I haven't seen my family since early January, and I probably won't seem them until September.
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Georgia F., 19, Wisconsin.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Georgia Fanthorpe. I am a 19 year old first-year attending Beloit College in Beloit Wisconsin, USA. I am planning on majoring in Health and Society with a French and Art minor. I possibly want to double major in environmental studies, but I need to speak with my advisor before deciding that. I am a first generation college student, and I am also first generation American. My parents came to the USA in the early 90's from the UK.
How old were you when you were diagnosed, and how did this affect your life before COVID-19?
I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) at eleven years old, but I had it from as young as seven. I have also been diagnosed with more chronic illnesses (chronic migraines, chronic pain syndrome, and fibromyalgia, and a few more...) but JRA has impacted my life the most. I had to switch schools numerous times because of my illness, and for two years I was homeschooled. I lost all of my hair because of medication and experienced severe allergic reactions from some. Some days I was in too much pain to walk. The doctors, my family, and myself all thought I wouldn't graduate high school because I was too sick. Luckily, when I was 17, I was put on an injection that was life changing, and I have been able to graduate high school, and attend college. I still experience flare-ups and daily pain, but nowhere as bad when I was younger.
Compared to your quality of life before COVID-19, has having your condition changed your quality of life during quarantine in regards to yourself or your family?
I feel like my quality of life hasn't decreased, but it has changed from how it used to be. I definitely feel the urge to be more careful because if I contract covid, I will probably die due to my compromised immune system. I don't feel my quality has decreased because I still have food and a place to sleep, but I no longer go out and I am quarantined on my college campus which feels pretty isolating. Luckily, I have a few friends here and we still see one another, but we only see one another. I go to the grocery store occasionally. In the beginning I was too scared to go out in fear of contracting it, but now I just wear a mask and gloves and try to make my trips as quick as possible. My friends and family have sent my care packages to help me limit the amount of time I have to go out.
Do you think this pandemic will change the way you live post COVID-19/have you learned ab new preventative measures?
I haven't learned any new preventative measures, but I feel like I will just touch people less. I don't think I will feel comfortable shaking strangers hands anymore. I am happy that masks will hopefully become a staple in people's wardrobes now, or at least, people won't be given looks if they wear a mask. Masks were never really worn in western culture, and I would occasionally wear one when my white blood cell levels were extremely low. Whenever I would do that people would stare at me. I feel like after lockdowns have been lifted, I will be able to protect my health more and not feel so judged for it.
When you see people protesting or ignoring social distancing how does that make you and members of your family feel?
I feel ashamed for the USA because other countries are looking at us and so many of our citizens and government are acting like complete idiots. I wish people would educate themselves more. I think people who are protesting are selfish.
How has your condition affected the way your family/living mates approach the world during COVID-19?
I have been unable to return home due to covid, so my family isn't doing anything extra special because of me. They still wear masks and gloves when they go out to the store. They stay home as much as possible. My peers on campus who I see daily also just make sure to wash their hands frequently and they avoid going out as much as possible.
Have you encountered any barriers to your usual healthcare due to COVID-19 (lack of access to medication, doctors, ect.)?
I have had trouble contacting my doctors because they are so busy. Also my insurance company from California has been really difficult about sending my injections to Wisconsin. I currently don't have any and I need one later this week. I have also been sick for the past six weeks. I've had a sore throat, daily migraines, constant eye infections, and my asthma has been way worse than normal. I want to see a doctor but I worry about going to one because they are more expensive here and I can't afford one and also if I do go to a medical centre I worry about being in close proximity to people with covid.
Has social distancing limited your ability to see loved ones/friends, how has this affected you?
I am unable to return home to California. I haven't seen my family since early January and I probably won't see them until December. My friend in Amsterdam told me that things are locked down there until September, and even though the USA will be lifting bans, I feel like it is too soon, especially because I am chronically ill. The UK recommended people with suppressed immune systems to self-isolate for 12 weeks, so I really just feel like me flying home would be stupid. I am going to live with a friend in upstate New York. She is coming to pick me up and I am just going to isolate as much as possible. Autoimmune diseases are often called an “invisible disease” where you look and seem healthy to others, thus making it difficult for others to understand the gravity of your situation.
Has this type of misunderstanding influenced the social dynamic between yourself and your social circle?
When I was younger having an invisible illness definitely impacted my social circles because I worked so hard to hide the fact I was sick. When I would have flare-ups my peers wouldn't understand why I was so sick because I looked normal and never discussed my illness. I have come to terms with being chronically ill more recently and now I joke about being disabled all the time. I want my peers to know I am sick so they can adjust their expectations for me. Sometimes I want to hang out, but I won't be able to go to their home because moving is too much work, so I ask them to just come and see me and watch movies or something. All of my friends are extremely understanding and care about me. I feel really lucky having them in my life.
What have you learned to appreciate that you didn’t before due to quarantine?
I didn't know how much my friends care. I have had 5 different friends send me care packages, and one of my friends here has made me dinner every time I have had a migraine because I have not been able to cook for myself.
How are you keeping busy/staying connected?
I facetime my friends and my brother often. I've been playing a lot of video games or watching my friends play games. I have also just been watching a lot of TV.
What do you look forward to most once this is all over?
Seeing my family definitely. I won't have seen them in person for almost a year so I will be happy to return back home to California and just go to my favourite restaurant with them Also seeing all my friends from middle to high school.