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Coronavirus Journal: Second Week

Posted on Mar 22, 2020 by

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I am now stranded in Alkmaar.

I could still take the train if I wanted and go to Amsterdam, which I considered doing this weekend, but the worries of catching or spreading the virus were more powerful, so I stayed home. I miss my friends, because this is my fourth week of isolation. I also miss the city very much; when this is over, I’ll spend one full day walking up and down the streets of my dear Amsterdam, saying hi to my favourite corners, parks, cafés and people. Despite missing my friends, being in Alkmaar in these times might prove to be the better option.

I went out for a brief walk yesterday, to the supermarket, and the atmosphere was surreal: passersby were making sure to distance themselves from me, keeping the 1,5m recommended distance. Compared to the usual Saturdays, there were fewer people on the streets, probably about a quarter of the usual number. There was a small market in the city centre but very few people there; at the shops, you could see people in the queues unsure if they have enough distance from the others, moving up and down a few steps. I was glad to see that people finally took the recommendation for social distancing seriously, but it was all very weird and sad! Even the church bells’ song seemed sad yesterday (I wonder if they changed the song?). It felt like a Black Mirror episode.

Life has slowed down recently. A lot. For me and everyone else. In the past few years I kept making efforts to slow down my life, to live more mindfully, to enjoy the present and what I already have.

Some days were more successful than others, but I never achieved the desired results. Now it feels as if the entire world hit the pause button. We are all on hold. And the ones who are not (yet) — will be so in the not so distant future. It’s not the way I was hoping the world will slow down, but maybe it will teach us something, who knows!

My walks may be mindful and my thoughts more in the present than they used to, but I am far from being Zen. It’s an anxious mindfulness. It’s a wait for what’s next, what’s after tomorrow, after a week, after a month. My slow days are filled with worries for what will happen to my family (from which I am very far right now), for what will happen with the economy and society. I know this is a transformation, and, as all transformations, it’s a painful one. But we will not get to the end of it Zen, that’s for sure.


One of my favourite books is “The Lonely City”, by Olivia Laing. Here’s an excerpt from it:

” When people enter into an experience of loneliness, they trigger what psychologists call hypervigilance for social threat, a phenomenon Weiss first postulated back in 1970s. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual tends to experience the world in increasingly negative terms, and to both expect and remember instances of rudeness, rejection and abrasion, giving them greater weight and prominence than other, more benign or friendly interactions. […] What this means is that the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired.”

Loneliness was already considered an epidemic in our society, before the virus. Now it will just extend to greater proportions. In the days of social distancing, many people will feel lonely, regardless of their living situation. You can feel lonely even when surrounded by people, as many of us already know. I am a person who likes to be alone, on limited time periods. But now, after weeks of not meeting friends, I feel the loneliness creeping in. And I can tell you I’m all day on chats, doing face time, talking on the phone. And still. This time is not just the social interaction that is missing: there is the whole uncertainty around it, the lack of control. We need to find ways to survive this isolation and make it to the other side still as social human beings.

I was trying to do some sport the other day in the house. The image that came to mind was the one of a movie character who is, for some reason, confined to a space, and after the initial lethargy, their strong will and determination kicks in, they start doing push-ups and pull-ups and at the end of confinement they are in a great shape, ready for revenge and winning battles. I am far from being so determined but I’m doing my best every day. We don’t need to make the most out of this isolation, but we need to do our best to keep our head above the water. We don’t need to train for the marathon, don’t need to read 100 books; we just need to find something that will keep us going, keep us sane. And I know it’s hard, but please keep your distance, stay indoors, so we can all enjoy the parks sooner.



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