The Torture of Isolation or the Bliss of Solitude?

As We Enter the Long Stretch, People are Reacting to the Pandemic Differently

First Reactions, Then the Long Stretch

I am not a social scientist. Still, I find one of the most interesting things about this pandemic is how we as individuals are reacting to it. How we react as communities and as a country is a very different conversation. For now, let’s think about individuals. There are some fascinating differences to observe and to reflect upon.

The First Stage

When this thing first hit, most of us went through some quick rounds of doubt, disbelief, and/or fearful panic. I recall my own reactions. I remembered that many prominent voices had been warning that such a thing could happen at any time. So I tuned in quite early. I had some early hope that a lot of thought had been given to this over the years. Hopefully, we could be ready.

Then, I remembered who was running our national government. I got really, really worried. The nature of a pandemic is that critical decisions have to be made early. Actions have to execute with a vengeance.

Trump started saying in the first weeks that “we have it under control” and “it will disappear like magic.” I got a little panicky. This was going to go very badly, for all the wrong reasons. I must admit, it has been, and still is, worse than I envisioned

The Second Stage

It became obvious (well, at least to some of us) that we needed to lock down and self-isolate thoroughly. We needed to do so for an unknown but pretty long period of time. There was a lot we did not know about the virus and protective materials were almost nonexistent. Time to lock the door and hunker down.

I gather that a lot of people were OK with that for a while. A ton of long forgotten and overdue personal and home products got done. Enough dresser drawers and closets were cleaned out to fill the Grand Canyon.

Outfits like Goodwill were overrun with donations. City trash collection departments pleaded with people to ease up. A zillion boxes of old photos got sorted and put into albums. And so on. I bet you have some stories in this category. This period ran for most people for about two months or so.

Stage Three

As we moved into late Spring and Summer, longer term effects set in. Home and remote schooling were here to stay for a while. Those who could work from home mostly did, and many still do. Zoom became a part of the national lexicon in the way Coke and Xerox did in earlier times.

Some started to resist it all in some most unhelpful ways. They railed against face masks. They insisted on gathering in bars and at parties, claiming “normalcy” as their right. Lately, a bunch of them assembled on the White House lawn, packed in and maskless. They were miserable, angry – and infectious. The nation is paying the price for their lack of self-discipline and sense of community. But that gets us off on a tangent of collective response. Let’s go back to our individual responses.

Two Paths Forward, Both Born in Our Internal Make Up

There is still isolation going on. For those most vulnerable for any number of reasons, quite a bit of isolation. It is fascinating to see how people are reacting at this point. Not to oversimplify, as we all have mixed feelings along the way, but most of the people I know now fall into one camp or the other.

Camp I is a pretty miserable group. They are, as some have said to me (from a safe distance) natural huggers and back slappers. These people naturally congregate. They enjoy small talk about almost anything and thrive on the feedback and energy of others. These folks are feeling cut off and isolated.

Camp II is purring right along. These are people I have heard say things like the following. “I have always been a forest ranger at heart – long periods alone are fine.” “I don’t need other people to entertain me.” “I am really enjoying the extended periods of quite reflection and solitude.” “I have a whole world open to me via the internet. Now I have an opportunity to explore like never before.”

What About After All This?

I can understand the feelings of both groups. Group I is probably more outgoing. Group II more likely to be introverts. But I would not make too much of that categorization. Going through this experience for this long is a different thing. Most people probably would have known, if asked, which group they mostly resided in, but not always.

What is really interesting to think about is how this will change us internally. All of this will be put back into some form of normal, eventually. Hopefully not too far into next year. At that time, what will each of us carry forward in our experience and in our self examination?

What will we want to retain from this period? What will change in terms of how we interact with the world compared to our pre-pandemic lives? We have changed more than we might realize. This is going to be fascinating to watch, and to live through.

Stay well, everyone. And think a bit about how you want to reenter the world

                 Bill Clontz

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1 reply to The Torture of Isolation or the Bliss of Solitude?

  1. I am very much in the second group, though I did not realize how much so. I am still working in the office half-time and on call half-time since March 16th. Being on-call pretty much means I am at home so I don’t have free time to go out much even if there had been opportunities to do so. I am in a state that did not officially lock down but where everyone was strongly encouraged to stay home and most businesses were shut down at least for a while. We have been stuck in Phase 1 of our re-opening since June 1st or so, with lots of pauses and incremental relaxations. I have discovered that I do not want to re-enter the world, primarily because my household has seven risk factors between the two of us. I have also enjoyed being able to pursue hobbies and household activities. Both my regular and seasonal employers have worked out very stringent precautions, but once my regular employer re-opens fully I will be exposed to several hundred people daily. I also manage people in both groups, so it is a constant struggle to balance the people afraid of exposure with the people who think we need to be fully re-open. So I am scheming how to take early retirement from that job …

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