For a week-and-a-half, I’ve been self-quarantining in my New York apartment because of a coronavirus and the global pandemic. That, folks, is not a sentence I ever imagined I’d type out. And yet, here we are.
Twelve days doesn’t sound like a long time. Especially when you consider how quickly the COVID-19 crisis has escalated. But this has easily been one of the most emotionally exhausting periods of my life. Twelve days felt like a month.
Listen to ScoMo’s latest coronavirus restrictions for Australia below:
The way I’ve been explaining my headspace to family and friends in Sydney is that I feel like I’m living in Australia’s future right now. I sincerely hope that is not the case, (at the time of writing New York state – not city – sits at 20,875 cases of the virus) but I feel as though it’s something of a duty of mine to share some insight into what it’s like for those of us living in more heavily hit areas.
My experience of daily life shifted on Thursday, March 12th. It was the day after Coronavirus became a global pandemic, and the severity of the situation in New York City – which is home to over 8.6 million people – became clear.
That evening, two of my roommates and I went to a supermarket and stocked up on about two weeks’ worth of food. Well, we attempted to. The shelves were pretty sparse. No, there wasn’t any toilet paper.
The queue to check out snaked out past the registers, almost reaching the entrance of the giant store. Seeing the line of people waiting with their trolleys stacked caused anxiety to fill my chest.
Despite the tense circumstances, though, people were surprisingly friendly. New Yorkers! We joked with a couple of hipster-looking dudes about landing the last roll of TP. That’s never happened before.
I went to the gym on Friday night. I wiped down the treadmill before starting my run, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. I was one of about four people in the space. I ran for 15 minutes but became so consumed by anxiety that I had to leave. I wiped down the treadmill one more time and paused my membership.
That night, my roommates and I got very drunk on home-made Aperol Spritzes. We watched Love Is Blind and joked about seeing one and another at ‘work’ (read: our dining table which now sits in the living room) after the weekend.
By Monday, almost everyone I know in the city was working from home. Most were self-isolating. The Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced that food vendors would only be able to offer takeaway services and all nightclubs, movie theatres, small theatre houses, gyms and concert venues would have to close. (Not unlike Australia right now.)
Friends’ salaries were cut. The amount of work I was landing as a freelancer fell through the floor. I realised my sister would no longer be visiting me in May. People started asking if I was going to break my lease and fly home.
I spoke to my Nonna Franca on the phone on Tuesday. She learnt how to use Whatsapp this year – at 81. Nonna lives alone and is strictly self-quarantining.
“I don’t even go out to hang the laundry,” she told me. “I hang it in the garage now.” She told me this situation reminds her of war.
Nonna’s tone was positive, but I couldn’t help but picture her in that big house unable to have visitors drop by. I spent a good chunk of our call trying to pretend I wasn’t crying.
The reality of this enormous mess hit me early on in week one. Wednesday onwards was honestly about putting one foot in front of the other.
I started working out daily, just to get out of my head. None of my other mindfulness practices were working. I stocked up on veggies and more wine (necessary). I also started looking for ways to feel connected. I asked friends on Instagram to distract me with silly stories, and I got a wave of responses. I got stories about period stains on white skirts; about drunkenly vomiting on exes; about almost ruining surprise birthday parties. Stories about regular life…
By Thursday, borders were closing in Australia and the US State Department issued a level four travel advisory, asking all Americans abroad to travel home. I knew my window to go back to Sydney was closing, but decided to stay put: I didn’t want to chance getting sick and infecting others – least of all my family.
On Friday night the bar across the street opened a window to serve takeaway cocktails. My roommates and I stood in line with maybe four other people. Groups spaced themselves out by about two metres. The bartender told jokes through a mask.
My weekend closed with the news that as of Sunday, March 22nd, New Yorkers were being asked to “remain indoors to the greatest extent”. It was unnerving, and I felt scared.
Not knowing how bad this will get or how long we’ll be here is a kind of torment none of us knows how to manage. But if there’s one thing I’m leaving this first 12 days sure of, it’s that despite all the videos of people fighting over toilet paper or lining up for guns, most folks are reaching out their (gloved) hands out to one another.
And that has been a particularly bright light in an otherwise overwhelmingly dark time.
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