Look, I’m used to being inside buildings with other people whose wellness status I don’t know. I’m used to flying in airplanes, I’m used to taking trains, I’m used to working in retail, I’m used to taking public transit, and if I named all of the things I’ve gotten comfortable with during this pandemic–wearing a mask and being fully vaccinated–this commentary would just be a list. Until I got to New York Comic Con this year, I hadn’t yet experienced the Covid anxiety so many others had and have.

But as I walked through the crowds at Javits, on both the show floor and Artists Alley, and I shared space with other people in panel rooms, I got really, deeply anxious. I already have some generalized anxiety, but it’s mostly managed. It came flooding back this weekend: the shortness of breath, the stomach flipflopping, the hyperawareness, the feeling that my safety was constantly compromised, thoughts racing, losing track of said thoughts, and stumbling over words and sentences. I was freaked out, dear reader. Covid anxiety had consumed me body and soul.

It got better as the con went along, though. Still, the thoughts flitted in and out, and when the shortness of breath, which can also be contributed to my worsening asthma as well as the anxiety, came up, I constantly wondered: Am I sick? Did I somehow get It? Don’t get me started on whenever I heard somebody cough or saw someone wearing their mask improperly.

For the most part, though, people followed the rules, as far as I could see. There were of course exceptions, as several retailers on the show floor were ejected, and I heard that Sunday was the worst day for people not wearing their masks right, but I was gone by then. Still, there’s that nagging voice of fear in your head that says: “You shouldn’t be here. No one should be here. We should all stay locked in our homes forever.”

I know a lot of people with pretty severe Covid anxiety, verging on paranoia, and I often don’t feel as much sympathy for them as I should. I can’t say this experience opened my eyes or made me more tolerant of said paranoia, but I at least felt it and could empathize for a few days. But am I gonna shut myself up in my apartment and not go outside until the end of the world? Uh, no. I’ll be careful, I’ll wear my mask, I’ll get a booster shot when I’m able to, but I feel the need to live my life, because I have to.

Near the start of the pandemic, I worked in an Amazon warehouse for a few months. No, I can’t tell you any terrible tales other than of bureaucratic nonsense. That was terrifying, though, due to the times we live in. But I didn’t get sick. And of course, vaccines aren’t 100% in preventing getting the dreaded Covid, but masks help a great deal. Stay vigilant, wear your mask over your damn nose and mouth, get vaccinated if able, and if you have the means, ability, and comfort level to go to a convention, consider it. NYCC ’21 wasn’t a perfect con by any means, but it had its moments, my personal Covid anxiety be damned.

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