Thoughts While Social Distancing / Quarantine by Valerie Parente
Society is in probably the weirdest state a lot of us have seen in our entire lifetime. The closest thing I can remember that came close to this culture-change where you can literally feel the collective worry and uncertainty of friends and strangers was 9/11. That was vastly different in so many ways though. This is not a single event on one moring that affected our lives forever, this is an ongoing day to day “I don’t know when this is going to end” crisis that is going to affect our lives forever.
Comparisons aside, I think the social isolation is the hardest part of all of this (for me at least). Having anxiety and depression and a slew of other mental disorders has always been a pain in the butt, but I learned to adapt and get used to it to the point that sometimes I didn’t even realize when I was acting out of anxiety or depression. Now that I’m quarantining and socially distancing myself from literally everybody who isn’t my direct family I’m realizing just how important socializing has been for me through the years in overcoming my eating disorder and OCD.
In the past when I’ve had an irrational thought, usually attributed to OCD, I always had the option to get out and distract myself with friends or even the company of strangers. I didn’t realize just how important it was for me to be able to go for a drive to the local coffee shop and just sit there writing or reading. I didn’t even have to be interacting with anybody else, but the idea that I was around other people was incredibly comforting. Despite my personal problems, the world went on. I could see it, I could feel it, and I could prove it to myself by going out in public. It was a simple freedom that had significant affects on my mood. This is why I think I’ve been more uneasy about the introversion of staying at home than the actual worry about the virus itself. As I sit here in my own head I’m realizing that the most uneasy part of this social distancing and the lockdowns taking place is that notion that the world does not go on. When I’ve been stuck in my own head I was always able to go out into the real world and see that everything proceeded as usual and I could literally see that my anxiety did not mean it was the end of the world in the larger scheme of things. Now there’s an unsettling cloud above everybody’s head that maybe, just maybe, it is the end of the world. Maybe, just maybe, your anxiety is justified. No, you cannot escape your own head by taking a stroll through the mall or grabbing a coffee at your favorite coffee shop or even by stopping by your friend’s house for a quick catch up. None of that is an option right now, and we don’t know when it will be an option again. And that’s incredibly unsettling to say the least.
Very rarely a crisis like this happens where you really do have no choice but to find the strength in yourself and only yourself to stay calm. Distraction outside in public is not an option when it comes to quarantine. Sure you can read, write, use social media to connect with friends, or learn crafts and skills that you never had time to learn before, but you can’t go out in public and distract yourself with a “real world” that carries on despite your personal problems. There are so many simple pleasures that we have taken for granted like the mere freedom to grab a coffee down the street. As lame and cliché as it might sound, I think this coronavirus is going to teach a lot of us to appreciate what we have. For those of us millenials with mental disorders, I think we’re going to start realizing just how important the company of strangers can be. It’s an annoying lesson for any one who has fought any form of hardship in their life because we’ve learned this lesson before, must not on a global scale. A lot of us really do appreciate our blessings because we’ve been to that place of mental turmoil. It’s pretty frustrating that we have to learn this lesson again but SO much more magnified. Nonetheless, there’s always room for improvement. This is a rare opportunity where not just one individual or one individual family is going to have to heal from this trauma, no, this is going to be the whole world healing. And we’re all going to have that commonality with total strangers from now on. Maybe at the end of this there will be more compassion, understanding, and of course appreciation for each other’s company and basically every simple pleasure we have that we never dreamed would be taken away. I’m sure this is the slap in the face a lot of us needed to realize “holy shit that thing I was worried about before was NOTHING compared to a Goddam pandemic”.
I’m not saying this is the end of the world. It’s not. I really do believe it’s going to be okay. We have great luxury to be able to sit at home, and not only that, but to also be able to have a say in how this crisis plays out. We can all help the human race by doing the right thing and staying home. We will, no doubt, be forced to confront our mental health in the eerie moments where all you can hear is that inner voice, but let’s make that experience constructive. Let’s learn about ourselves. Let’s learn that we have great blessings. I know it’s hard to see now but I really think this is going to have major positive effects on a lot of us if we allow it to. It’s either think positively, or let all the suffering and havoc wreaked by COVID-19 be in vain. I vote we think positively.
– Valerie Parente (3-23-2020)