In other Words: A few words on isolation

A dear friend, with a tinge of melancholy in his voice, recently remarked how isolated he thinks I have become. I felt slightly off-guard, as though I had fallen down on the job of living normally, which in a way I have.

My friend, who happens to be a psychiatrist, was both correct… and mistaken. Correct, in that I am isolated. Mistaken in how “isolation” (for me) was being interpreted. It also got me thinking, which I am doing a lot of these days.

I have been mostly sequestered since March. Even as I write this, it feels odd for a socially minded person to admit to such a shocking truth, made even more palpable by the fact that human contact with friends has been put on hold.

I am not a loner by nature. Until the pandemic hit, I was an active person, whose daily existence always included others.

Sadly though, for many who are like-minded, we have had to make adjustments. Such a switch from social to sheltered takes a bit of rearranging. Many who have failed at that are still out in the world where they have either dismissed the reality of this lethal virus’ potency, or are in such denial they don’t believe they will fall prey to it.

For others like myself, I got sufficiently scared, and so I pulled inward, got myself cocooned, or what my friend calls “isolated.” Being high-risk also made the decision easy for me. Being cloistered was no longer a consideration. It was an option to heed seriously. Friends called me responsible and stoic. I was not looking for praise or approval. My only goal was survival.

It’s an interesting thing about isolation. One size doesn’t fit all. It comes packaged differently for each of us, and how it is experienced depends on our points of view, our fortitude, and our willingness to choose new behavior patterns.

While I am slightly embarrassed to admit that this pandemic — though grueling, dangerous and intrusive — has in its bleak way, also introduced a sense of renewed awareness. I am not for a minute minimizing or ignoring the havoc it has wrought. I have seen friends perish, and some who are still struggling with long-haul symptoms. I don’t dismiss the tragic repercussions of any of this COVID culprit’s relentless rage. I merely speak of how it has impacted me during this lengthy period of aloneness.

In that way, this column is a reflective snapshot from a personal perspective in response to my friend’s analysis.

I am not even negating his view of how isolation translates. At worst, it is confining, distancing and lonely. A best, it is motivating, challenging and, in its way, an entity unto itself. At its very core, it taps into our creativity, which, even in lockdown, can’t be extinguished.

Isolation teaches us resiliency and patience on a deeper level than we might ever have known. It presents a new set of survival tools at a time when all we want to do is escape back into the familiar world we once knew. But in the end, survival supersedes all.

As I write, I find myself sounding overly-acquiescent. I am not. Hanging out with “me, myself and I” on a daily basis is not as stimulating as social discourse. And yet, conversely, isolation does have its perks.

For one, I have changed in a myriad of small ways. I have become more user friendly with my computer. Out of necessity, I have learned to mend things that become undone. I engage in online banking, participate in Zoom meetings and events. I invent new recipes, listen to music, and I read voraciously.

On a lighter note, I am a walking fashion faux pas, I have come to donning my old college sweatshirt over a pair of sweatpants. I gave up looking well-coiffed last March, and I wash my hands as if my life depends on it.

If in some ways I have regressed, in other ways I have evolved.

The pandemic encourages a need for feeling protected from this evil giant who has taken over our planet. Safety, which was once taken for granted, is now a lost commodity, and we gravitate toward that primal need for protection, which vaccines will provide.

More than ever, we crave comfort and closeness. Perhaps that is how the popularity of Lord & Taylor’s “grandpa sweater” has reached such mammoth sales proportions. My son-in-law’s mother, Joyce, covets hers, which is a big bundle of woolen warmth in which to wrap herself when the going gets tough. Feeling cozy, after all, never goes out of style, and was never been more inviting than it is now.

I have temporarily been relieved of my duties as a social butterfly. I have traded hanging out with certain men to turning my attention to my new BFFs: Ben& Jerry, who come in as many flavors as are needed to satisfy my edible cravings.

There are days when I cherish my solitude, and days where it’s all kind of getting old. I watch the world explode in front of us in ways I never could have imagined. I stay connected via FaceTime, e-mails and special phone calls. I haven’t hugged anyone in nearly a year, and I miss everyone I care about whom I can’t see other than on a computer screen or from behind a glass door.

My grandchildren, now adults, continue to amaze me, but from a distance. I vacillate between thinking I am doing great to believing I am a hermetically sealed misfit. Yet through it all, I remain hopeful and steady.

So, to my friend whom I love dearly — and whose opinions I value, admire and respect— you are correct: I am isolated, in all the worst, and in all the best possible ways. What you haven’t addressed, however, is how much this time of isolation has been one of extreme growth and introspection. As life itself unfolds, this mercurial year has been an ongoing adventure in all its daunting, disturbing, and yet rich and satisfying ways. Most importantly, it has defined our resiliency and grit - our unswerving dedication to determination and strength of character.

I conclude with this quotation by Franz Schubert: “You believe happiness to be derived from the place in which once you have been happy, but in truth it is centered in ourselves.”

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.