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The difficult but necessary art of physical distancing

Being alone is hard ⁠— but feeling lonely is much harder
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Reflecting on solitude during a pandemic. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY
Reflecting on solitude during a pandemic. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

The loneliness of physical distancing demands of people what we are simply not meant to do. We are social creatures. We thrive on interactions with others, especially ones that are physical, and being unable to connect can push us to our breaking points.

So, with the continuation of COVID-19, we are expected to practice physical distancing, and many are struggling to keep their mental health afloat. Luckily, many are surrounded by family members, significant others, or roommates. But what about those of us who live alone? I have now spent more than two months alone, and I’ve come to cope with the burdening solitude.

At first, it wasn’t so bad. I binge-watched Scandal, Lost, and Revenge during the first two weeks of March. However, by the time I was halfway through Revenge, reality started kicking in. I’d made up for the boring and increasingly lonely life of physical distancing by immersing myself completely into the action-packed and dramatic lives of TV characters, but I had reached a point where that was simply not enough.

The next two weeks were perhaps my lowest point so far.

I actively felt my physical and mental health going downhill. I knew that physical distancing wouldn’t be easy, but I hadn’t expected it to be as emotionally taxing and draining as it turned out to be.

To make things worse, I was slowly running out of food and water. I’m currently living in a part of Mexico where tap water is undrinkable, and, as such, I had relied on two water jugs the past couple of weeks, which were quickly depleting. However, this turned out to be an opportune moment because I realized that going outside would be a great pick-me-up. So, I decided to go on a grocery run.

I had bought a black cloth mask from a local tailor before I began physical distancing and two packs of medium-sized latex gloves from a pharmacy a block away from my apartment. I hadn’t used them up until that point, and I was inappropriately excited to show them off for the first time.

Seeing everyone in masks freaked me out when I first stepped outside. I don’t know why. I was wearing a mask myself, and, if anything, seeing that other people were wearing masks should have reassured me.

My nervousness was heightened when I got to the entrance of the grocery store. The line to get in wasn’t very long, but a grocery worker stood outside as a bouncer. Before customers went in, he would spray their cart and their hands with disinfectant, regardless of whether they were wearing gloves or not.

When I got inside, I was surprised to see that the store didn’t seem that far out of the ordinary. Yes, some shelves were completely devoid of products, and the lines to the registers stretched halfway across certain aisles, but other than that I was able to find all the groceries I needed. I was glad the experience hadn’t been as hectic as I had expected.

Come April, two of my close friends had invited me to partake in a virtual movie night. I gladly agreed, and now, our movie nights have become an almost nightly occurrence. Even though this wasn’t a big change in my routine from March, it was still nice to be able to share my thoughts, impressions, and quips with others.

Now, in May, I feel a lot better than I did a month ago. Daily exercise has been really effective in perking me up, and I’ve taken up journaling to ease my thoughts and really get to the bottom of who I am and what I want.

Some days are better than others. Whenever I feel myself getting increasingly sad, I go up to my roof and enjoy the sunlight. Often, I’ll read a book and work on my tan.

This pandemic has made me glad we live in such an interconnected and increasingly globalized world. I’m thankful that I can talk to my parents on the phone and contact friends two countries away with the push of a button. Without modern technology, which has connected me with those closest to me, I would have lost my mind. Yes, I am physically by myself, but I’m not truly alone.