“You can’t go home. It could potentially kill dad.”
Never in my life did I think I would be having a conversation like this with my brother. In the matter of a week, I went from figuring out where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner with my family upstate, to stockpiling my apartment with survival necessities and avoiding human contact downstate.
When the number of coronavirus cases in NYC spiked and we were ordered to shelter-in-place, sadly enough I was already prepared for this sudden shift in reality. Two months prior, an equally dramatic scene had unfolded: Me, on the floor of my apartment, alone and crying.
I wasn’t crying because I couldn’t see family, I was crying because I had just been jilted by my then boyfriend whom I was preparing to move across the country for. In the matter of a week, his plan to come visit from Seattle, ask my dad for permission to marry me, and us move in together, exploded mid-air. I was devastated.
Since the relationship was long distance, I was already used to physically being alone most of the time. We were fortunate to see each other every few weeks, but when everything fell apart, my default coping mechanism was to disconnect from everything. And aside from my job, I avoided human interaction at all costs. I wanted nothing more than to be alone with my feelings in all ways possible: physically, mentally and emotionally.
It is one thing to choose isolation, but what about when isolation chooses you?
As I sit here now and write, I am reminded of March 14th. Not only was it the third time in 37 years that I didn’t get to spend my birthday with my family, but it was also my last day of non-quarantined freedom - and more notably - the last time I hugged someone.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a few days without any physical contact from another person. But now, here we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic where even something as innocuous as a handshake, or a high five is deemed as potentially lethal, especially to someone immunocompromised such as my dad. As a-not so-merciful compensation, keeping 6ft away and simply staying home are now badges of “social responsibility”.
For those of us that are single in quarantine with no children or pets, it’s easy to find ways to replace our social and emotional interactions - Zoom happy hours, FaceTime chats, phone calls and Netflix watching parties - but what about physical connection? How are we supposed to replace that?
According to my news feed, some people impulse purchased a pet, others fostered a dog, and some threw all caution to the wind and nailed down a quarantine mate. It was clear that it wasn’t a popular choice to be physically alone, despite it being the "safe" choice.
I get it - having to connect with someone over a video screen isn’t the same as in the flesh, but it at least produces the feeling of not being alone. Yet with physical touch and closeness out of reach, life eerily feels incomplete.
For most of us, when one of our senses is lessened, the other senses make up to compensate. For example, in those that are blind, their sense of smell or hearing is often heightened. In the same way, to make up for the lack of physical touch, it is likely that we are now relying more heavily on our other 4 senses: sight, hearing, smell, and taste.
Despite the feeling of disconnection in the world, Covid-19 makes it abundantly clear that on a global level, our world is indeed, very connected. But by the same token, our personal connection to ourselves (emotional, mental, physical and spiritual) is also important to keep us sane, and it is up to us to find our own unique balance to remain in tact.
I know for me personally, to make up for the lack of physical connection, I’ve been listening to more music and audio books, writing, and I've been spending an increased amount of time checking in on others. I FaceTime daily; I’ve cooked more extravagantly; played piano regularly; gone for runs in the park; and I light scented candles on a daily basis. Not to mention, my social media usage has spiked to give me those quick hits of dopamine and a sense of connection. I even created a TikTok - something I swore I would never do.
I suppose you could say nostalgia plays a role in navigating social distance as well. I find myself often drifting to sweeter times. Simpler times.
Just the other day I was even reminded of my 5th grade youth program known as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and the slogan that was repeatedly preached to us:
“Hugs are better than drugs.”
It’s funny how 25 years later and 2 weeks in seclusion, that saying takes on a whole new meaning.
I’m sure some people will beg to differ, but no amount of alcohol or drugs can compensate for a lack of physical, human connection. At least in my opinion.
So what will we do when we actually redeem the privilege to touch again? Will those who are standoffish now become more sociable? Or will social distancing become the new norm? Will we be more apt to get into a relationship and not waste time? Or will we choose more carefully to whom we give our time to? Will handshakes become obsolete? Will we relish in moments a little longer and not take them for granted?
I have to admit, I am very curious to see how the world will navigate interaction post coronavirus. Even though the scarcity of physical connection is certainly not ideal, conversely, there is something I now possess in abundance: Perspective.
I have shelter; a job; an incredible support system; a stocked fridge; running water; wifi; a healthy mind and body; and loved ones around the world. The way I see it, life’s tragedies are constant reminders of two things: that we are resilient and that life is an unpredictable story.
When I think back to two months ago, it almost feels selfish to have thought my life was so dire. It doesn’t retroactively invalidate my needs, but anytime I need to conquer that feeling of loss, all I have to do is go online, turn on the TV or read the newspaper at a time like this. After that, I get all the perspective I need to know that what is happening in the world is nothing short of devastating, and it makes me eternally grateful for all that I do have.
As we take shelter and wait for the storm to pass, it's never too late to count your blessings. Like a weathervane in the wind, the world does not know which direction we will go in next. Yet together, we patiently wait. And even though we may now temporarily have to distance our bodies, we will never have to distance our hearts.