“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
So it feels today, the 10th day of voluntary self-isolation at home. Much to my relief, my younger child and husband returned home from the UK safe and in good health at the end of March, their plans disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two are following the government’s orders for returnees to immediately go into self-isolation at home for 14 days and to be tested for the new coronavirus. Out of an abundance of caution, our entire family of four is staying home with the two returnees staying in their rooms. As I write this, I am working from my living room.
It is a strange feeling to be together, but not really together. We have not been able to catch up on what we have been up to these past months, and we have not gotten together for a meal, over which we normally have raucous discussions about this and that. We tried video calls but found them frustrating and slightly ridiculous -- we occupy the same house, not cities thousands of kilometers apart. Nevertheless, I am grateful that we are all under the same roof and I no longer stay up worrying.
Working from home, as anyone who has been doing it since the novel coronavirus outbreak can attest, is challenging in many aspects. From staying productive and staying connected to feelings of loneliness and lack of motivation, remote workers are tested in many ways.
Then there is the matter of juggling work and taking care of family. In fact, finding work-life balance may be one of the most glaring challenges for remote workers.
You need to work, but you also see the needs of those around you. Fortunately, I am “caring” for adults who can wait for their snacks as I furiously work to meet a deadline. By the way, fellow work-from-home workers, have you noticed how staying at home seems to make you hungry all the time?
Planning, cooking and distributing three meals a day -- I leave a tray in front of the door of those quarantined in their rooms -- requires more time and energy than I had anticipated. I cannot thank my oldest enough for all her help and I am forever indebted to the grocery delivery people, meal delivery people and others who make self-isolation manageable.
A side effect of isolation that I am surprised to discover is the reduced desire to talk. As exchanges with people have become rare, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold extended conversations. It feels as though I have brain fog, the words on the tip of my tongue refusing to roll out. Following the thread of a conversation is difficult, too.
This reduced desire for engagement may prove to be detrimental when we return to normal. Having become at ease living and working in isolation, will we be able, or perhaps more importantly, be willing to step out again and engage with life as we once did, before the virus with a lovely name drove us into hiding, cutting off contact with the world?
After such protracted social distancing, will we find gatherings to be uncomfortable, a little too close for comfort? When will we freely shake hands, or hug each other without the tiniest bit of anxiety about such intimacy?
My 14 days in self-isolation will soon be over. It will have kept me and people around me safe from the virus. Yet the psychological and spiritual damage may last for quite some time.
Continuing with the earlier quote from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “... it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
That may well be how we remember this time of the coronavirus.
By Kim Hoo-ran (firstname.lastname@example.org
--The writer is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald. -- Ed.