Like many, I have been working from home for the past month, sent home from an ad agency on March 12 with instructions to test system capacity the following day in case remote operations became necessary. It was Friday the 13th. I have not been back in the shuttered office since.
The city began to shut down later that weekend, closing bars and restaurants before the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, typically an all-day drinking fest in Chicago. The state ordered us to shelter-in-place later that same week, restricting our external movements to grocery store and pharmacy trips by March 21. As an added bonus, I was diagnosed with an “unknown respiratory virus” in on March 25, ordered to remain in my house for at least 14 days following a trip to the urgent care clinic where my relative youth and good health kept me from a COVID-19 test.
Feeling unwell, I have not been outside of my house for the past 17 days, other than to walk down the eight steps from my porch stoop to let Melvin, my cantankerous Dachshund, into the front yard. He does not care for outsiders of any kind, and he growls ferociously at any dog or human who dares cross the sidewalk in front of our home. This is not new behavior for Melvin, who insists on aggressively patrolling his territory, oblivious to the size of his 10-pound frame. We refer to him as our social distancing enforcement patrol.
My experience of self-isolation is probably a bit different from yours, though. My scan of internet articles reveals that many suffer from cabin fever (a privilege) and are tired of the distance, the isolation, and the restricted movements through society. Not me. Like Melvin, I am a not a fan of outsiders. Frankly, I love being confined to my house.
I thrive in isolation. I am an introvert, a wicked INTJ personality in the Myers-Briggs system. You probably recognize me as the person who never speaks to you when you sit next to me in an airplane or take the stool next to me at the hotel bar. I am the one with her nose in a book or a journal, writing furiously and avoiding eye contact with you. I am the one who gets lost in her work, whether that’s stocking shelves at a home goods store or drafting strategy briefs. I will never speak to you, a stranger, unless you approach me first. And, even then, the odds are slim that I will acknowledge you with more than a polite nod or an inaudible mumble. Given a choice, I would rather not speak with you. Ever. Please, just let me keep working or reading or enjoying the time by myself. Alone. I like it this way.
I welcome isolation as a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Unlike your garden-variety extrovert, I need time alone, in solitude, to replenish the energy that is depleted when I engage with others outside of my home or family unit. Social distancing is my preferred modus operandi – the fewer social interactions, the more energy I can reserve for myself. And, now, distancing from other humans is enforced (six feet!), if not mandated in many states, exempting me from the social situations I typically find awkward and exhausting: the El ride to work; the small talk with the barista who prepares my morning tea; the open office space and shared communal kitchen at work; the ever-cheerful ad agency account services team. And then there are the face-to-face client meetings and dinners. The post-practice locker room chit-chat – too close, not enough (social) distance.
Social distancing means I can work from my dining room table, soft music playing in the background, Melvin asleep in the late afternoon sunshine streaming through the bay windows at the front of the house. I can practice yoga in my living room, nobody else in sight. It’s quiet here. I don’t know why I would ever leave the house again… especially since Amazon and my favorite indie book shops keep my pantry and bookshelves stocked. My family and friends text, and I text them back. More rarely, I pick up the phone and call or chat by Zoom, no contact required. This is my #getoutofjailfree card.
I am extremely grateful that I am fortunate enough to live in a spacious house with separate quarters for eating, sleeping and working – nothing short of a luxury in this crisis. But, truthfully, I would be just as happy in one of the small apartments from my earlier days, locked in with instructions to stay put for the foreseeable future. All I need is my tea kettle, my books, and enough ink for my fountain pen. And, of course, a way to earn my living that would permit me to stay indoors. Forever. Although, I can dream and hope for a new kind of normal once this crisis subsides: an introvert’s paradise, if you will.
I am more relaxed now likely because this entire situation is completely out of my hands, out of any of our hands. Nothing I can do will influence the lifting of the shelter-in-place mandate. Nothing I can do will influence the trajectory of this virus, the economy, my employment status. This absence of control is a tonic for my soul and a stimulant for my creativity. Physically unable to get up and walk away from my writing, I am forced to sit and be present with myself, an easy accomplishment when all other options are removed. I will change and be changed as a result of the pandemic and the quarantine. We all will, though none of us yet understands the magnitude of this change. Allowing ourselves to be present with that change after we return to our external lives may be the biggest challenge of all. So, for now, I will remain here, inside my house with Melvin and retreat even deeper into myself, my solitude, and my words. I feel complete, and at peace.