& Sophia
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Student flatmates experiencing COVID-19
“In all honesty, I was really apprehensive, and I cried when I got back a positive result,” laughs nineteen-year-old Sophia, who was the first to test positive for COVID-19 in her Birkenhead flat.

Sophia, in her final year of study to become a primary school teacher, had been particularly afraid of COVID-19.

“I’ve been really scared of COVID, really scared.” On top of the fear of COVID-19 itself, Sophia didn’t want to be the first to test positive in her household. Feelings of guilt and shame were hard to shake.

But she soon realised she was in safe hands with her house of five flatmates. “Because I was the first one to test positive, I felt really bad, but everyone was nice to me and made me feel a lot better. They told me everything was gonna be fine.”

Soon after Sophia tested positive, another flatmate followed, so Sammy decided she needed to take a RAT (Rapid Antigen Test), too.
“I had no symptoms that day but I thought I’d just take a test anyway,” Sammy says.
Her positive result came as a real surprise. “Obviously I knew that the other two were positive, but I was honestly not expecting to be at all. So I was in shock, I was really shocked.”

Sammy, currently finishing her studies in nursing, found her mental health was hit hard by the realities of isolating during a busy time. “I got quite upset because I had lots of plans to see my family, which I obviously couldn’t do.”

A major “anxiety and stress” came when the pair realised they would be isolating during their first week of university. Even though they could take their classes online, they found they were feeling foggy and couldn’t sit and listen to lectures, and found it difficult to look at their screens at all. This brought them a lot of stress – knowing they had work to get done but being too unwell to do it.
COVID-19 symptoms differed between the flatmates.
“I was expecting it to be really bad. A friend of mine had it like a week before me and she was quite sick in bed” Sophia says. But, luckily, her symptoms were mild.

Sammy, on the other hand, had a tougher time. “When I get sick I usually don’t get that sick. So, when I was having the body aches I was a bit worried. I was scared it could get worse from that point. I always thought it was more like a cold, like you get it and then you get over it. I wasn’t expecting the longer lasting symptoms, like fatigue.”

Despite their difficulties missing university and going through the motions of individual symptoms, the pair found the real mental health struggles came after their physical symptoms had eased.

“Once I was feeling better, I just felt, like I’m just being lazy, I’m just sitting around,” remembers Sophia.

Sammy agrees. “When you feel really unwell, you’re fine staying home but it was a beautiful day outside every single day we were in isolation. I was definitely feeling more down.”
Sammy and Sophia want other young people affected by COVID-19 to be kind to themselves and each other – especially if they’re living in flats where others are also unwell.
“Don’t be hard on yourself,” Sammy says. “I know that I’m like that, and that a lot of people are like that. When you’re taken out of activities for a while, a lot of people struggle with not being able to do things they’d normally do every day. Uni or work or working out, anything. You just have to give yourself that time to recover. Don’t get angry at yourself for not being able to do something. It takes time.”

For this flat, help came from outside, too, “One thing we were really grateful for is family. We’d get care packages with meds and puzzles. It just feels nice that someone is thinking of you in a hard time.” Sophia says. ““I don’t have family in Auckland so I was grateful the other girls had family who could bring stuff. And I’d call my family, call my Nana. I know my family really appreciated it when I called them.”

Sammy was the first in her family to have tested positive for COVID-19. Her family was very worried about her, but found talking to her about her symptoms and feelings helped them all. “Sometimes if you keep it in, it bubbles up and seems like so much, but when you talk about it you realise ‘I’m actually okay’. So don’t shut yourself away.”

Looking back, Sammy and Sophia say it was little kindnesses and moments of joy that got them through it “It is hard. Being in isolation is hard. You just have to recognise it. Just remember how everyone else is feeling. Look out for each other. If you can tell someone is feeling sick, then talk to them, ask them about it, see if you can help. Doing puzzles, watching TV, playing games, talking to each other.”

“There is hope. It’s not the end of the world. I thought it was gonna be. But it really wasn’t.”