John Nakholi’s COVID Story

John Nakholi’s COVID Story

I think the only negative time for me was the period while I was sick and the mental turmoil as a result.

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Recovering from being sick has definitely been my biggest struggle. I got ill relatively late, exactly halfway into the pandemic if we use a timeline of when the first case was declared (March 2020) to March 2022. It completely drained my finances. I think I depleted my insurance in like two weeks, meaning everything from there was out of pocket. I moved back home and then moved out again, so starting life in that sense and being unhealthy was difficult. There was the aspect of change brought around by being sick and then realising the aftereffect of the sickness – both in terms of mental and financial well-being. It’s one thing to be ill and get away from it, but the other thing is dealing with the effects of getting away from it. So, yes, umepona, but how do you continue living life and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

My insurance was renewed at the beginning of this month [April]. I haven’t had insurance from March 2021 to now. Meaning hata homa, I couldn’t afford. You know there’s the privilege of the fact that I have a medical cover, and if push comes to shove, money can be found for anything that arises. But it makes you wonder what people who have no safety net like that are going through or were going through.

Unfortunately, there have been no tangible steps from the government to make sure that people are not being destabilised by this illness. There’s nothing concrete saying that we won’t be back to square one if this happens two or three years down the line. There is nothing to keep people eating or earning, but that’s part of another problem of universal healthcare, which is a story for another day.

I’m back in a position where I can afford healthcare, again knowing that most people in Kenya are two or three sicknesses away from abject poverty. Because of the changes I had to make due to falling ill, I’m probably not as well off as I’d like to be. I moved out and had to buy stuff for the house, running a household. Though I look at this as a progression of life. So financially, I’d say it took me about a year to get back to where I was before.

Mentally, it’s a work in progress. One of the things you realise when you’re sick to the point of other people needing to get involved is that it places a strain on the relationships you have with those people, whether it’s romantic partners, family or friends. We were out one day at Deja Vu, and within a week, we started hearing how people were so ill. The week after that, you’re hearing people are looking for hospital beds, ICU beds… That sort of strain is not something many relationships had dealt with. And if not dealt with properly, it kinda altered the relationships people had with each other. Personally, I’m finding it quite difficult to go back to where we were before. I realise it had a profound effect on the relationships in my life, mainly with my partner at the time. There was a lot of strain on our relationship at the time, I guess because people didn’t know what they had signed up for. Maybe now it’s a bit clearer.

There was also the genuine, all-encompassing fear that anything could happen at any time. I think we now have a certain grasp of mortality. Now we see people going on two tangents. Some either completely pull back or stop meeting people. And there are those saying, “naweza kufa hata saa hizi. I’m not going to deny myself anything.” So we’re seeing hedonism creeping up and others shrinking back from who they were or who they’re supposed to be, and it’s all because of the fear.

There was also a lot of fear for my loved ones. For the past two years, and even now, no one knows who’ll get sick and when or how bad it will be. Would they recover, or would you one day be told we’re looking for an ICU bed and can’t find one? It’s a strange fear because if you look at our roads, they’re probably even more dangerous, but… I’ve never looked at my loved ones getting into a car and thought, ‘Will I see you again?’ But you see someone without a mask, and it’s like, “Wewe, ni hii maisha hutaki? Utuambie tuanze ku-practice ‘Luwere’ kama hutaki.”

One of the few good things that has come from life in the pandemic is that people have become much more aware of what they need to keep themselves in check mental health-wise. It used to be that people only explored if there was a trigger like death or a bad breakup, or alcoholism. But people are becoming aware that they have to practice preventive mental health care and start taking care of themselves. We’re learning to spot stressors, strain and triggers, something we weren’t doing before the pandemic. So maybe we’re on the right track with that. Though there’s still a lot of effort needed to recover from the fear – the fear of you getting sick and the fear of your loved ones getting sick.

I think the only negative time for me was the period while I was sick and the mental turmoil as a result. But when the pandemic came in, I was just coming into my own as an adult. I had just been appointed to the bar the month prior. A month later, I had just bought my first car. I lived alone for a very long time (my housemates were not around). I had a lot of peace, my relationships were good, I was working out – everything was aligning. Then I got sick, which was a bump in the road.

My sickness was also the final straw that got me out of a very problematic situation. Then I had what I call the second coming into my own. I moved back home and then moved out again to my own space. I also don’t think my life has seen as much growth in two years as it did during this pandemic. And I mean it in all the parameters people tend to measure growth in. Financially, I started making a bit more and figuring out how saving works. Career progression was the highest it’s been. Relationships with friends and family got closer.

Other than that three month period where I was badly ill, and the period after that where I was struggling with all the changes and decisions, it was probably the best time for me. And I say that knowing the disease didn’t destabilise me at all, or at least not in the ways many people have been affected, e.g. loss of earning capacity. A lot of people have had earth-shattering changes because of COVID. I’d say I was led into a period of sadness and then a period of growth. Now my struggle is dealing with both the sadness and the growth.