The Covid Vaccine Mandate Gave Me an Anxiety Attack

5 minute read

At first, I just wanted to wait to see how things go with the Covid vaccinations, to see if there were bad side effects. I anticipated watching over the course of a year or so to gain trust in the vaccine. With the flu vaccinations taking about 20 years to mandate in healthcare workers, I figured I had time. When a nearby hospital in town announced that they were mandating the vaccine, I saw my time was short. However, the hospital that I work at has a nurses union. So, I thought we still had some time. I thought we might have six months to a year for the union and the hospital to bargain. I expressed my anxiety about the mandate to my boss. She told me not to worry about it, she said “try to just take it one day at a time”. The very next day, the mandate was announced.

I felt my insides shake and feel paralyzed at the same time.

On August 12th, right before lunch, the announcement was made at our weekly meeting. I walked in just a couple of minutes late because I had been with a patient. My director said that I had missed the big announcement, “the hospital is mandating the vaccine as a condition of employment”. I clenched my teeth and sat down. My director said that it surprised her to happen so quickly, but this is what is happening. Both shots must be received by November 3rd, 2021. We were being given less notice than the other hospital had given to their employees. I felt my insides shake and feel paralyzed at the same time. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t defend or express my thoughts. I felt my face go red. My frown was not hidable. Religious and medical exemptions were discussed in a way that made me feel hopeless. It was everything I could do to not walk out. I didn’t want to make a scene, but I didn’t want to stay. Also, I needed to hear this.

At the end of the meeting, someone asked if I was ok. I said, “no” as I headed for the bathroom to fall apart where no one could see. It didn’t take me long to realize, this falling apart was going to last all afternoon. I told my boss I had to leave. I couldn’t keep going. The anxiety was too much.

These thoughts were spiraling out of control.

Is my career over? Where will I work? Do I just get the vaccine? But, I’m not ready. I know my head enough to know that my lack of readiness will lead to different anxiety-inducing questions. I may become a hypochondriac with every real and imagined symptom “being caused” by the vaccine. I’m going to be fired. How will I pay my bills, my student loans, my rent, my daughter’s needs? Will I be able to afford anything? Will I be able to get another job?

My job was great just a few days before. I got a near-perfect work evaluation that would entitle me to a raise. I got a big award earlier in the year. I have never felt like I belong in a job so much before. I just started leading monthly socials together with coworkers. We had three so far and they were nice. I can’t work the floor because of my physical limitations, so even if another hospital somewhere would take me unvaccinated, I am not physically capable of most nursing positions. These thoughts were spiraling out of control.

I was having trouble functioning.

After leaving work, I took a hot bath to calm down. Soon, I found out about a protest at the other hospital. I went to the store to buy posters and markers. My anxiety was still so high that driving took extra effort. I made a couple of posters and went to the protest. There was healing in being with the other protestors. There was healing in the conversations, camaraderie, and support. The healing only lasted that evening. I was crying hard before getting out of bed to go to work the next day. Crying in the car. Holding tears back through the hallway. Dabbing tears at my desk. I called and text a counselor that I had seen once. I told him it was an emergency, that I was having trouble functioning. He saw me on his day off. It really helped. I also made an appointment with a nun at the hospital. She prayed with me. I still felt like I was going a bit crazy. The next day, I saw my psychiatrist. I got a little more help.

They gave us just 10 days to send in our religious or medical requests. I spent the whole weekend writing up my religious exemption request. I put more time into it than necessary, but the writing process helped me process through my thoughts. I needed it. I will find out what the results are on September 3rd.  My morale is low. Questions are spiraling in my head about if I do or do not get the exemption request approved. If I don’t get the exemption approved, I will probably have another panic attack. If I do get the exemption, will I be able to get my morale back up?

I felt like people thought I was overreacting. I questioned myself if I was overreacting. Then, I found out that it wasn’t just me feeling this way. At least one colleague had a similar reaction where she had to go home sick the day of the announcement. I have now seen multiple pictures and videos of nurses and healthcare workers crying regarding the mandate.  Nurses that had to leave for the day. Nurses that are struggling to push through their day, feeling devalued. I have heard that there are others like me that are going to their counselors for guidance.

I’m climbing out of the anxiety. Trying little by little.

I had just started blogging before this announcement. I was on a roll with my writing. And then I couldn’t write until now. I was all consumed with this anxiety for about a week and a half. I am slowly climbing out of the anxiety. Trying little by little, day by day.

As I started blogging to end the stigma of mental illness, I will close this piece with thoughts on just that. Do not judge me or others for what makes us anxious. Do not look at an anxious person or a person having an anxiety attack and say, “they are overreacting.” These feelings are real and strong and valid.

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