At first the jargon sounded funny, strange combinations of words or familiar words in different contexts. Why was it 'self-isolation' instead of 'isolate themselves'? Wasn't 'shelter in place' what people did when they were too late to flee bush fires and hurricanes in other countries? Contacts were no longer the address list in our phones but people we had spent time with who might have made us sick and needed to be tracked down as if they had an STD. Everyday items we barely gave a thought, such as hand-sanitiser and toilet paper, seemed weirdly desirable. Panic-buying which stripped the supermarket shelves became a thing.
We got used to it. People adapt. Then came 'social distancing', not some kind of snobbery but keeping two metres away from those not in our household. That seemed drastic as meetings were cancelled, churches closed, gym classes ceased, swimming pools, libraries, sports – all the fun ways we distract ourselves and mix with people – came to an end. It felt drastic but implied that something bigger was about to happen. We had seen it on TV – lock down. Hence the panic buying, a mere symbol of the fear welling up in us all at our loss of freedom, the restrictions that would separate us from our friends, our grandchildren, our religious groups. We are social creatures, of course we were panicking. When the word to stay home went out, it came with only two days' notice.
House arrest or home detention are serious punishments. Solitary confinement is even more serious and those of us who live alone will stay alone for the duration. Yes, phones, email and video calls are helpful tools, but face-to-face contact is the deepest need. It calms the limbic system which regulates our emotions, satisfying us in ways we are barely aware of. If this is the solution, how bad is the problem? It's a moving target, so hard to define.
I take a deep breath and look at the present moment. This morning I woke as usual, let the cat in as usual, opened the curtains to the sunrise, noting its apocalyptic red and grey hue and finding the humour rather than the fear. I did my salutes to the sun as usual. But it's Thursday, I swim with my friend and catch up over breakfast on Thursdays. There's no swimming, the pools are closed.
What next? I've made a list of chores. I intend to blog regularly. I've put a teddy bear in the window for the children next door to see. I'll phone my sister and video call my swimming friend, trying to keep the shreds of my normal social life intact. I read a brave, sensible message from the Director of Medicins sans Frontiers and I weep; grateful that I'm not in a war zone and sad for the losses in this new normal.
And by the end of the day I'm feeling pretty positive. I've had a good day: lots of phone calls, including a successful video call on the laptop and a less successful one on my rather old phone. I have a sense of achievement from doing a few small writing jobs and some gardening. I biked to the beach and had a walk along the sand before biking back, delighting in the minimal traffic (but note to self: there are still trucks going to the port, stay well over in the cycle lane!) Because I rarely spend a whole day at home, even now that I'm retired, I'll make sure to go out for at least an hour's exercise each day. You know, it could be ok.