When Isolation Exacerbates Mental Health

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Detour Ahead, an art and literary journal.

Your phone buzzes. Once. Twice. A third time. You suspect it to be the friend you were supposed to video-chat with for lunch a few hours ago, but it could have been an email from a professor, wishing you a safe recovery from a virus you do not have, or asking you if you feel well enough to join the class for the next virtual lesson. The device lives on your nightstand. If you just roll over, you will have an entire world of connection in your hands, but your body remains still, facing the opposite wall. You have not stirred from the awkward position you woke up in a few hours ago. Your limbs are stiff and your head is throbbing, but you stay there anyway. Every so often, you open your eyes and allow them to glaze over your bedroom. You are met by the same beige paint that has coated the walls for years. The layer of fuzz collecting on your carpet. The chipped wood of  your closet door. The thumbtack holes scattered on the walls from floor to ceiling. You do not know what you expected to be in their place, but you feel disappointed.

You are not sure when your last shower was; you only know you need another one because an odor has begun to accompany you. Though you have not left your house in weeks, you feel embarrassed about your hygiene. Disgusted. Exposed. Ashamed. Deficient. You need to use the restroom, but there are sandbags on your shoulders, weighing your body down and keeping your side deeply pressed into the firm mattress. You do not feel comfortable, but the heat trapped between the comforter and the sheets and the familiar dent in your pillow make you feel obliged to linger there, like it is your duty to allow the layers of unwashed bedding to consume you. The task of getting out of bed feels too big to start, but you know you must begin, despite how overwhelmed the idea of it makes you.

First, you turn your body to the right, landing on your back. The loosening of your tense muscles brings forth the warm feeling of blood flowing through your upper body; something your rigid rest deprived you of. You pause, taking the moment to absorb the satisfaction of releasing the tension in your tight shoulders. It makes you feel inspired to take the next step, so you unhurriedly begin to sit forward, using your tired forearms to push yourself upward and your legs to move your body back against the frame of your bed. You interlock your fingers, twist your hands around, and stretch your arms forward as you let out a lengthy yawn. You know the next step will be the hardest, so you take a few minutes to gather some willpower. You glance at the uninhabited side of your bed and grimace at the mountain of unwashed clothes that stacks to be level with your line of vision, and the half-empty water bottles and wrappers of fun-size Halloween candies littered down the side of it.

You tell yourself you will clean it eventually, but you doubt yourself. You sigh, knowing it is time for the difficult part. You reposition your body to face the edge of your bed, fighting the urge to sink back down into the covers, and with all of the energy you mustered up, you scoot forward. You question your decision when you reach the end of the bed, but the motion is already in action and soon, you are standing with your bare feet on the ground. The action feels familiar, like something your body knew how to do and that makes you hopeful that you will be able to do it again. After using your hands to wipe off the crumbs and speckles of spots that tarnished the scruffy, baggy t-shirt you have been wearing for the past few days, you stick them into the thin, empty pockets of your lounge pants. With the exception of the single ray of gruesomely bright sunshine slipping through the cracks in the window’s dark grey curtains, your room is entirely dark, but navigating your way to the door is not a strenuous task. You know you are taking the right steps by the way the floor below you creaks as you lightly walk across it.

You arrive at where you suspect the door to be and reach out for the handle. It feels cold in your grasp; you turn it to the right completely and cautiously pull it towards you. Peeking through the newly formed crack between the door and its casing, you check to see if any of your family members are in the living room. You see your brother sprawled out on the couch in his work clothes, clearly lost in a peaceful rest. A plain blue medical mask hangs from one of his ears. Nobody else is near. You take the opportunity to travel down the hallway without being seen; it is the fastest you have moved all day and your only motivation for it is the condition of your hair and the greasy glimmer of your skin.

You swiftly enter the bathroom, being sure to lock the door once it is closed. You do not intend on looking at yourself, but you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror and your stomach drops upon seeing your own disheveled state. Is this you? You begin to feel self-conscious, questioning how you could have possibly let things get this bad. You have already fought your way out of this cycle, and now you have been drawn back in by its life-sucking gravitational pull. You feel the way you usually do when you are in a place like this: defeated.

But you are not defeated. The sun is still shining, you know that from the cheerful ray shining through your window that only keeps you company in the afternoon, and that means the day is not yet gone. This very day has an abundance of time to pass before its end, and you have already done a few things you could not do the day before. You have more resilience than you did yesterday, and tomorrow, you will have more strength than you do today. You may not return your missed calls. You may not respond to any emails. You may not throw away the garbage in your room. You may not wash your clothes. You may not take a shower, but you have left your room, and that is enough. The actions you took on this day are enough, and who you are at this point in time is enough. You are going to be fine, because by taking those actions, you have acknowledged that you are a valuable piece of the world and you matter to the people in it, including yourself. You got out of bed today. Celebrate.

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