Quarantining in a London Apartment
Perhaps you have yet to encounter COVID personally, but this boogeyman is still out there. Find out how one of our writers copes with the anxiety of quarantining in a London apartment!
The UK recently passed over 100,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and it has been a sobering time. Perhaps not solely because I am living the epicentre of the second wave, but because I experienced the first moment of ‘fearing for my life’ around the time of this grim milestone.
I’ve always been a nervous person. When I was younger, my parents would have described me as outgoing and friendly, but really it was like my body and mind were two separate entities, I did one thing, then my mind would tell me everything wrong with what I did. First, it was something I would just ignore until eventually, it bloomed into a full-blown anxiety disorder. I withdrew from social groups that were too loud or personal since it was easier than dealing with the saboteur inside my brain. So, staying at home and social distancing were not new concepts to me, if anything, these measures made me feel some relief. There was no pressure on myself to fulfill some sort of social quota; anxiety could not nag me for being anti-social because it was literally written into legislation that I had to be anti-social! I was spending lockdown with my parents and partner as a household in the countryside, so I felt I didn’t have to worry during that time. However, as soon as the country crept out of Lockdown 1.0, the time came to return to London. Since returning, I can unequivocally say that anxiety has engulfed my day to day life.
To me, COVID-19 had become the boogeyman that lurked around every corner. Experts warned us to follow the rituals they devised: hand washing, mask-wearing, social-distancing. They told us if we followed these rules, we could stand a chance. So I followed. I washed my hands before leaving the house; I sanitised my hands while in the outside world, I washed my hands after coming home. I have become accustomed to the mask I wear and grow nervous at the thought of even answering the door without it. I watch the space surrounding me, ready to jump away at any sign of infringement from others. These habits have fed my anxiety, made me wary of every individual I meet, made me distrust anyone who doesn’t wear a mask. It has been an unusually daunting period, to say the least. This boogeyman continues to feed off the world, and I am here, held up in my London apartment. Anxiety had always made me think that there might be something around the corner, but now it knows that there’s something out there, so the world became all the more dangerous.
Since April, I have been on furlough, and because I worked in a theatre, there’s clearly no sign of them opening up again any time soon, so I got a part-time job as a key worker to generate a little more income. Now all our bubble members worked in the same supermarket, and three out of four of us worked in the same department. But we soon realised that this would hinder the supermarket management more than we initially thought because one of us got sick. My flatmate had been showing what he called ‘flu-symptoms’ before they began to escalate into a suspicious cough. As the cough developed, he told us that he had input his symptoms into the Track and Trace app, and was told to self-isolate. This meant that the rest of us had to isolate too, so our department was very suddenly understaffed and the management team was somewhat miffed about the situation. But hey, this was the law, we had to self isolate for the next 10 days, or until my flatmate’s test came back negative.
At this point, anxiety was telling me a series of different things: You should feel bad for not working, you should be terrified of contracting COVID, you should feel terrible for not cleaning the flat every day, what would happen if you ended up in the hospital? You would have no one, everyone you love will say goodbye through a phone screen, you’re going to die alone and afraid. Even while writing this, I feel my anxiety obsessing other these thoughts still.
The world suddenly seemed more desirable than before, looking out the window from the inside didn’t feel so safe anymore. Now that the boogeyman had found a way in, I was trapped inside waiting to see if it’ll get me. Inside this cramped, narrow flat, I could hear every sound as if there were no walls to muffle them, and each cough echoed louder than the one before. The bubble had been breached, and we were isolating from each other, and anxiety knew every outcome possible. Although, the only force I could think of to fight this invasion was disinfectant spray. I began cleaning down every surface; countertops, door handles, locks, light switches, everything that everyone used regularly. I would wait until communal spaces were empty before daring to venture out of my room, only speaking to my flatmates through messenger or by shouting through the walls at each other. We lived on the first floor of a small apartment building with no private outdoor space, making it difficult to even get a breath of fresh air without feeling a sense of fear for the outside world.
Then our flatmate’s test came back; it was negative. The sense of relief practically washed me away, my boogeyman hadn’t managed to find a way in, and we were still safe until anxiety reared up to add ‘for now…’ to my thoughts. I look back at last week and find myself humbled to the fact that millions of people have gone through this fear of quarantining while waiting for test results to come back. Terrified that their world was about to end. They have faced the fears never seeing their family and friends again.
Now that I have had a glimpse of this fear first-hand, I find my heart aching from the thought of facing it again. And although the fear has left, like the boogeyman, it still lurks around the corner, waiting for me to slip. Quarantining in this small, cramped, London apartment was a sobering experience to the reality we’re all surrounded by, so I implore those who take this reality lightly, to let your anxiety keep you safe. Let yourself think about the possibilities and consequences. Be scared. Because after 100,000 deaths, it’s clear that the UK government is failing, so it's left to the people.