The emotional toll of contracting COVID-19: Shannon Dockerty’s story

This week James Paras caught up with Shannon Dockerty from International House at Callaghan to talk about the stigma and undue treatment of people diagnosed with COVID-19.

University of Newcastle student Shannon Dockerty is studying a Bachelor of Communication. While the first-year studying can be difficult enough throw in death threats from strangers and statewide media attention and you have just a snapshot of the last week of 18-year-old Shannon’s life.

Shannon tested positive for Coronavirus on Saturday the 7th of August, but it was her trip to the city of Tamworth days prior which has drawn attention across New South Wales. Shannon unknowingly had contracted COVID-19 before travelling to Tamworth on the 4th of August. Shannon’s positive result days later would send the city into a snap seven-day lockdown.

Shannon’s two roommates in the International House at the University of Newcastle’s campus would also return positive results. The three are now recovering from the infection in isolation, however, it is the backlash online from the residents of Tamworth which Shannon says has been the most difficult to deal with.

Over the last few days, I caught up with Shannon over messenger to have an in-depth discussion about her side of the story, how she is feeling and what she plans to do next.

First of all, how are you feeling?

“Right now, I’m feeling pretty rough. I’m running a fairly consistent temperature and have a cough that hurts my whole chest cavity, but I am in good spirits so that helps a lot!”

You’re currently in isolation recovering from COVID-19, what is it like?

“I’m in isolation on campus. They bring food to my door twice a day. I get called by NSW Health and the Uni every few hours to check I’m ok. There have been some logistical issues getting me some things but hopefully, today is the end of that.”

Take us back to the beginning. You were in Tamworth when it was announced Newcastle was going to lock down, how did the situation unfold?

Shannon explains in her Facebook post she was visiting friends and family in Tamworth on the day Newcastle’s lockdown was announced. Shannon went on to explain, “I was sitting at the pub about to commence a big afternoon of drinking, the staff were watching the 11 am conference on the TV in the bar and we started watching when they started to mention Newcastle. My dad was texting me too as soon as it started. We watched for about half an hour and then left straight away. I had other friends from out of town there too, and they were part of the lockdown zone just announced, so we all decided to go home (to Newcastle) but I stopped via the testing clinic in Tamworth (on the way back to Newcastle) just so I could be sure that I was clear.”

You returned home to International House at the University of Newcastle’s campus. How did you find out you were positive for COVID-19?

“[By the time my results returned] I already knew. Friday night I found out I was a close contact and Saturday morning I woke up feeling under the weather, which continued to get worse throughout the day. So, by the time my test result came in on Saturday night I was completely expecting it. But it’s still a shock to find out you have the virus that has different parts of the world in extended lockdowns for the last 18 months.

Your roommates have tested positive also, do you know how the infection came about?

Shannon’s message to people is to “be kind”. Image by Shannon Dockerty, 2021

“Two of my roommates have tested positive so far. They tested positive on Friday night [6th of August] and I tested positive Saturday night. NSW Health at this stage is saying my case came from them, but it’s still under investigation. They said we’re connected to the Blacksmiths Beach gathering, but none of us attended so I’m not 100% sure where the root of our cases is at this stage. The Daily Telegraph spoke today about a house party, but again I’m not sure how accurate the information is.”

Tell me about the backlash you received when it was announced Tamworth would go into lockdown.

“The first messages were the worst. People got a hold of my number and we’re texting me; it came through all my social media. Those messages were from people I knew because at that point only friends knew. Apparently, some people weren’t actually my friends. I didn’t share anything outside my personal Facebook until people were saying my name in comments. I got called pretty much every name under the sun. I made a public statement in a Facebook group and then the comments really took off, but by that point, I’d grown a tough skin and it didn’t hurt as much coming from strangers. But it was a lot of hate to receive when all I’ve done is test positive for a virus.”

“I had a bit of a breakdown but once I got through that, I got mad. Who gave these people permission to bully me? And if they’re bullying me, they’ve probably bullied someone else which is not ok. My story is similar to many others, so now I’m just feeling motivated to make some change surrounding stigma”.

If you could explain one thing about your situation to people, what would it be?

“If I could tell people one thing it would be, I didn’t go to any parties. People have this assumption that if you’ve caught COVID, you’ve done the wrong thing. But it isn’t true. I caught COVID at home. None of my housemates have done the wrong thing either. It is simply a virus, and you just have to be at the right place at the right time.”

Thank you for your time, is there anything else you would like to say?

The last thing I want to say is to be kind. You don’t know someone’s story, and you don’t know their experience. The gossip, the hate, the rumours… it has to stop. People with COVID are already struggling. It’s a very isolating virus. Sure, hundreds of people are in lockdown, and that’s hard too, but people with COVID are completely alone. The public making you feel like a criminal for being sick isn’t something that needs to be in the experience.

“My fellow students at UON have been great, so many messages of support and love from the people I’ve met in my short time on campus. It’s funny how young people are the wisest people you can talk to at the moment. I’ve been bullied online by more forty-year-old men than I’ve ever been bullied by people my own age. If you’ve ever been told by hundreds of people that they hope you die from COVID-19, I am so sorry. No one should have to experience this kind of treatment. I want people to realise the words that come out of their mouths have an impact. That someone receives those messages and affects their mental well-being. The world isn’t a very nice place, but you as an individual can make it so much kinder for the people around you.”

Feature Image by Shannon Dockerty, 2021

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