’I’ve learned to appreciate the smaller things’: Readers share their self-isolation stories

Here’s a collection of what people are going through during the coronavirus lockdown
Maria Iqbal

Maclean’s asked its readers to submit personal self-isolation stories, and Canadians from across the country have responded. Here’s a collection of what people are going through during the coronavirus lockdown. Click here to submit your self-isolation story for a chance to be featured.

Maria Iqbal (Courtesy of Maria Iqbal)

Maria Iqbal, 27
Brampton, Ont.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, I was already working from home as a freelance journalist, so the lockdown didn’t immediately feel like a big change. My sister, two brothers and I take turns doing groceries every two weeks. My mom is in her 60s and diabetic, so we prefer that she stays home. As the days have grown warmer, I’ve started to crave fresh air and sunlight. I relish opening the windows of our house to feel the breeze. Our long-neglected treadmill has become more loved recently; my mom, siblings and I wait for our turn to use it. I’ve become more obsessive about cleaning the bathrooms. We’ve been spending more time as a family, cooking meals like fried chicken and biryani together, and playing board games like Ludo. Ramadan started at the end of April, and we can’t go to the mosque, so we pray at home. We tune into live streams of sermons. We phone our neighbours and loved ones in the community more often. I’ve learned to appreciate the smaller things—the rose-coloured sky at sunset, laughter at the dining table and the aroma of freshly baked bread.

Faye Arcand (Courtesy of Faye Arcand)
Faye Arcand (Courtesy of Faye Arcand)

Faye Arcand, 56
Okanagan Falls, B.C.

Isolation is not aloneness. I’m “trapped” in a 4,000-sq.-foot house with my husband, 18-year-old son, my golden retriever, Piper, and my calico cat, Testa. We could each have our own floor. How great is that? I feel so damn whiny. The idea of complaining sets off the guilt. Poor me, stuck in a home with a view and all the bells and whistles while people are suffering . . . dying! Wait; I figured it out—I’ll eat my way through the pandemic. Going on a grocery run? Remember the cookies, chips and ice cream, and since you’re out, rip through the drive-thru for fried chicken. And sleep; I can do that like nobody’s business. I’m like a teenager again, for heaven’s sake. Noon is my new normal. This “stay put” thing makes me want to stomp my feet and say, “Screw you!” I want to have coffee with my friends. I want to cuddle on the couch with my laptop without everyone else in the house. I want to make the rules. More than anything, I’m sad beyond words for the entire world—overwhelmed and unable to comprehend the numbers and devastation.

Tammy Perlich (Courtesy of Tammy Perlich)

Tammy Perlich, 45
Lethbridge, Alta.

I was overseas when the coronavirus hit in March but I didn’t rush to get back. The thought of crushing crowds at airports and breathing the recycled air of unknown sick people on flights over 12 hours long made my pulse quicken and my throat constrict with an anticipatory sickness. So I stayed put. I am in Gibraltar as a tourist, currently a place with good supply chains and health care. Here, all but essential businesses are closed and gathering with anyone except your household is illegal. We can be out only to shop for essentials, to help someone who needs it or for brief exercise. I am glad I stayed. Spring is here! The birds chirp and flowers like blue sea lavender, native to Gibraltar, are in full bloom. The weather is 17° C—perfect for walks. Now I speak with all my friends in the same way—video chats, phone calls, texts. The fact that I speak with all of them in the same way, regardless of their location, is evidence that the world is a very small place. It is also a stark reminder: To beat global challenges, we must work together globally.

Lynda Davis holds Sassy in her arms, while husband George looks on from inside the house. (Photograph by Erik Putz)

Lynda Davis, 72
Mississauga, ON

The pandemic reveals my true colours. There’s a proliferation of suggestions these days on how to fill our time in self-isolation. With online sing-alongs, Words With Friends, yoga videos, homeschooling and self-improvement podcasts, there’s no excuse for not being active or productive. Then why am I not active and not productive? The answer is obvious: I am extremely lazy. While friends are creating beautiful artwork, purging closets and basements, exercising and getting creative in the kitchen, I’ve produced mammoth to-do lists without actually doing, plucked my errant chin hairs, and suggested to my husband that he clean the crap out of the basement. He informed me his stuff is not “crap” and we’ve reached an impasse. On the positive side, I managed to teach myself how to use the UberEats app. And, my friends have come to strongly rely on my scintillating daily recommendations for TV shows like The Graham Show, Broad City and Getting On. This pandemic shall eventually pass and then I can go back to being lazy in a normal world.

Jim Taylor. (Courtesy of Jim Taylor)

Jim Taylor, 83
Lake Country, B.C.

My wife of 60 years died of leukemia three days before the COVID-19 regulations began. I’ve had to cancel her memorial service when gatherings of more than 50 people were prohibited, then cancel an informal house party of her closest friends when two-metre distancing came into effect. I am a single pea, rattling around in a 1,200-square-foot pod we designed for the two of us to live out our lives. I have telephone calls. And the organizations I belong to like the Winfield United Church, Rotary Club of Lake Country and Lake Country Museum use Zoom to communicate. But I cannot hug anyone over the phone; I cannot cry on anyone’s shoulder over Zoom. I am lonelier than I have ever been. No one has touched me in five weeks. I can’t argue with the decisions made by medical authorities to protect public health, but I wonder if anyone has seriously considered the long-term costs of social isolation.

Sarah Sehl. (Courtesy of Sarah Sehl)

Sarah Sehl, 25
Halifax, N.S.

