When Isolation Becomes Isolating

As we inch closer into summer, consistent warmer weather, and more states reopening, I want to take some to talk about the isolation that many of us felt and may continue to feel. When social distancing first began, much of the country didn’t know what to expect because we were (and continue) receiving such disparate information. The president said one thing, his staff said another, and still the news said another. Countries had differing figures and data sets. Global organizations suggested actions that conflicted with our national response. Many states were slow in responding for numerous reasons. And the country was swiftly advised to stay indoors for several weeks, seemingly overnight.

Many of us stocked up on supplies, occasionally venturing out to attempt to buy tissue when we assumed stores had restocked. Those of us fortunate enough to work from home attempted simultaneous work and school schedules. Some of us were required to continue reporting because we were deemed essential workers (A huge exclamation of gratitude to all of our essential workers, from healthcare to grocery store staff. You have kept this country afloat while risking your health and the health of your families. I hope we all continue honoring the work you do). Some of us weren’t lucky enough to do either because our jobs didn’t have to ability to fund us during shelter-in-place stages and we required federal assistance to feed our families and pay what bills we could. Regardless of which category we fall into, most if not all of us have experienced isolation and loneliness.

I’ve read stories of people who are surrounded by others every day but feel the most unseen they’ve ever felt in their lives. They’re isolated from the communities they built who see them as their authentic selves. Others are seen but still miss their larger communities that help them make sense of the world on levels some can’t. But most importantly, some of us have been alone before this started and continued being alone throughout the stay-at-home orders. I don’t know about you, but I initially tried containing those feelings, mostly because I was trying to understand the differences between shelter-in-place, stay at home, quarantine, and self-isolate.

That last one, self-isolate, was more familiar to me than all the others. Because of the auto accident (if you missed that, I encourage you to read the first post to get a sense of why I chose to start this blog), I removed myself from many communities before they could remove me. I thought that would hurt much less. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was on the outside of life, as though I didn’t deserve the right to feel and engage with the people who I brought into this mess because of choices I made. I was afraid and insecure, so I placed myself behind a glass wall and just watched others. What’s most interesting is that I thought that was good practice for sheltering in place, but nothing fully prepared me for this. Whereas before I could watch others live their lives while I separated myself, we’re all watching nature live its life while we stand behind windows and doors watching time pass and an invisible threat disrupt the ways we previously existed. There’s a real nihilism and torpor that comes with COVID.

We go through cycles of hiding our feelings, expressing them so boldly we don’t know how to make sense of what’s happening, then feeling empty and numb because we can’t get the answers we need. Maybe I’m projecting and that’s just me, but I have a feeling it’s not. This has set in all too well as I realize I’m caught between several weeks into the pandemic and being on the brink of leaving home. I think I’m more terrified now than I was turning inwards to my home. How do I know it’s safe? How can I protect my family when they’re out there? When is a vaccine coming? Isn’t it just safer to keep staying home even if we are all tired of home?

But being home brings up my worst thoughts, even when I am acting as the leader of the tiny country that is my home. What right do I have to live when another mother is dead? Why did I turn to drinking as an escape before? Why did I think that escaping would solve my self-doubt and insecurity? How can I grieve with the world as people continue experiencing the deaths of their loved ones and lack the ability to bury them properly? Could my parents be next? Isolation has a funny way of bringing up all of these vulnerabilities and plunging us into the abyss of our thoughts like deep pools. We can’t just run away from our feelings because there’s nowhere to go. There’s no ease of just being with friends or experiencing the bonds of physical friendship and good company.

For many of us this will quickly phase out as the country reopens because we will be able to get to communities that will help us make sense of all of this in person. But others of us won’t have that luxury. We’re craving the quietude and acceptance of good company but don’t know how to rebuild it because the distancing has separated our relationships. One of the things I’m learning now is that I welcomed being alone prior to all of this. I felt isolated but I wasn’t. I opted into being alone, which was the healthiest thing for me at the time because I was so vulnerable in ways I had never been before. But isolation is so different from being alone.

If you’ve been struggling or continue struggling as the country shifts into the next phase, I encourage you to visit the below websites. They offer great ways to receive support and manage your physical space as you continue processing where the world is on any given day. Whether you’re alone, isolated, or in the company of all the people you love, I’m sending you all warmth and light. Be on the lookout for the next post where I pick up on these themes with ways I’ve been coping, but for now I wanted to sit with the reality of isolation because it’s a crucial converastion and there are no easy answers.

Be well, my friends ​♥

https://www.wired.com/story/coronavirus-covid-19-isolation-psychology/

https://magellanhealthinsights.com/2020/03/24/coping-with-isolation-during-covid-19/

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/solutions-around-world-tackling-loneliness-and-social- isolation-during-covid-19

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

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