He Recovered From COVID-19. But The Anxiety Of Survival Haunts Him.

Terrence Nichols
Terrence Nichols, who had COVID-19 and recovered, says the anxiety of the disease's "what-ifs" has haunted him. Courtesy of Terrence Nichols
Terrence Nichols
Terrence Nichols, who had COVID-19 and recovered, says the anxiety of the disease's "what-ifs" has haunted him. Courtesy of Terrence Nichols

He Recovered From COVID-19. But The Anxiety Of Survival Haunts Him.

WBEZ is chronicling Illinois’ road to recovery, bringing you stories of people as they move on from COVID-19 physically, emotionally and economically.

It was 2:30 a.m. in early April, and Terrence Nichols found himself walking around his Humboldt Park neighborhood unable to sleep, his mind racing.

He had started feeling sick with COVID-19 symptoms, a fever and body aches, but he was especially disturbed by the loss of taste and smell.

“I’ve never lost something I’ve had all my life,” said Nichols, age 44. “My anxiety went through the roof.”

The physical symptoms of COVID-19 are well-known and far-ranging, and the stress of a global pandemic has increased anxiety among millions. Many people with the virus are not only fighting to stay alive, they’re also managing less-tangible effects of the disease, such as anxiety and stress.

“I started thinking of all these other things that I really can’t even control, like death,” Nichols recalled about his recovery from COVID-19. “I was just thinking of everything that could go wrong. All because I lost my taste and smell.”

Nichols believed he contracted the virus from a nurse at his dad’s office. His father, who is a doctor, also tested positive but never had any symptoms. As Nichols waited for confirmation he had the virus, he struggled to control his thoughts.

He said he was prescribed Xanax but didn’t want to depend on it. He tried taking melatonin. But nothing worked, he said, until he started praying and reading the Bible.

“I’m not that really church going, like, speaking the tongues, kind of person,” he said. “[But] once I started doing that it brought kind of a peace to me.”

By the time Nichols’ test came back positive, his physical symptoms had already subsided. The official diagnosis brought some relief because he could confirm what was happening, but it also brought more anxiety. He said he started to think about how he and his father had a virus that tens of thousands of people across the country were dying from.

“I was doing OK. But then I started thinking about these things,” Nichols recalled. “I guess this anxiety is the aftermath of having the virus.”

Nichols is also currently out of work due to the pandemic. He said creating a strict daily routine helps him fill the days and is a much needed distraction.

Looking back on his recovery, he said he felt like it would have helped him to talk to people who had gone through the same experience. He created a support group on Facebook, Coping with Covid-19 Driven Anxiety, to address it, hoping others wouldn’t feel so alienated with their private worries. It just has about 55 members, but they share the extremely personal fears they have about death and symptoms, and offer words of encouragement.

About a month ago, Nichols posted in the group that his anxiety was still keeping him awake at night.

“Here I am again,” he wrote. “I was [asleep] but I woke up heart racing worried about death and other things I can’t control all because of this damn virus. I wasn’t like this before. I don’t think I will ever be the same.”

These days, Nichols said he is able to exercise and keep up that daily routine. But it’s taking time for his taste and smell to return.

“Flavors have to be really strong, but that’s OK cause if it’s bland, I don’t want it anyway,” he said, laughing. Now, he mostly just feels lucky that he didn’t have to go to the hospital.

“I’m super lucky,” he said. “I try not to dwell on it because I might start to get anxious again.”

Still, Nichols thinks about the anxiety he’s carried through his recovery. He worries that by staying home and out of work, his anxiety may flare up again. He’s looking forward to the possibility of getting out more if the stay-at-home order relaxes some at the end of May.

Kate McGee is a reporter at WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.