I think everyone can whole-heartedly agree that this sucks. It sucks butt. Smart people are stuck in their houses if they can afford them, while other people are protesting in uncomfortably close crowds and may as well be touting neon signs that say “I’m white with a gun so you can’t touch me.” I don’t have the authority to make a judgement on the state of their IQ, but I can certainly draw conclusions as to the level of Hell they are from. All across the country, people are losing their jobs, homes, security and hope as this bitch of a virus continues to wreak havoc on an unprepared and underfunded healthcare system. This sucks, y’all. Big time. Personally, this is ironic and funny in a cruel way, because this is the second isolation period I have lived through in three years.
The first time I went into isolation was two years ago. When I was fourteen, I got sick. Like super sick. I had been deteriorating for a while, and after two run-ins with the EMT’s in a single week, my parents pulled me out of school at sixteen. What I thought would be two weeks turned into two months, and suddenly I was well into what would become a nine month period of intensive treatment. During this stint in medical limbo, my life ground to a complete halt. I couldn’t be in my house alone, leave my house alone, ride the bus, go to school, be in my kitchen or even be in a room with more than five people. I lost weight too quickly, got depressed, cleaned too often and never saw anyone who mattered other than my immediate family. Sound familiar?
The big difference of course is that I wasn’t contagious; rather, I was coming to grips with a gnarly neurological disorder and a whole childhood of repressed mental illness. Fun stuff. Now, I’m home because everyone is. Everyone has to be.
Truth is, I thought I would be more prepared for this feeling than I am. I thought that my previous spell in isolation would make this easier–make this more bearable somehow–but it didn’t. There was a time where I was, as the magnificent Jessica Kellgren-Fozard put it, “amused at the panicking of able-bodied people”, at the sudden prospect of facing obstacles that I and many other disabled people deal with everyday. That is, until accommodations were almost immediately made for the financially privileged and able-bodied, while anyone not in that category was left behind. As usual. Suddenly it is totally okay to call into a meeting because you are stuck at home, or have groceries be ordered in without judgment, or in ironically the best cases, “you can keep your job because what is happening isn’t your fault.” As a disabled person, you run out of indignation steam very quickly, as you need that energy for functioning in a world that isn’t built for you, but this still stung. None of those accommodations are inherently bad–they’ve saved lives for Christ’s sake–but it seems they are only seen as valid when abled people suddenly need them.
As everyone began to settle in to the isolation I knew well, a common thought that drifted among folks (aka non-essential workers who can afford to not be scrambling for extra income) at the beginning of the quarantine was “oh great this is a chance to do all the stuff I’ve been putting off and learn wood carving and bread baking and the entirety of Kant’s philosophical principles.” And I fell prey to this. This time, I wasn’t sick so surely I could make “good use” of my trapped time. I planned on learning to unicycle, knit, read the Lord of the Rings, garden and all sorts of other rinky-dink hobbies to pass the time. And surprise, surprise, none of it got done. Why? Because this is one of the most collectively stressful events that a lot of people have ever experienced. Thousands of people are dying everyday. Going outside might get you sick. Your family is in danger and so is your job. All of this is scary, and expecting yourself to be magically more productive during an intensely psychologically painful period is unfair and unrealistic. And yet, I feel useless anyway.
In a tiny fourth wall break, this piece took so, so long. Many of us have felt one of the effects of isolation in the form of the lead blanket that is getting things done. Motivation is a precious commodity in this time of crisis, and I have been able to find crumbs of it in the back of my fridge, but that’s it. The past three weeks have been me hammering my head against a wall of procrastination, begging it to budge, and I’ve had very little luck, as have many of us. I find little bursts of productivity to get me through but the struggle continues.
If I compare my first isolation with the one currently in motion, there are some striking differences and unexpected similarities. First, I’m restricted relatively the same amount. Anything outside my house is a big no-no, and I’m reduced to watching movies and napping and watching movies and finally remembering to eat and then napping. I have the privilege of being in a financially stable family right now, and thus the privilege to be bored. Or at least, bored-terrified. As weird as this is, if we can afford to be cooped up and going nuts, we are the lucky ones. When I got sick, I was lucky to afford treatment, and now I’m lucky to be able to pay for a hospital bed if I need one.
One thing has changed though. The first time, I felt completely and utterly alone. No one I knew was going through the same thing, and even my doctors barely had an idea of what they were dealing with. It felt like I was in a cage, watching the world turn and thrive without me as experiences passed me by. I will never get that time back. Now, we are literally all in this together, except you, Karen, who won’t wear a mask at the grocery store and bumps into old ladies on the street. I see you. For the most part, we are all feeling different flavours of the same things: loneliness, cabin fever, grief, anxiety, anger and fear. It is a shitshow, but at the very least, we are all stuck here, together, watching it in the same derelict theatre. We are all in pain right now, but we are all working to stop the bleeding. I have found some comfort in that. I hope you will too.