Voices from the Lockdown – alone in the time of Covid
This article is a follow up to Living Alone in the Time of Covid19
Living through this lockdown is hard for people all over the world, in some way or another. Whether we are living with family or alone, living with illnesses or with the Corona virus itself, this is a time fraught with anxiety, stress and fear.
While the first part of this article dealt with living alone during the lockdown, and strategies to cope with the isolation, this article looks at how people are experiencing being alone at home.
The obvious reaction is one of a feeling of tremendous loneliness and anxiety. Rahul Kshetry started off his self-isolation as early as 14 March as he wanted to stay safe, and keep his colleagues at work safe. Working from home kept him busy initially, but as time went by, things began to get tougher. “Less work from office meant more idle time; news of the death toll around the world kept popping up on notifications; and my parents were stressed all the time. I couldn’t source a fruit or vegetables in a week, and barely had milk and bread to keep me going for another 5 days. I was scared to step out. Anxiety for me had reached its peak.”
Things went from bad to worse for Rahul. By his fourth week in isolation, this is what Rahul reported: “There was a massive transformation [in me]. I didn’t feel like cleaning the house or cooking anything anymore. The dishes piled up and I couldn’t care less about cleaning them. I slept most of the time just to kill time, because of which my otherwise normal sleep cycle was now destroyed. I reached a new low.”
The initial few days of the lockdown were perhaps easier to deal with, but as time went by, the loneliness and sense of isolation have become quite intense for people. Bushra Ahmed says, “Initially, the whole situation of self-isolation did not sink in… But as the days went by, a certain sense of despair set in… Just like many out there, I oscillate between trying to be productive and calm, and trying to keep a rising sense of sadness at bay.”
Living alone is especially hard for those who are prone to anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Usha admits, “the forced lockdown is slightly triggering. It brings all the fears of being alone as if the world has forgotten me! Funny thing is, I was very happy staying home alone all this time but now all that space is suffocating! When I see my colleagues and friends feeling upbeat that they’ve become closer to their families, children, partners because of the lockdown and wish it goes for a longer time, I panic and hope no one is listening to them.”
The company of others, and public spaces to visit, are a lifesaver for many people living alone. And now that freedom has been compromised. To have a choice in how we live our lives makes all the difference to our sense of well-being.
Rahul has found a way to deal with cabin fever by changing the way he looks at things. “This low has found its way to make me accept that this is going to be the “new normal” for a really long time. It’s really important for me to have a purpose in this journey otherwise I will lose all will. Of course, I miss stepping out and it sucks to be so isolated, but even though we’re all so apart, we’re strangely all together in this. Just keeping that thought alive right now!”
Acceptance is a crucial part of any difficult personal journey, and living through a lockdown during this pandemic is not much different. There are those, although by themselves, who have managed to look at the situation in a positive light. According to Mala Bhargava, “in lockdown, I’m finding the peace and quiet really blissful. Sometimes I don’t want to disturb it even with music…I like being able to eat whenever and sleep whenever… I also more than like long chats with friends, some of whom have perhaps only become closer.”
But despite maintaining a positive outlook, one of the very real worries gnawing at people is of economic consequences. What is this pandemic doing to jobs and the ability to earn? Mala questions, “will my job see me through a few more years of my life? Will I be able to explore the new work projects I had just started, which have come to a screeching halt? Will my savings ever come back to a healthy level; will there be enough money to at least just live reasonably?”
Living alone at this time is also testing relationships. While those living with families are comforted by the presence of their loved ones, the sense of feeling forgotten is hitting others. “Those I thought were close, aren’t that close after all. There are people in the family who choose this time, of all times, to disappear, and others who don’t ever call or initiate a chat. That’s something depressing and will have repercussions well beyond the virus lockdown when I’ll surely find myself closer to those who bothered with me, and distant from those who didn’t,” says Mala.
As I write this article, the lockdown has been extended across India for another few weeks. If there was hope that 15th April would bring some sort of freedom, it has been dashed. The uncertainty of the situation we are in makes matters worse. How then can we cope with this time of crisis? Usha chooses to stay in the moment. “Every time my mind wanders and threatens to have a showdown, I become mindful and focus on the present. It’s a hard game but I have time, if nothing else!”
Bushra adds, ‘The only thing that helps one cope is to live from day to day and maintain that small sense of hope; and dream about that time again when you'll be at your favorite watering hole with friends, laughing with each other and sipping rum together!’”
Rukmini Chawla Kumar is a Consulting Editor with Penguin India. She specialises in mind-body-spirit publishing, with a focus on mental health. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org