Social isolation is the norm—always has been.
Self-isolation is not a choice—and if it is, it is a luxury.
Social distancing is not a new concept—just a new word.
When mental health sets in because you cannot close the gap between your pain and your understanding; your crushed heart and your brain; your reality and what was—or should have been—you become isolated.
When you do not know how to return to “normal” life, you self-isolate.
When others cannot relate to your pain—your state of mind—you are socially isolated, voluntarily or involuntarily.
Then the norm becomes a new you; your transformation in the form of someone else; a distanced you—removed from your pain.
And soon, people pass you at a distance, talk to you from a distance, give from a distance.
The six-foot social distance . . . destroying the little hope you had for closing the gaps in your life.
I came home early in the morning from an overnight shift and sat exhausted at the breakfast bar. My stool at the lowest possible setting so I did not have to lift my spoon to shovel the oatmeal porridge in my mouth (I always soaked my steel-cut oats the night before, it made the early morning hours of the shift easier, knowing they were waiting for me.)
It was later than usual, the shift had gone into overtime, and now that my body was fading and starting to work on the oats, I thought about you—the reason I was late.
Later that day I jotted the incident down—see below, many edits later. I realized how isolated your life was—is? Are you still with us?—the loneliness, the lack of real human contact.
This was pre-Covid. Most of us have now had a taste of isolation, and yet . . . can we begin to compare?
I thought I had become immune, hardened.
But I cried today,
For your innocence, your lack of comprehension, your subservient attitude—like one who was used to begging and being rejected, oblivious to public humiliation.
You had woken up and—unaware of social norms—you had taken what belonged to another, sleeping on the next cot. You had been busted in the bathroom looking for something in the other’s bag. Something . . . to fulfil a need to busy yourself, a compulsion more than anything you actually wanted—like a squirrel in slo-mo—just gathering odds and ends to add to your pink translucent garbage bag.
I gently reprimanded you, to avoid further public exposure of your vulnerability, since your stench had already isolated you from the others.
You mumbled something about being disoriented and asked quietly,
“What should I do next time I see something just lying around?”
I explained, and you looked at me as if you were really going to remember to do the right thing the next time.
I knew you wouldn’t; I knew you couldn’t.
You were like an inquiring child, and I felt your pain of living as a child—a dirty, smelly child—in an adult world.
What had happened to you long ago?
It took forever to get you out, away from the scene of the crime, to avert confrontation or a repeat incident. It was barely 50 minutes in hindsight—it felt like hours in my time, but only a few fleeting moments in your long day of ordering your thoughts and belongings.
When I left, you were sitting on the curb organizing your life,
which was spread out before you on the sidewalk on a pink translucent garbage bag.