Being Immunosuppressed in a Supposedly Post-COVID World

How the Removal of the Mask Mandate Puts Those With Autoimmune Diseases at Risk

Graphic Paul-Emile Landez

Many people might not think twice when seeing the status of  immunosuppressed people mentioned in headlines, as they may not be or know someone who is afflicted by an autoimmune disorder. However, that doesn’t stop COVID-19 from drastically changing the lives of those who have either a suppressed or compromised immune system.

Before 2020, I was considered healthy. I had some issues with anxiety, but physically, my immune system was strong. I wouldn’t get sick any more often than the average person. 

That changed in March 2020 when the pandemic first hit, and I started realizing that something was not right with my body. As the months continued, the constant stress of the pandemic caused my symptoms to worsen  until eight months later at the height of the pandemic in December of the same year, I was hospitalized. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a chronic autoimmune disease that caused certain parts of my body to attack itself. It is treatable, yet not curable, meaning I will be on medication that suppresses my immune system until the end of my life. As the years continued, and as I was accepted to Concordia’s english literature program, my identity as an immunosuppressed person lived in the back of my mind.

However, when the mask mandates were lifted, I grew more anxious. I continued to wear my mask because it makes me feel safer; eventually, I noticed I was one of the only people still wearing one. I noticed the hand sanitizer stations slowly run out of disinfectant; rarely do they get refilled. I try to avoid all public outings, the only exception being when I attend class, but the occasional dirty looks I get from other passengers on the metro for wearing a mask make me feel self-conscious. I considered getting a pin notifying those around me of my status as an immunosuppressed person, though I’m not sure if that would make a difference.

My mom has asked me to consider online university classes, but I have a strong-minded nature that makes it hard for me to give up on a goal after I set eyes on it. I wanted to graduate as a Concordia alumna, and it’s hard for me to stray from that path, even after restrictions were lifted. The only difference for me now is that I worry every time I need to interact with classmates in close quarters. I flinch whenever someone coughs near me, praying that it’s not COVID-19 and that I won’t catch it. The pandemic has affected my life, as I am constantly worrying for my health. It’s exhausting.

I’m not writing this because I’m mad at those around me for no longer wearing masks, I’m writing this because I feel deep-seated frustration for being left behind as the rest of Concordia moves on from COVID-19. I also feel as though my plight is not being taken seriously by academic administrators. Many of my professors have been a saving grace for me, all being very understanding and respectful when I notify them of my situation. Words of support go a long way, especially to those who have a compromised or suppressed immune system and may feel isolated in this supposedly post-COVID world. 

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 7, published November 22, 2022.