‘I felt like I failed’: why are some people ashamed of having contracted COVID?
Members of the public also said they felt intense shame and guilt about the ripple effects their positive diagnosis had created for others in their lives – the exposure they caused to family members or the impact on their work.
“I held my little niece the day before my positive test. I had also met my sisters, my parents and my 3 year old had gone to preschool,” wrote an audience member. “I was so upset to have exposed so many people, some vulnerable without being able to be vaccinated, and not just staying home.”
Exposure, close contact, wearing protection, screening, vaccination: it is striking how much our language around COVID reflects the vocabulary of sexual health. (An anonymous audience member even referred to her COVID diagnosis — and how she thought others would judge her for it as “my scarlet letter.”)
And of course, shaming and shaming around infection is nothing new.
“As a tool of social control, shame around sexuality and sexual health has been around for as long as we know it,” Feldman said. “Because our current society, in particular, is so deeply affected by the culture of purity in religion.”
“It is our duty not to get sick”
The idea that personal wrongdoing is always to blame for infection – whether it’s COVID or an STI – just isn’t accurate.
“Every doctor will tell you that you can take every precaution and use condoms, get tested regularly, communicate as much as you can with your partners, and you can still get an STI – even if you do all the ‘right things’. ” said Feldman.
Yet notions of shame persist around sexual health and COVID in ways they don’t with colds or a flu, precisely because of this idea of behaving well enough to escape infection. . Unlike those winter bugs, with STIs and COVID, Feldman said “we’re taught that it’s our job not to get sick.”
Several members of the public told KQED that they were actually more ashamed of having COVID. because they had been so cautious before – and expressed their caution – as if their positive test was some kind of divine punishment for their pride, inviting judgment upon them.
“I was ashamed because I felt I was going to be judged, after talking about wearing masks and getting tested regularly on my social media,” one person told Us. “It felt like a failure.”
Another audience member, Nicole, said that after two years of working from home, hiding, socializing infrequently and “criticizing others who weren’t doing everything ‘right’, I still understood.”
“Of course it was embarrassing to have the thing that I had considered so preventable, that only ignorant or selfish people had,” Nicole wrote.