I don’t want to kill anyone.
That’s the thought that kept running through my head as I lay awake between midnight and 4 a.m. the other night. Well, that’s part of it, anyway. The whole thing was, “I don’t want to kill anyone — but I can’t do what they’re asking.”
And what they’re asking is thorough social distancing.
Easy for them to say
I’ve seen countless people on social media — immunocompromised and otherwise — dismissively talking about how easy it is to just stay home. How it takes almost no effort. How we’re endangering lives when we don’t.
Unsurprisingly, almost every single one of them is at the very least part of a couple and usually has kids. In other words, they have a built-in, at-home social network.
Obviously, being cooped up with family has its own problems. But the point is that these people don’t completely understand what they’re asking of the rest of us. Very few of them understand the kind of isolation they’re requiring of single people by expecting us to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
My experience with “distancing”
I know this sounds self-absorbed when lives are potentially at stake. I’m sure it is, at least to an extent. Or maybe wholly. I don’t know.
What I do know is that, working at home alone during the day and watching TV by myself at night, my depression starts to act up after just two days. I get anxious and (lately) chew my nails down to the point of being painful.
After four or so days, it starts to get pretty ugly. I can’t handle the internal monologue that points out all of my mistakes. It just runs constantly. I can’t handle my own company. And the world/life feels bleak and increasingly pointless.
I don’t want to imagine what it’s like after a week, let alone the kind of timeline experts are now talking about.
And it’s not just me. People are social creatures. There’s even a thing called skin hunger. It can be psychologically damaging to be isolated. So halting my in-person interaction completely is just not tenable.
I do understand it’s serious
Please know that I’m not making light of the very real danger that elderly and immunocompromised people are in. And I’m aware of the part that my social interaction could play in that. It weighs on me greatly. Hence my being awake for four hours in the middle of the night after taking a sedative for sleep.
Yes, I’m well aware that I’m being selfish in many regards. And I’m preparing myself for backlash — perhaps very well-earned — to this piece from people with sick or older friends/family (or who are immunocompromised/elderly themselves). I understand that you’re terrified. I understand that I will, to at least some extent, be part of the problem.
I also know that I don’t have a lot of choice, realistically speaking.
What they’re really asking
If I truly believed the three-week estimate that was initially circulating, then maybe I could weather the storm of depression symptoms.
But now I’m hearing eight weeks for optimum curve-flattening — and from what I’ve read in articles, even that’s likely to be overly optimistic. We may be on some form of social lockdown until a vaccine is developed in 12-18 months. (Though there’s hope that a change in weather will affect infection rates, ala influenza and polio). You cannot ask people to practice the purest form of social distancing for that long, especially single people.
So those folks deriding those of us “whining” about isolation or ignoring social distancing protocol — again, the jeers almost always come from people with families — the people who say everyone should just sit on the couch and watch Netflix already… They either don’t understand just how long a ride it’s going to be or they honestly don’t get what true social isolation feels like. Probably both.
Too many being too cavalier
Are people being reckless by carrying on their completely normal routines? Yes. They need to scale back. But expecting anyone — especially a single person and especially especially a single person working from home — to eschew visitors/visiting people or any real level of in-person interaction… Well, that’s just not tenable.
I’m not dismissing the very real danger that the coronavirus represents. I understand that it’s more than “just the flu” — which is how I’ve heard some people describe it. I understand that it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease, lest cases spike to exponential extremes. Because if that happens, hospitals will be overrun and any patient needing acute care (heart attack/stroke victims, people severely injured in car accidents, etc.) may not be able to get the care/medical equipment they need. There won’t be enough healthy doctors and/or life-saving equipment like ventilators to go around. Hospitals could end up having to choose whose lives to save.
Anyone dismissing this pandemic as media hype, fake news or, in one of my friend’s Facebook feeds, “just a cold” obviously doesn’t get it. And their cavalier attitude is probably the most dangerous (non-contagious) aspect of the current situation, since they refuse to alter any of their routine to help curb the spread of the disease.
I can’t cope
To be clear, I’m not absolving myself just because I’m aware of and concerned by the true danger. Again, I understand that my refusal to exactly follow recommendations is posing a threat.
But I also know what I am and am not capable of. The suggestions out there to simulate actual social interaction — Facetiming, voice calls instead of texts, watching TV shows at the same time and chatting as though you’re in the same room — that isn’t enough.
I cannot survive months of perfect social distancing with my sanity intact. Even a couple of weeks could have me suicidal.
And that’s not hyperbole. I’ve been suicidal in the past. Not due solely to isolation, and I’m better medicated now but… Given the anxiety and depression that crop up after just a couple of days of being alone, I’m quite certain the meds couldn’t counteract the severity of symptoms that the recommended isolation would cause.
The changes I will make
That said, I’ll do my best to still take steps to mitigate the danger I represent.
I’ll cut down on the errands I run as much as possible. For example, I’ll try to ignore food cravings to avoid unnecessary trips to the store. When I am out shopping, I’ll try my best to avoid getting too close to other people.
I’ll also try to stick to my diet better. Because every time I get takeout, I’m not only coming into contact with more people, but also potentially eating something that an infected person (who is either asymptomatic or who just can’t afford to miss work) has been breathing water droplets around or that they even prepared themselves.
As for in-person interaction…
I won’t meet anyone new off dating apps. This way I’m not going out to a public place to meet a new person. And of course, the fewer guys in my life, the fewer potential germs/people to infect if I do catch the virus.
As for the guys I do see, I’ll try to lean toward ones who are also working from home (or on leave from work), since they’ll have less exposure to the virus/expose fewer people to it if they contract it. And when I do see someone, we’ll watch TV/a movie or otherwise stay in.
And as for general socializing, if I meet up with people then I’ll try to do it in places with the recommended 10 or fewer people, such as going to a friend’s house — either to visit one-on-one or for a very small gathering.
I know that these are suboptimal measures. I know that some of you will be very angry with me. Probably rightfully so.
But please understand that I’m just trying to be realistic about what I’m capable of handling — and that I’m trying to do my best to be careful within my limits. I don’t want anyone to die, but — no matter how selfish this sounds/is — that has to include me too.
How are you handling the social distancing?