For me, distancing translates to isolation. My young professional dream—living alone in the city—did not include a pandemic. It does however feature a balcony encircled by other buildings, a no-pets policy and a tiny floor plan. I am now in a long-distance relationship. It’s just an hour-and-a-half drive to my boyfriend’s in Pictou, N.S., but it may as well be across the globe. When he left a few weeks ago, the assumption was that he’d shortly return. Things were different then. We plan now, referencing a mythical “July” when we can visit without the weight of consequences and duty holding us to our homes. Not long ago “July” was “in a couple weeks.” I mailed a card to my Grampie since I can no longer see him for his 80th birthday. It was going to be my first trip to New Brunswick since Christmas and Grammie’s funeral in late December 2019. Grampie and I talk daily, a new ritual since the distancing began. My daily exercise is yoga and struggling to hold perspective above boredom and sorrow. Once unimaginable solidarity through once unimaginable solitude.

Hilary Anderle. (Courtesy of Norm Barmeier)

Hilary Anderle, 70
Lions Bay, B.C.

At the beginning of March, COVID-19 was the new kid on the block. I shared a muffin with a fellow skier—a tourist—and two days later I knew there was a powerful virus trying to gain entry into my body. It felt like my face was being eaten off. For two-and-a-half weeks I walked around my home with my down coat and hat on, chilled to the bone. Then one night the cytokine storm arrived. I woke at 3:00 a.m. and saw my beet-red face in the mirror. I downed another vitamin C with fresh-squeezed lemon water, and used a Waterpik flosser to rid my mouth of bacteria. In the morning I continued with my supplement protocol of 12 vitamins and minerals including vitamins C and D, and zinc. My fever is mostly gone, but my lymph nodes hurt to distraction. Some nights sleep evades me. Melatonin is supposed to help with coronavirus, so I take that. My doctor, on a virtual call said, “you’re completing your sentences, you’re not out of breath, so self-isolate and assume you have COVID-19.” It’s been a month-long battle for a 70-year-old widow, but may I live to ski again.

Dave Jorgensen. (Courtesy of Dave Jorgensen)

Dave Jorgensen, 63
Naramata, B.C.

From my deck I have a view of springtime at Lake Okanagan. My fridge is full and I have a garage full of projects. I’m happily building our mountaintop retirement home. Yet even as I drink my mug of Earl Grey and read Washington Post online, one province over in Alberta, my wife still works with her high school students in a wild combination of paper and online challenges. Even as the sun shines and robins peck for grubs in our orchard, both our daughters, who are 33 and 31 now, look into the economic abyss. The careers they went to university for—the lives they worked and planned so hard for—are melting before their eyes. We’re all in constant video and telephone contact, but our older daughter is in her third trimester and has responsibly decided that the best choice for her and her baby is to stay isolated. So I can’t hug my daughter and my soon-to-be grandson, I can’t manufacture cashflow for them, I can’t cradle them and say “it’s going to get better, sweetheart,” as I used to. “Not with a bang, but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot was right—we’re hollowed out.

Carmen Cheung with George. (Photograph by Carmen Cheung)

Carmen Cheung, 36
Toronto, ON

Before the self-isolation hit, I was bringing our French bulldog, George, to work with me. I’m a photographer and I had just wrapped a nine-day shoot. George was proving to be a very good set dog: he’s quiet, very chill and always welcomes a cuddle from people when they need a break from set. He has a dog walker, who I know he misses right now! He comes once a day when we need him since my partner and I have busy work schedules, which means long days away from George. For the last five weeks though, we’ve been at home 24/7, and George has been getting more snuggles, longer walks and extra attention. As a result, he’s glued to our sides, which neither of us are complaining about. He—like so many other pets right now—is blissfully unaware of what’s going on in the world and just living his best life. Over the years, George has taught us how to care for something outside of ourselves, and to find happiness in life’s simple things. His presence has brought us calm and joy during this difficult time. Even though we’ve been with him almost every day since we got him five-and-half years ago, we’ve reconnected during isolation.

Jesse Paikin. (Courtesy of Jesse Paikin)

Jesse Paikin, 36
Thornhill, ON

My wife and I are both rabbis, living now in Washington D.C. The communities we work with have moved operations entirely online. Counselling, learning, prayer and meetings—all now through the screen. Each morning, we both retreat to our own corner of our home and log on. The remarkable nature of this is not lost: in any other age, spiritual communities faced profound existential crises when confronting the magnitude of this inability to gather. We’re mostly lucky. But the hours spent gazing into the screen presents its own existential crisis. A screen can’t gaze back at you the way a human can. It can’t make a room pulsate with energy the way 10, 15 or 100 human souls do. For all the ways that our gear and apps are saving us right now, we’re still hurting. But I have to remember each day that the tubes which allow us to continue to be present with people are their own spiritual conduits; prophetic channels allowing people to tap into that which is larger than us. That’s our job now as it always has been—connecting.

Ian Johnson. (Courtesy of Ian Johnson)

Ian Johnson, 66
The Pas, MB

Home borders the Carrot River, near The Pas, Northern Manitoba. So lots of local activities, masons, curling club and The Legion. They are all gone now and just that lonely river by the house that I never seemed to get down to in those pre-self-isolation days remains. Suddenly it is the go-to place. Take my best pal Ari, the little Pomeranian-Chihuahua dog—my constant companion. Is that a mink with a careful tunnelled home, and next door to it the beaver house that is closed up for winter save for the bits of steam sneaking out? Are those deer tracks? Tomorrow I will wait in the bush. It’s meant to be a warm day so I’ll bring an iPad and get some snaps. The river is alive with birds from the feeder swirling around, my wife is calling for lunch, but I have the river and a new world opening up. We will beat this self-isolation. Thank you my backyard friends.