A guide to isolation from someone who’s been there

Buddies-at-Home is a series of content shared by Buddies staff, working from home during physical distancing – from recipes, to playlists, to musings on living in isolation. This contribution is from our Box Office and Front-of-House Manager, Stephanie Malek.

Two and a half years ago I was in a car accident. It was my first solo trip to New York City, and I was in the back of an uber when it was t-boned by an ambulance. In an instant my world became very small.

First let me say, if you’ve never had a concussion, don’t get one. They’re not great. If you do get one, hope that it’s not severe. In my case,  everyone thought my concussion was mild and that I just needed a few days of rest. I was told to stay home, avoid looking at screens and sleep. A lot. I called in to work, and I spent those few days lying in bed or on the couch, mostly with my eyes closed.

A few days turned into a week, turned into a month, turned into 2 months.

As it turned out, the symptoms did not go away as expected. Instead, I was left in the dark (both figuratively and often literally) as to when I would stop dealing with pain every day, stop feeling nauseated any time I looked at a computer screen, or when I might be able to work again. My mild concussion lingered and lingered and I was stuck at home, with my life on pause, leaving only to go to the doctor and home again. In addition to the pain and uncertainty I was deeply lonely, cut off from my friends, my support systems, and the outside world.

Seem familiar? 

Now, a concussion is not a global pandemic. Covid-19 has tragically ended or impacted millions of lives in ways that are not comparable to that experience. Also, not everyone is stuck at home, as frontline and emergency workers deal with stress and fear to keep us all alive (thank you so much and you deserve all the money). However, the immediate and extreme isolation and fear I experienced from my concussion may be similar to what many people are experiencing right now. Which means I may be able to shed some light on the subject.

I thought long and hard about this. I could tell you that “it’ll all work out” and “don’t worry, focus on just enjoying the down time”, but that’s what inspirational memes are for. Instead, I thought I’d offer some practical tools I’ve learned from my last isolation that may help you in this one. 

1. A good game of solitaire and a podcast can do wonders

I love playing regular, analog solitaire.  It’s particularly good if you’re tired of looking at screens. However, my brain needed more stimuli, so I also got really into podcasts. I recommend Stuff you missed in history class and Unobscured, which is a serial about the Salem Witch Trials (because it could be worse. You could be tied to the stake for saying hi to a cat). Mixing the tactile and auditory really helped. Having something to do with my hands let me absorb the podcast and vice versa. It was also nice to feel like maybe I was learning a little bit even if my brain couldn’t really do much with it.

2. Meditation leads to naps leads to killing time 

I downloaded a meditation app called Calm. It features a lovely Scottish man who would lull me into relaxation with his brogue. His voice is a bit unsettling at first but eventually I found it very comforting. I also learned that meditation makes me fall asleep, which is a handy trick when you are trying to kill time. Hot tip: Don’t let yourself nap too much. Missing out on daylight may make you feel weirder and more detached. Get that vitamin D! It is D, right? Yeah. It’s D. 

3. You’re gonna stress out and it’s not going to help but it’s still going to happen

During the concussion, my income stopped. My insurance was giving me $400/week to cover expenses but my apartment cost $1500/month so…you do the math. I became severely in debt (which I am paying off to this day) and I was terrified of how I was going to survive. Obviously, this did not help me cope with the bad situation I was already in. I could say don’t stress, but you will, so just accept that you’re gonna feel bad sometimes and let it happen. It’s okay to feel your feelings, just learn to recognize the difference between feeling them and drowning in them. When you’ve reached that point, try to move on with something else. Crying to a parent or friend helps even if it doesn’t solve the problem (thanks dad!)

4. You can get through this, though it will likely suck trying to find footing again

I got through my concussion and moved on with my life. However, I’m still dealing with the aftermath. I have PTSD from the accident, having struggled for over a year to just have any sense of normalcy. Sometimes I cry just thinking about September 2017. I am still almost $10K in debt from having to live off credit to keep my apartment until I was able to work full time again. I had a breakup during the dark time and had to do most of my healing and care on my own. Short version: It SUCKED. It sucked so hard. Going from nothing to trying to get back to “normal” is a very slow process, and you may find it shocking or difficult after this pause. The important part is knowing that it might suck. It’s okay for it to suck. It’s not your fault, you’re not doing anything wrong. It just sucks. And that’s okay. 

5. Getting back to normal doesn’t exist, and that’s okay too. 

Nothing has returned to how it was before. My brain doesn’t work the same. I’m much slower than I was. I can’t focus as well as before. Things are different and I’ve changed. This all being said, a lot has come from that change, and not all of it has been negative. In being forced to slow down, I’ve become a more patient person. I appreciate my surroundings more, and I feel more grateful for the people and things I do have. My life is very different and I’ve had to adapt in weird ways that have actually improved my life. One example; I have less tolerance for things that make me unhappy. I ended up changing jobs and working in an industry I really love. Isolation helped me clarify what was actually important, rather than what was just convenient at the time. 

As awkward and uncomfortable and scary and painful as this all is – we are all going through it together and this will inevitably lead to big changes that we can’t predict. Maybe it’s a new job, or a new way of interacting. New friends. New passions. New fears. Regardless, we will all be together again in this weird new world. Which, eventually, will just be the world. And that’s a nice thing to think about. Good times can grow out of bad ones. Keep an eye on that. 

Here’s the best part. When we can finally see each other again, we will all have a renewed love for social interactions and friendships. Having been through that once, it’s the thing that is giving me the most hope. 

I can’t wait to see you all again! 

 

Stephanie Malek

Stephanie is the Box Office & Front-of-House Manager at Buddies. “My first memory of Buddies was dancing at Tallulah’s when I was a baby queer at 20 with all my friends who were much more comfortable with their queerness than I was!”

Read all posts by Stephanie Malek

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