There is a reason why solitary confinement is one of the worst — if not the worst — punishment you could give a prisoner. If the mind is not strong enough to go without socializing or without embracing the warmth of the sun, then the prisoner’s mental health is bound to deteriorate.
When Ontario was faced with deciding which monster to battle, mental health or COVID-19, the province chose to fight against the latter, and told the rest of us to deal with our mental health by ourselves.
Admittedly, when COVID-19 was publicly announced I didn’t take it seriously. By the time I heard about it from the mouth of mainstream media I had already heard from others that COVID-19 was just another flu. That was at the beginning of March 2020 and now in January 2021, there are still mandatory ‘stay at home’ orders being issued.
Staying at home was once a way to avoid my social anxiety, but with moving everything online and the financial stress of getting furloughed from my job, there was nowhere left to escape. My anxiety claimed my room as an incubator.
There was not much to do but to remember the good times. Nostalgia may be a liar, but it was better than embracing reality. And the reality was this: for almost a year, I didn’t see or hold my mother or brother who live in the States.
Facetime calls featured lagging voices and pixelated faces. As if the distance wasn’t enough, the Wi-Fi was also beginning to snail along. Occasionally I could see them clearly — my mother’s face had a few more lines above her brows and the shadows under her eyes had deepened slightly.
My brother was beginning to look less like my mother and more like his father. He traded in her round face for an angular chin and cheekbone that cut into his eyes when he smiled. During our last video call, he showed off his missing tooth proudly smiling and declaring himself “a big boy” now.
“We all agreed to give up a year of our lives without reading the terms and conditions detailing when we would get it all back.”
His toothless smile made it clear to me just what these restrictions are good for. The restrictions did as much good for my mental health as a weighted life jacket does for a drowning victim. I was being pulled under, looking up to the surface at a distorted screen of my family seemingly aging without me.
Resentment began to spread within me like the day going dark after 4 p.m. Alone in my own thoughts, I resented the few people that held us back from reopening — the celebrities, and the politicians that got to escape from reality, while everyone else followed the rules.
What about us? What about the people who sacrificed their year because they were told to? What about the essential workers who still had to work during a pandemic? It seemed to me that we all agreed to give up a year of our lives without reading the terms and conditions detailing when we would get it all back.
Then, the survivor’s guilt began to settle in. The only thing left to do was reflect. I couldn’t run away to Hawaii or take a trip to St. Barts.
My feet were bound and glued to the creaking floorboards of my room. I couldn’t be comforted with a hug from my mother or feel secured by a kiss from my partner. I had to survive this by myself.
Just as the inmate plans their life when they are about to reenter society, I’m preparing myself for life after the pandemic. Though I’m not sure when life after the pandemic will occur, I’m still holding on to the idea that the time will come. After a cold and isolated year, I’m still hoping for a warm and welcoming spring.