Real Life

When Social Distancing Feels More Like Emotional Distancing

For many, myself included, social distancing has begun to take an emotional toll. But here's the thing: two months of isolation will really get you thinking...
by Julia Rubano May 21, 2020

If you were on social media at all between March 15th and April 1, you probably saw dozens of memes about how we’d all been “patiently waiting to be locked inside!” And “wouldn’t it be nice to get a break from all the world’s craziness for a little?!” Introverts rejoiced.

But that didn’t last.

And indeed, I say this as someone who joined in on the choir of “maybe it’ll be nice to sit at home for a bit, rid my mind of the decades worth of FOMO I’ve internalized.” More than two months now without much human contact and well, I take back what I said about wanting to rid myself of FOMO. I’m feeling the effects of isolation—hard.

I’m currently staying in my childhood home. I’m here indefinitely with my parents, who are both still, appreciatively, gainfully employed; my sister, who is a student, and our two dogs. Most mornings, I wake up to the sound of my parents padding around the kitchen, the dogs roughhousing. Coffee already in the pot. In many ways, it feels like I’m eighteen again, home on summer break.

Except that I’m 28 and the world is suffering. I have nearly a dozen friends in different parts of the country who have lost their jobs. Two close friends in New York, where I usually live, have had to move home due to a significant decrease or altogether loss of income. They broke their leases at the end of April.

When I think back to March 8th, right before all this really got underway, I was sitting on a plane headed back from a long weekend in Los Angeles. The plane was full. A few people wore masks and wiped down the tray tables in front of them. But for the most part, it was business as usual; another cross-country flight I hoped to sleep through. Perhaps I’d get lucky with a good movie on the seat-back in front of me.

Somewhere over middle America, I woke up with a start to the man next to me talking over the aisle. I was a bit annoyed to be woken up, finally having fallen asleep in a dreaded middle seat. He was talking about his son. He’d “already,” the man lamented, lost his job as a restaurant manager in Kansas City due to the impending effects of the coronavirus. 

Even though I was living in New York, feeling the city grow a bit quieter every day in those first days of March, that’s the first time I recall what would soon become a familiar sinking feeling in my gut. An anxiety of what if; a sadness I couldn’t, and still cannot entirely, place.

Two months later.

I’m writing this in May, which is over two months from the last time I can remember being in a room with more than three other people who are not my blood relatives. And while I can now explain what I felt on the plane that day, I’m still wrestling with it. The sadness and guilt, confusion, and concern for myself, for people I love; even those I don’t know and never will.

I am currently still employed. I’m healthy. I feel lucky to have had good financial guidance and well-paying jobs in the early years of my adulthood, the combination of which allowed me to stash away some emergency funds. I have health insurance.

All of these things and still: most mornings, I wake up with that sinking feeling.

Checking myself.

I can’t help but think about how in many ways, I’m lucky to be single, no kids. With just myself and my dog to worry about. And sure, I feel lonely, but I’m not alone.

So far, if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s exactly that: I may feel lonely, but I’m not alone. It’s reminded me that taking preventive care measures is key. I’ve skipped plenty of physicals, but won’t anymore. I’ve spent savings on things I do not need but wanted. I will (try) not to do that anymore. I’ve thought in the past about how much more I could have in my checking account if I didn’t contribute money to my health savings account (HSA) every month. But I’m going to keep those contributions rolling in now, that’s for sure.

In the two months since this began, I have been truly lucky to experience minimal impact from the coronavirus. Even so, I’m cognizant of its effects. In fact, I am more than cognizant. We are all more cognizant because, even if we’re not personally impacted, none of us is more than one or two degrees from someone who has been. And none of us will be more than one degree before this is over.

So keep reaching out to your people—connection isn’t canceled. And when we finally can… hug them! Try to add a little more than you want to your emergency fund every month. Maybe start investing (that’s also on my list). Then schedule that darn physical, ok?

Take the first step
in taking care of you.