This post is a follow-up to my first pandemic post: It’s ok to say “I’m hurting”.
Talk to any seasoned motorcycle rider, and you often hear the phrase “There is cold, and there is cold on a motorcycle.” Without the proper gear, riding extended distances in cold weather leaves the rider chilled to the bones. It takes me hours to really feel warm after a long ride in dark, cold weather.
During the first phase of the pandemic, we didn’t know much about Covid. Public health advised us to shelter in place as we didn’t know how the virus moved from person to person, how long it lived outside of the body, and how virulent each case could become. Prioritizing our physical health over our mental health bought us time as a society to understand our common enemy.
Fast forward 22 months and I’m genuinely in awe of how much progress we’ve made against Covid. We’ve answered all of the questions above, pioneered a vaccine, and maybe starting to see what life might look like with the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Distancing, masking, and getting vaccinated I believe are key parts to stay physically healthy and keep hospitals open. The below text should be complimentary to that mission.
I’ve often wondered throughout this experience, “what will be the mark of this generation?” Much like the Great Depression taught people to save, I think this pandemic will have a mark on who we are, how we feel, and how we move forward as a collective people.
While she wrote in June of 2020, I’ve come to appreciate Julianne Holt-Lundstad’s characterization that this is not one, but two pandemics. She writes:
The struggle to balance literal survival with all the things that make surviving worthwhile has never been so clear, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to sacrifice social connections – and therefore quality of life – for life itself.The Double Pandemic Of Social Isolation And COVID-19: Cross-Sector Policy Must Address Both
It’s now clear not one but two pandemics coexist. Speaking personally, I spent most of 2020 alone. My job is remote, my family is remote, my partner is remote, and my local social connections fell dormant as they remained quarantined like me.
In many ways, the experience was confinement. In hindsight, public health didn’t adequately consider how those who live by themselves balance their physical and mental health during such extended periods of isolation.
The first part of 2020 forced me to slow down and treat each moment of social interaction like an infrequent dessert rather than a commonplace activity like breathing. I looked forward to going grocery shopping as I could see and interact with another human – even just for a brief moment at the check stand. Thank you to each of the team members at Sprouts. Each of us felt the weird aftertaste of artificially sweetened togetherness via Zoom when we wanted the truly sweet, restorative connection of being in the physical presence of others whom we enjoy.
We were all hopeful that 2021 would bring a new beginning. At some level, it did. As case numbers dropped, many of us breathed a little easier. However, regardless of where the case numbers are, both the American and Canadian news media reinforced that the world is unsafe. The pandemic has taught us to think that simple and essential parts of our humanity like a conversation, hugs, camaraderie are dangerous.
I find myself slipping into the lie that life is now meant to be lived alone. After two years of relative isolation, I’m finding that my defaults are changing. Meeting up with other people is exhausting. Each of us have to ask ourselves if we’ve had any potential Covid exposure. We awkwardly ask those we hang out with, “Are you vaccinated? Have you had any Covid exposure?”
All of this leaves me with a deep sense of loneliness in my bones that somehow I can’t shake. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay at home. What seemed so natural in connecting with others feels so artificially hard now. All of this reinforces a lonely tax of being isolated. I began to understand that effect of that tax while riding without heat at night in the winter. It’s just a state of being that doesn’t easily leave you.
Motorcycling by myself used to be a wonderful escape from society. A few months into the pandemic, I took my bike up to the mountains and quickly realized I wasn’t escaping anything. I was isolated at home and isolated up in the mountains. My motorcycle ride was utterly unsatisfying. It wasn’t until I came across a friend from home who was up in the mountains that I realized my deep need for connection.
Fast forwarding to today, it was 4pm on a holiday Monday and I needed to get out of the house. I couldn’t spend yet another holiday on the sofa. Christmas and New Years were mostly cold and wet. Recently I’d done a few peninsula rides (Old Stories; New Beginnings). I hadn’t really explored Marin County. To Stinson Beach I go.
It was a beautiful ride. I enjoyed the sunset. I was reminded how challenging ocean facing twisties are at night. The tough part for me is that I don’t really know how to reengage in a pre-pandemic way. I missed people – my people or any people. I didn’t care.
What are the new social norms to start living life again? How do we begin to build regular, in person contact with those who are good for our souls?
I do want to make it clear that I’m not critically struggling. I continue to think that life is worth living. My soul, however, has this background chill of feeling alone I can’t shake.
I know I’m not alone in that feeling. The National on CBC often reports on men’s mental health. I have no reason to believe that Americans are any different than Canadians.
Whether you’re single, coupled, or have kids, we each have our journey – for sure. For those of us that live by ourselves, this pandemic has left a distinguishable mark on each of us – how we differentiate between loneliness, solitude, and community.