Redefining Isolation

By Emily Faye Green

As someone who has struggled with mental health for most of her life, I’m well familiar with isolation.

For years I lived thinking it would be preferable to stand on the sidelines of the world, watching as life passed me by in front of my eyes, rather than to step inside and join everyone else inside of it. It’s taken years for me to get to the point where I not only feel okay with, but genuinely desire to take up space. To meet new people, try new things, foster curiosity, follow through on my commitments, admit to and recover from mistakes made along the way.

Due to the pandemic we are in, I find myself isolating once again. Perhaps more than ever before.

I came back to my college campus after spring break of my senior year only to spend one night in my apartment, throw my college life into a few black trash bags, say goodbye to one of my roommates as we stood 6 feet apart, and spend a few nights in an Airbnb before I could find long term housing.

In all honesty, when I close my eyes, the reality I’m in reminds me of what it’s felt like to relapse. To start from scratch in my recovery, begin to rebuild my life and see progress, only to decide to call it quits once again. To creep back to the isolated world of my mental illness. To give into my eating disorder, social anxiety and OCD’s promise that the “real world” and everyone else in it is better off without me taking up space there.

A month ago, I Ioved where I was going in life.

Today, I’m not where I thought I was going to be.

Not only do I live in a city with lockdown orders, but I live alone. Not only am I nearly 1000 miles from my family, but I work in a hospital. And not only that, but my home floor has become the hospital’s inpatient COVID unit. So if there is anyone who is morally or societally obligated to be taking these precautions to an extreme, it’s me.

I have to remind myself that just because my world “feels” empty, my life is still very full. Life itself is not on lockdown. I have not relapsed and lost it all.

The “isolation” that I am currently putting myself through is not the same as the maladaptive “escaping from reality” that I did while I was struggling with my mental health. I have to reframe what I am currently doing, not only for my own sanity but because in all reality, the two situations are vastly different.

Previously, I was isolating out of fear. Today, I am isolating out of love.

When people say they support me isolating in order to “stay safe”, I can’t help but laugh. Little do they know, my laughter is full of anger.

I’m not isolating because “I” want to stay safe. I’m isolating because the world needs me to. In the past week alone, I’ve interacted with well over a dozen individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, touching them with a beard cover over my mouth due to the shortage of medical supplies. At this point in time, it’s less of a matter of protecting my own safety and more of a matter of protecting my own sanity while ensuring that the important individuals in my life know why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I feel guilty that I’m not glued to my phone 24/7. I’m afraid of being “selfish”. I’m afraid that I’m not being “productive” enough. I’m comparing my experience of isolation to others’ Instagram stories of social distancincing as they are surrounded by friends and family. From an outsiders’ perspective, it almost looks like they’re celebrating an extended Christmas.

At the bottom of it all, I’m secretly just terrified that the world will forget I’m here. Or perhaps more importantly, I’m terrified that the world will just assume that I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

Because for once in my life, I’m not isolating to cut the world out. 

I’m isolating because I love the world more than words could ever explain.