For three years I’ve looked forward to finishing my novel so I would have time for other things I enjoy: watching college basketball, attending chamber music concerts or literary events, having lunch with friends, traveling.
You know where this is going.
I am trying hard to maintain perspective on the grave threat our country—and, indeed, the entire world—is facing as the coronavirus spreads rapidly. I understand the exponential rise in cases demonstrated by the line charts we’ve all seen. I am taking this very seriously.
So I’m only going to whine once: Why not while I was already hunkered down in isolation writing the book?!
OK, I’m done.
In reality, I am in an unusually felicitous situation. I do not have young children whose routines and education, not to mention safety or food security, have been upended. I do not work outside the home, so deciding how to fulfill my employment obligations without interacting with others is not a burden. I have no family members in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. As far as I know, I am healthy—even if I have now been defined as “elderly.” My risk of having a bad outcome even if I contract the virus is low.
And I like being alone. I can readily entertain myself. I have scores of books here in my home that I have not yet read. I have big organizational projects around my house I have put off for years. I thoroughly enjoy walking my dog and paddling around the lake (if it ever stops raining). There is plenty to occupy me here.
Nonetheless, even I—an affirmed misanthrope and regular avoider of social gatherings—am feeling the isolation. I think that’s in part because it came on so suddenly. Last Tuesday I was gathering with friends and family at a restaurant in Lawrenceburg. By Wednesday things were beginning to unravel. Today it would feel irresponsible to make plans for such an outing.
I tend toward depression, and I could feel the darkness closing in at the end of the week. I took the actions I could to forestall it. I went for a long run on the beautiful Legacy Trail (in between rain showers). I cautiously attended a cycling class at my gym, trying to avoid the other participants and wiping down every surface I touched. I finished a book I had been reading.
But I do have concerns about the mental health implications of this necessary social-distancing and the open-ended period of isolation we are facing. As entertainment options and our usual distractions become unavailable, where do we turn? As our social network narrows, how does that affect us? Are those with addictions at particular risk? Is anyone preparing for this next crisis?
Many of you know that I’ve fretted over the years as we’ve shifted to online virtual connections and abandoned both casual and committed interpersonal interactions. The fears I expressed about social media in a 2016 op-ed today seem almost quaint. The norm is now to look down at our phones rather than acknowledge the presence of an individual we pass on the street—or someone sitting beside us at the table. It’s not just young people now who don’t know how to exchange common courtesies with a clerk or politely answer a phone call.
We had already willingly moved toward “self-isolation.” How much farther will this pandemic push us? How will we recover as a human community, a community of individuals who genuinely need each other?
I’m much more worried about that right now than I am about whether I can get toilet paper at the grocery.