Anne Helen Petersen‘s collection of stories from those riding out the pandemic solo is equal parts heart-breaking and heart-warming. I find myself quoting “a closed door is a happy door” often. As it sums up my general need for solitude and my low-risk pandemic outlook. I refer to going out into the world like walking through a zombie outbreak. Only you don’t know which people are the infected and which are harmless.
There’s honesty in solitude and honesty in the stories shared.
But I love that literally nobody sees what I do with my days. If I want to wear the same sweatpants for a week and not bathe — fine! If I want to sing made up songs about the nephritic vs. nephrotic syndromes in a fake opera singer voice while I study — it’s fine! At one point when I was really isolated I was wearing a lot of costumey thrift store finds, like fake fur vests and rose gold sequin hot pants, usually paired with t shirts or scrubs or something because fuck it, why not, and the pandemic has really let me be my weirdest, most authentic, and sometimes most joyful self.
The intensity of my isolation has made me really re-think what I want out of life, especially as I plan to graduate from med school in a year and a half and have make some life-altering decisions about residency programs. In the beginning of the pandemic, I started doing regular zoom calls with a very close group of friends I’ve had for a long time, and those weekly calls have been the biggest thing getting me through these times: close, reliable friendships are hard to come by in your 30s, and they’re such a lifeline for single people. My goal is to only apply for residency programs in areas where I already have at least one good local friend, even if it means not applying to programs that are otherwise prestigious/interesting/good fits. I just don’t want to take my friendships for granted anymore, and assume that I can move to a new city and some kind of a community will just quickly fall into place?
I have always thought fondly of the times that I had lived alone and remembered them as fun times where I got to be completely in control of my life. I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s feelings about any choices I made in my home. Back in the good old days when I didn’t have to put up my boyfriend’s custom Star Wars art or find a way to artfully display his Funko Pop collection. And I could sit around watching TV all day without someone asking me what I want to do today (This, man! This is what I want to do today!)
I am too scared of COVID to start dating yet, because I am just too paranoid about sharing space with someone new. I am no longer able to work remotely, so I feel like the risk I put myself in just going to work is enough for me right now. The thing I didn’t really expect was how much I miss being touched, and not even in a sexual way. I am not lonely, per se. I don’t need someone around me all the time, but I miss just getting hugs from my sister, my niece, my friends, even my crazy mom. I miss being able to see my friends and hang out with them, and I hate that I can’t go out and try to make new friends yet.
But more and more people are coming to the realization that living alone doesn’t mean that you’re lonely. Living with someone and being unhappy is a much worse kind of loneliness than living alone.
I hug trees–full on squeeze for at least five seconds HUG. The lack of physical contact is devastating, especially as someone who was nicknamed “the velcro baby” growing up due to my love of hugs. There’s also this looming sense that I’m royally screwed if I get seriously sick.
I see this time as an edge case of the soul. I had a sabbatical from work last year where I was able to fully immerse myself in who I was without work and now I feel like I’m having a forced sabbatical from other parts of my soul. Who am I when I’m not productive? How do I love people when I can’t see them?
I have been able to embrace rest and boredom in a way I never have and want to see that integrated into my existence. Prior to this, I was already in the process of creating “little homes” on my nomading adventures in various spots across the country. More than anything, though, I truly hope this collective trauma wakes others up to the importance of community building especially when it’s messy, hard, and inconvenient. Trauma in my life taught me that everything can change in an instant, and my hope is that more people will carry that nugget of truth into our future. The key is letting yourself be changed and in discerning what needs to be done differently going forward: trauma informed vs trauma driven.
I worry the magic and momentum coming out of this period of suffering can be lost in our desperate desire to return to a normalcy that was a delusion anyway. Perhaps this shared trauma point can be used as a connection point, too — and I hope more people join in on doing the hard work, opting for messy humanity over virtual echo chambers.
I did notice some Sunday evenings I would feel sad and at loose ends, I ascribed that to "oh the workweek is beginning" but it might also have been a loneliness thing? I just really miss the casual interactions. Someone who wrote an essay about being introvert in the pandemic noted that for a lot of us, the little interactions — like talking to someone working the counter at the bookstore, or chatting with the barista in the coffeeshop — were far more important to us than we realized, and wow, do I ever feel that right now. I miss talking with a student in the hall, and going to the quilt shop and hanging out and talking with people there. A woman I had only known online through Ravelry started up a Zoom knitting group where we can drop in and talk and knit, and it’s been a lifesaver for me, and something that would probably not have occurred to any of us otherwise.
But I don’t have anyone to bounce thoughts off of so they loom larger and worse in my head.
We are not "all in this together." I have seen references, not blatant but still I picked up on it, that "the nuclear family you are part of is all you need and forget those other people.” While I’ve always felt a bit on the “outside looking in” in my life, it’s gotten worse. I’ve lost more than a few people during this time: people who died, but also some I just had to break contact with because of their attitudes about various things, especially the virus. I’m fearful that after the pandemic is over I won’t be able to cobble a support net back together — that people will close down and not want to admit others.
I also want to feel more free to just go and do things. Less tied to my job, less "you must get ALL your work done before you can have fun.” I didn’t take advantages of opportunities to enjoy life in the past, and after a year locked in my house thinking about the people I loved who died — well, I’ve stared into that abyss enough.
There’s so much that I miss! I miss flirting with bartenders! I miss watching football at my friend’s house. The last time I touched another human was a somewhat ill-advised birthday hug with a friend in late May. Literally, that was it. I haven’t so much as brushed someone else’s hand since then. The complete lack of human contact is …depressing.
But there’s nobody to get on my nerves, nobody to get sick of. I have so many friends who have vented about how stressful quarantine has been on their relationships. My best friend also lives alone, and we have discussed, more than once, how very happy and lucky we feel to be living alone right now. I’ve also been fortunate enough to keep my job and now I’m able to do it from home. I’ve always wanted to work from home, and do not take for granted that I am getting so much quality time with my very old dog in his last stage of life.
When this is all over, I’m definitely never taking a hug for granted again.