Published: July 9, 2020

The Surface & Shadow of COVID-19
By Sophia Baldwin

"In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the true meaning of inner strength!”

I was at CU Boulder working two jobs and going to school full-time and all I wanted to do was be in my bed. I got my wish, but not in a shape or form that I was expecting. In March, I contracted an illness and was in bed for two months. At the time, I didn’t know it was COVID-19.

Sickness of the Body

It was a fight against the unknown. Wave one started. I was overcome by chills, sweating, and a fever. Soon after, the fever left me and I lost my sense of taste and smell for a week, making me suspect I had COVID-19. When the fever subsided and my ability to taste and smell came back, I thought COVID-19 had left me.

It was just starting.

Wave two began in the form of crippling abdominal pain, hallucinations, and a heavy lack of sleep. I lost my appetite even though I was so hungry. With a hollow stomach, I was stationed in the bathroom, draped over the toilet without relief. I laid in bed for hours at a time, unable to go on walks, with waves running underneath my skin. Any activity started a relapse of COVID-19 symptoms and killed the white-blood cells trying to fight for me. I weakened, and my once-athletic-self began to fade away. In my bed, I was left to my thoughts as my only escape. 

The nights were long and were some of the darkest hours of my life. One night, I threw up 9 times. As I lay in bed, my mom sat beside me and held my hand as I drifted to sleep; I didn’t want to fall asleep alone because I wasn’t sure if I would wake up in the morning. I’d never felt so detached from life before.

And still, there was speculation among my professors, my peers, and my doctors about whether or not I had the coronavirus. Why was I sick and my family wasn’t? I was the least likely out of all of them to get it. And why do some gathered crowds get it and some don’t? Did I have something else in the midst of this pandemic or was my illness not as serious as it felt? 

Finally, after a month and a half of rest and wrestling with the coronavirus I was tested. Everyone was baffled by how long I’d been sick. More tests commenced and for the next week I was clinging to my phone waiting for results. Each phone call was a clawing crawl towards the answer:

Parasite. Nope.
Pregnancy. Negative.

Beaver fever. Oh, good Lord please, no! Negative. Oh, thank goodness.

Several tests later, my mania was confirmed: COVID-19. It was no longer active but I was still recovering from the infection. For a month I ate nothing but rice, rice cakes, applesauce, and canned peaches. The day I was able to eat fish sticks was a victorious day to remember! Having an answer gave me peace, and from there it was a slow but hopeful recovery. 

Sickness of the Heart & Mind

That entire time I was immobile, my mind was burdened: my mom lost her job; my grandma passed away; and my previous boss who fiercely inspired me to be a strong woman lost her battle with depression and killed herself. The burden of other peoples’ miseries surrounded me, and other peoples’ pain reminded me that we are made of two entities: our body and our mind.

When I was fiercely sick with COVID-19, my mind was fuzzy with exhaustion, frustration, and anxieties. When I looked in the mirror my body was thin and twelve pounds lighter, but that didn’t compare with my mind that was wasting away. Being immobile and not having any answers was such an isolating experience. Although I had people who strongly loved me, my mind felt alone. I was quickly humbled in remembering those who the coronavirus pandemic affected in different ways: the lover of her job now unemployed and feeling purposeless and lost; the already isolated elderly being pushed aside into an even lonelier corner; and the woman whose only escape from her own tormenting thoughts was her job which was now to be done in her empty home. Some of us are in bed but many of us feel restless. COVID-19 has attacked one or two parts of us: our body and/or our mind.

Daily Bread

In the time when I couldn’t have people around me I prayed a lot. At times my prayers were full of thankfulness for my boyfriend and family who took such amazing care of me, for the walks in the sunset I got to share with my tired soul, and for the warm bed in which I could heal. Other times my prayers were demands and questions about why people continued to suffer without relief. My frustrations kept piling up. Sometimes I received answers and sometimes I didn’t.

An abstract print with fields of orange and purple on a white pageAs I write out my experience it’s hard to truly explain how I felt. That’s why art is so powerful. For me, Claes Oldenburg’s Bread Slice in Sunlight #1-King David's use of swishing yet confined contrast of dark and light depicts human needs. On the top is a light piece of bread illuminated by a golden hue. This is what my body desires on the surface: air, water, and a piece of bread. I like the quote, “man [doesn’t] live on bread alone”; we crave and need spirit, and even when I was finally able to eat I didn’t have life in me because so much was still missing. I missed seeing my friends, feeling the warmth of the outdoors as I ran in my old track tennis shoes, and the overall sensation of joy. The shadows of the bread are like the deeper things humans need that lie underneath the basics: spirit, hope, joy, laughter, the hand of a kind mother, and the smile from your lover.

I’ve recovered now.
I still have to take life very slowly but I’m able to see friends again, get a Nerd slushy from Sonic, and enjoy a walk in the sunset. As I walk I think of those that I lost and the people whose friendships were enriched by this hardship. As you look at Claes Oldenburg’s Bread Slice in Sunlight #1-King David, remember that we are made of two parts: things from the surface that allow us to live and more invisible things that sustain our true selves. We need both, and during a time of uncertainty it’s okay to feel unfulfilled. Even though sadness is a natural response to uncertainty, I’m inspired by Uncle Iroh’s quote from one of my favorite shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender:

“You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you will surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the true meaning of inner strength!”

Image credit: Claes Oldenburg, American, b. 1929, Bread Slice in Sunlight #1-King David, 1972, lithograph, 18 x 9 5/8 inches. Gift of Polly and Mark Addison to the Polly and Mark Addison Collection, CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder, 91.04.18  © Claes Oldenburg, Photo: CU Art Museum.