COVID Isolation and Mental Fragility
By Bri Borrego
I remember moving the wand of my mascara onto my eyelashes when I glanced away from the hotel vanity mirror to the nightstand turned-desk. Entertaining the thought that makeup had traveled into my eyes and I was mistaken, I stared at the resting at-home COVID testing strip for five uninterrupted minutes.
My trip from Austin to London had reached its conclusion that day. I planned to spend it reading at Hyde Park and taking a walk shortly after. Traveling to the United States required proof of a negative COVID test no more than one day before departure and I decided it would be convenient to complete the test as I dressed for the day. It takes 15 minutes for the final test result to appear, but after accidentally noticing the slow evolution of a second red line in the result area, I already knew my relaxing day outside wouldn’t be happening.
“How could this happen,” I thought. “I didn’t have any symptoms, and my friend and I could not have been more cautious.” I suppose that’s the funny thing about COVID- you can never be too careful. My friend tested negative and returned to Spain, where she currently resides. So, it was just me left with a suitcase, a few books, and a positive test.
Though the CDC’s isolation recommendations had just shifted from 10 days to five, I stayed seven days to be on the safe side. My room was 9 feet wide and 10 feet long. I know some families with larger closets than this, not to mention that my bed took up three-fifths of the entire room. With my suitcase on the scene, there was room for me on the bed or in the bathroom. Nowhere else.
I began to transition back to Central Standard Time to have more hours of my day coinciding with my loved ones back in Texas. I also did this to aid my adjustment when returning to the United States. I would wake up around noon London time and go to bed around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. Another fun fact: sunset in London was around 3:30 p.m. I had roughly three and a half hours of sunlight (assuming it wasn’t cloudy) before I was reintroduced to night again. I was able to see my few hours of daylight by my small window, my only channel into the physical world around me.
When my loved ones called and asked about my COVID symptoms, such as a fever, chills, or cough, I would explain that grueling mental symptoms substituted for physical ones. The loneliness, claustrophobia, boredom, and anxiety came together in one fearful bundle. I would lean heavily into forms of escapism such as books, television, and even sleep. How sad is it that we have one life, and for a week, I wanted nothing more but for time to pass as quickly as it could and to feel as little as possible? I knew that sitting in reflection of my current state would lead to more anxiety, and I couldn’t distract myself with events, other humans, or anything more than a dark and cramped room. I would ask friends to vividly describe their days, because the easier it was to hear about theirs, the easier it was to fall out of mine.
My motivation for isolation came in two forms: the first is knowing I was doing what was best for my community and flattening the curve. Second, it was understanding that these long seven days would all end soon, even if time felt neverending. And when the lonely days did end, I had never felt more appreciative of hugging my dad, cooking food in a kitchen, and going to the gym. Every moment post-isolation felt like an extraordinary reward.
I didn’t write this article to throw myself a solo pity party, but to stress the vitality of mental health as we tread through the pandemic together. Isolation was one of the most challenging times of my life, and I want others to know that they are not alone when attempting to find happiness while coping. As if the physical symptoms of this disease haven’t caused enough devastation within families, the mental symptoms are also enormous burdens to bear.
If you contract COVID, first and foremost, monitor your physical symptoms. However, also partake in whatever you need to relax your mental state, even if it’s simply five minutes of meditation or a FaceTime with a friend. Remember, you are never alone. Picture yourself walking outside once your isolation period ends — you will be reunited with freedom again soon. Plus, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you chose the difficulty of isolation to keep your community and loved ones safe.
As C.S. Lewis says, “Integrity is doing the right thing. Even if no one is watching.”
Bri Borrego is an essayist and poet from El Paso, Texas. She writes for both creative and technical audiences and her work has been featured in Wacoan Magazine, Art Avenue, and Solutions and Dividends Magazine. She is also a current member of the Writer’s League of Texas. You can find her at @words.bybri on Instagram.
Featured photo credit: Photo by mink-mingle-8cOib7pidak-unsplash.jpeg