This feeling of isolation that I am experiencing right now is not altogether unfamiliar. I am used to working from my house, so this whole “stay at home” thing doesn’t have much effect on my daily schedule; however, there is something different about a situation when you are only supposed to leave your house for essential needs. It feels like I am home by force, and not by choice, which is indeed the situation. And no matter who is reading this, wherever you live, I know that you can relate to what I am feeling. It’s very disconcerting. Kids are home from school but there is none of the usual boisterous noise on the street that is unique to teens; there are no people on the street at all for the most part. There are no signs of life, even the birds seem too quiet. It’s downright freaky and unsettling.
This situation throws me back to the early days of my daughter’s eating disorder, when I felt a similar sense of isolation and a tremendous degree of anxiety surrounding an unknown outcome. It felt like there were black rain clouds over my house totally blocking all sources of light and I had no idea if, or when, they were going to disappear.
At that time, our ultimate priority was getting our daughter to eat so that she would return to a healthy state. Mealtimes would take hours because she would resist finishing everything on her plate, and we could not allow that. My mantra was “food is medicine”, and I must have repeated it 1000 times a week. Food was medicine, and we had to treat it in the exact same way. Just as we would never allow our daughter to take less than a full dose of antibiotics if she had an infection, we could not allow her to eat less than her full “dose” at every meal. This was extremely demanding on our time, as most meals resulted in a standoff; and since the rule was that the meal would not end until the food was all finished, breakfast bled into morning snack, which bled into lunch, which bled into afternoon snack…pretty much all of my daughter’s waking hours were spent at the kitchen table with either my husband or with me, and it was indescribably awful for all of us. We were stuck in our own version of hell, and the only way out was through; and so, we sat at the kitchen table with our daughter for hours on end every day, day after day, coaxing her to eat, trying to stay calm and patient while on the verge of totally losing it. Our sanity was literally hanging on by a thread.
This investment of time came at the expense of absolutely everything else in our lives. We had to be home to supervise our daughter’s meals, so we couldn’t go to any social functions. I spent most days inside my kitchen, a prisoner of sorts to my daughter’s eating disorder. I felt totally cut off from everyone and everything. There was no longer any type of structure to my days. There was no “normal” and no stability. This made me extremely anxious. By nature, I am a planner. I like knowing what to expect. But I couldn’t plan anything at all because I had no idea what the next day would bring, much less the next week or the next month. My life felt frozen. Sound familiar?
My 41st birthday fell out during one of the worst times, when my daughter was in the throes of her eating disorder and was extremely ill. I was pretty much confined to my house at that time, caring for her. A friend showed up at my door with a bouquet of flowers and a smile. It was one of the single most kind, thoughtful, and meaningful gestures that anyone has ever offered me. It wasn’t the flowers as much as it was the connection. I didn’t realize how much I missed regular social connection, even if it was something as banal as saying a quick hello to a friend in the grocery store or at the doctor’s office. It was that lack of connection that made me feel so isolated.
And here I am again, under very different circumstances, experiencing some of the same feelings. However, the benefit of my experience has taught me several things.
We are all functioning more or less in crisis mode these days, which is something that I am extensively familiar with. I can tell you that while it is incredibly anxiety provoking, distress inducing, and downright unpleasant, it is temporary. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you how long this situation is going to last, or what the damage will be, but I can tell you that one day the clouds will clear and the sun will come out again and this acute state of crisis will pass. Just knowing that helps me.
I also know that the social connections that we are missing out on by being confined to our homes can still be achieved through other means of communication. No, it’s not the same type of contact, but it’s functional. On Friday, we had an extended family Zoom call, and it was so nice to connect with family members in the U.S. who are in the same situation as we are. That connection was truly good for the soul, and right now, our souls can use a little TLC. Social distancing is hard, even for those of us who are not the most social creatures. Technology makes it possible to stay safely connected to our “people”, and we all need that connection.
And I know that during these difficult times, we can all use a little extra kindness, so let’s make sure to give some to others.
Wherever you are, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected. We can be isolated without being alone. Let’s be here for each other; and somehow or another, we will all get through this together.