindly served me outside so I wouldn’t harm anyone else.

Mentally, this is when I started to feel the full force of being ill. I was stressed, scared and alone. I randomly burst out crying on my sofa on day five.

Apart from work (I’m a freelance journalist, so you can bet I kept on working throughout, given the government’s lax attitude to properly supporting the self-employed during this crisis), I had nothing to do but sit in self-isolation and stare at the four walls of my tiny studio.

Talking was painful, because it caused me to cough, so social media became my haven. And oh, how people rallied.

Strangers sent me direct messages as well as emails asking if I needed anything, a company sent me food as a kind gesture and one person even offered to send chocolate to my address after I joked on Twitter that I’d forgotten to stock up.

Meanwhile, my colleague’s boyfriend searched three supermarkets to find food for me and dropped it off at my doorstep. Another friend drove from her house to my flat to do the same (and included a bottle of Corona beer, just to make me laugh).

On a positive note, the experience has made me appreciate the people in my life more, and has chipped away at the resolve that I must do everything on my own

A neighbour also dropped off a thermometer after I tweeted asking if anyone had a spare.

At work, managers told me to take it easy and didn’t flinch when I teared up during Zoom chats from the sheer loneliness of being trapped in one room by myself, sick and exhausted, for over a week.

All of these small and big acts of kindness made me feel less alone – as did venting about it, and admitting that I wasn’t doing all that well physically or emotionally.

I’m young and mostly healthy and well aware that the real risk of me dying from coronavirus was – and still is – very, very low (but convincing your brain that everything is going to be OK when you don’t feel OK is another matter entirely).

On a positive note, the experience has made me appreciate the people in my life more, and has chipped away at the resolve that I must do everything on my own.

It also felt like a brief and humbling insight into how difficult this type of situation, and the fear of getting COVID-19, must be for elderly people who live alone or those with underlying health conditions. According to Age UK, more than two million people over the age of 75 live alone in Britain – and more than one million of these people often go a month without talking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

Most importantly, this has reminded me of the value of kindness and community. Many of us are scared of what’s to come – and the lack of leadership from government over the past two weeks hasn’t exactly helped.

So until things turn around, it’s up to us to help each other. I’ll be paying the kindness I received forward – I hope you do the same.