Social Distancing’s Unexpected Effect On Me As Someone With Chronic Illnesses

A quick note out of concern that this will appear a bit too “light” or gloss over the horror that is the current pandemic: this post is an honest look at a simple moment, a glimpse into an unexpected positive effect of an awful situation. COVID-19 has affected people in a myriad of ways, and can have a myriad of effects on even one individual. This is the story of just one of the effects it has had on me. It is in no way meant to minimize what is going on, but instead to magnify what has too long been minimized: the adverse effects chronic illnesses have on mental wellbeing and quality of life.

An electric guitar blares from the neighbor’s garage. It is early afternoon on a Saturday, and the guitar often blares, so this in itself is not unusual. What is unusual is my accompanying wonder if, were we not all self-quarantining and social distancing, the guitar might not have blared at this particular moment. What is unusual is my awareness that it is only a guitar blaring, and not a full band, as can often be heard. What is unusual is my smile as I wonder if this is a solo creative endeavor brought to fruition by being homebound without the option of inviting a friend over. What is unusual is the strange sense of connectedness I feel from everyone else suddenly feeling as disconnected as I have felt for years because of my chronic illnesses. What is unusual is my sudden motivation to restart at-home projects I had put aside, large or small, because they are suddenly what everyone else is doing, and therefore suddenly seem useful, worthwhile, shareable.

I’ve also been checking social media a good deal more since all of this started. Usually, I try to keep away, knowing the travel pictures, college updates, and group selfies of people all out living their lives will hurt too deeply right now as I struggle to adjust to the stagnancy of life with chronic illnesses. But for the first time ever, everyone’s lives are on hold. For the first time ever, my feed is filled not with travel pictures, but the disappointment of cancelled trips and events. Filled with people trying to figure out what they can do when they can do nothing. With people realizing that what seems like a vacation for one day absolutely does not once it is mandatory and extended indefinitely. With people finding out what happens when they are stuck all alone, or with only the same people every minute of the day for days on end. For the first time ever, I am getting to see this not just through the eyes of the chronically ill who have already gone through the grieving process, learned how to cope, and have moved on to posting messages of hope online that they themselves are still trying to believe.

For the first time ever, we are getting to see what happens when these challenges hit the masses. And guess what? They hit hard. Reactions range from depressed, to antsy, to lonely, to stir-crazy, to hopeful, to fearful, to irritable, to all of the above and more. And that’s with the knowledge that this is temporary; and — for those not infected — minus chronic pain, sickness, and fatigue. And for the first time ever, I am getting to truly see how abnormal this situation is. For them.

Only now can I see in crispest clarity that, yes, cancelled plans and indefinite days at home absolutely take their toll. Only now do I realize how I have been surrounded with the voices of those who have already learned to cope with this, and the voices of doctors who smile and nod as I once again list out my symptoms and try not to slip into despair, then say there’s little or nothing they can do and that I should just continue living like this, as if that is easy. Only now do I understand how valuable it is to also hear the voices of those who have not learned to cope. Who are just at the beginning of this process. To understand that of course I am depressed. Of course I am struggling. Because this is hard.

For the first time ever, my situation feels at least somewhat normal. And so, as I sit alone on my porch, reading a book and listening to the lone guitar ring out — a reminder that, for right now, we are all alone — I suddenly feel less so.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash