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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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My Isolation Station

It’s alright but I’m not singing about it
By Olivia McLaren
Published on May 14, 2020

For the first three weeks of isolation with my spouse and son, I stared at the wall for at least half of the time I was meant to be working. I say wall, but in truth I looked out the window a fair bit as well. The sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and I was losing it. I felt as if I had a bubbling cauldron of acid in my chest and each time I moved, mentally or physically, that acid spilled into my ribs. Obviously, the safest thing to do was nothing (or grocery shopping online – that I seemed to manage). Then when my family needed me, I was okay for as long as we were interacting. Each night, going to sleep involved comfort snacking, wine, and some relaxation videos on YouTube.

By the fourth week, we had managed to do a bunch of tasks around the house for lack of anything else to do on the weekends. We painted my son’s bedroom, built a treehouse, planted some vegetables, and reorganized the kitchen. (I live in a small town in Scotland, in case you were wondering.) Still, I had difficulty focusing at “work”. Reading the New York Times is how I start most mornings, but now I had taken it to a whole new level, cross-checking coverage with the Washington Post and BBC News, the CDC and the WHO, and waiting for the Scottish Government illness and deaths report. Hours disappeared online looking at models and graphs and which celebrities have had the virus. Why exactly is that interesting?

Week five was the best yet, although it involved a bit of bickering about the timing of our daily family walk. I also panic ordered my mother in North Carolina a year’s worth of toilet paper from a cleaning supply company (minimum order: 12,000 sheets) when her Harris Teeter ran out. On the upside, I had a fun virtual happy hour with one of my best friends in Florida and managed to get some significant work done (although not at the same time). My son seems to be learning from the websites that are now substituting for his teachers, as long as I sit next to him and shout in his ear. (He has decided that I am the mean teacher, which hopefully means he will look forward to going back to school. That is my evil strategy since I am a truly incompetent conveyor of primary education.)

Heading into our sixth week, that oppressive anxiety lifted quite a bit, thank goodness. If I had to guess why that is, I’d say it’s a combination of normalizing brain chemistry (welcome back, prefrontal cortex), the perfect ratio of sleep to caffeine to wine, and PE with Joe Wicks. That cheerful Jesus-haired man was sent from heaven to keep my family crisis-fit. Our morning workout sessions have definitely been a morale booster (in case you need one, see https://www.youtube.com/user/thebodycoach1/videos).

My once-isolation-is-over strategy is this: (1) donate the 9kg bag of rice I accidentally sort of panic-purchased online to a food bank (in my defense, I didn’t realize how much 9kg is in American money); (2) change my current catch-phrase from “wine at nine is always fine” to something more sensible; (3) get my hair dyed and fix my eyebrows, which I’ve told my family I am “growing out to reshape”; (4) throw away the pair of jeans I have worn every single day of isolation (well, when I’ve bothered to change out of my pajamas); and, (5) visit the family and friends I have desperately missed seeing during this time. No one knows what the future will bring, so if nothing else this has been a reminder of what matters most.

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