I haven’t left my apartment in twenty-one days. Three weeks ago, life was “business as usual”; today we’re in a nationwide quarantine. Fourteen days from now, I need to leave the house. I’m looking at options. Public transit is operating on reduced schedules, with riders packed into the rear of the vehicles. If I chose to ride with them, I felt like my “Stay Home—Stay Safe” precautions would be tested along with my immune system, to say nothing of my mental health. Alternatively, a friend has offered to drive me to my appointment. Naturally, I’ve accepted. I need my antipsychotic injection to remain symptom free.
I know I’m not the only person having to make decisions like this. Life has to go on despite the novel coronavirus. I will probably be all right. I’m in good health and I’m following the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing. For me, isolation is nothing new. I spend most of my days alone at home anyway. It’s not only the life of a writer, it’s also commonplace among schizophrenics like me. I’m accustomed to sitting in my kitchen and watching the days disappear. I’m so sedated that I can’t tell the difference between my blank mind and the ticking of the kitchen clock. There’s always one more cup of coffee, and one more slice of toast. It gets lonely as long as I don’t remember that it’s so.
I used to break up my days with group meetings three times a week, typically twelve to twenty people in attendance. For an hour, we’d discuss topics like honesty, openness, willingness, and being of service. Afterwards we might go out for a bite. Those few hours were my sole connection to community, a connection I worked hard at despite my social awkwardness. Since the quarantine has been in place, we’ve taken to video chat for those three or four hours a week. With headphones on, it’s almost a tangible reality.
A friend and I have a standing monthly date scheduled for lunch and a movie here at my place. With the current social seclusion, that’s off the agenda, but we’re planning to watch a movie on Netflix while we video chat. There are ways to stay connected to people, even during this challenging time.
When I can get over my second-guessing, I call my friends and family. I still find myself worrying that my sister has to listen to her “crazy brother” chatter incessantly about unrelated topics, babbling on about the most arcane and mundane things. Like I used to do before the hospitalizations, weekly therapy, and meds. I’m different now. I can communicate in structured sentences without resorting to obscure pop culture references and rhyming. But I forget that when I call. All the old patterns come up again. I temporarily worry that I’m not in rehabilitation, that I’m still communicating through a disordered mind. Which, technically I am, but in a different way, a more cohesive way. My words don’t follow their old patterns of abstract swatches and cubist blocks. There’s a more natural flow to the way words tumble out of my mouth. I can hear myself speak and I don’t sound garbled. There’s more confidence, more sense of self, less apprehension. So calling someone isn’t as scary as it used to be. I don’t feel as lost as before. My sister even said as much. She complimented me on my tenacity and cohesion, my willingness to try new things.
And that’s what these days are all about now—trying new things. Routines are essential to people living with a mental illness, as many of them will tell you, and unfortunately, with the global lockdown our routines are disrupted. So we need to establish new routines. Over the years, learning to communicate has been hard, I won’t deny it. Continuing to communicate through these challenging times demands creative solutions to what might have been the simplest of tasks. If we want to stay in contact with our friends and loved ones we may need to access all the tools at our disposal. We’ll get through this.
Set daily goals, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t complete them. Ask for help with the things you need, like groceries and medications. Reach out to the folks you know who care about you. If you need help figuring things out while you’re in quarantine, think about calling your case manager. They’re there to help with the details. They might even have tips for the heavy lifting. If possible, keep your appointments online or by phone. This is a time to be proactive. It’s a time for practicing the best self-care you can.