Coping with social isolation

The concern throughout this crisis was obviously to protect the physical health of all age groups, but perhaps only now is the psychological impact more apparent.

Wendy Blumfield and her late husband, David, in 2014 (photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
Wendy Blumfield and her late husband, David, in 2014
(photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
After the long period of complete lockdown in Israel, it is quite strange to see TV pictures of people crowding the beaches and streets – but the need to wear masks and keep a social distance is a reminder that we are not yet finished with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is still a section of the population that is considered at risk, those with health issues and the elderly. And for them the instructions are very confusing. Can we really ask our cleaner to come back and can we really go and repair our shaggy haircut? Is it safe to go shopping?
The concern throughout this crisis was obviously to protect the physical health of all age groups, but perhaps only now is the psychological impact more apparent.
Speaking to people in the older age bracket, there seemed to be a common factor for the first month or so. Everybody tackled those neglected jobs in the house, filing letters, sorting out papers, books and clothes. Then there was the need for some social contact albeit from isolation, and we started WhatsApp groups, Zooming into lectures and family events, making telephone calls to family and friends with whom we had lost contact.
Without doubt, those elderly people without family in Israel suffered the most. Kind neighbors, social workers, food deliveries may have provided material needs but the vast vacuum in their lives must have been insufferable. Many of those pensioners normally lead busy lives, go to lectures and social events, and not all of them could cope with the technology of communications.
But even for those of us who had concerned family members calling frequently, running errands and doing the shopping, sending video WhatsApps or running family meetings by Zoom, those empty silent hours are suffocating.
When I was widowed nearly three years ago, I lived alone in Haifa for the first time in my life but was never lonely. I had a busy social and family life, was still inspired to write articles and poetry – all of which occupied so much time that I sometimes welcomed a quiet day at home.
For that first period of the lockdown, I also caught up with the neglected jobs. I sorted out the bookshelves, looking for some old ones that I had loved and forgotten, and started to put all the poems I had written in latter years in the form of a collection.
I was dreading Passover, alone as a contrast to our usual noisy family events, but took great pleasure in joining my daughter’s Seder on Zoom. A relative in the UK had a brainwave and we formed a play-reading group which we run on Zoom twice a week.
Somehow everything changed for the worse around Independence Day, ironically as restrictions were being lightened. Maybe it is a reaction to those difficult previous weeks, maybe it is a realization that I cannot yet get back to my normal life. I have had brief meetings with the children although they will still not come into the house. I do meet friends for a walk, masked and keeping our distance. We renewed the car battery so that I could venture out of the neighborhood for walks. But however many walks, phone calls, WhatsApps, emails or Zoom meetings, those empty hours and silent house suffocated me.
I couldn’t concentrate on those books that I found on the shelves or those I ordered on Kindle. I am a night owl and usually go to bed late and sleep till 8 o’clock. Now I wake at 6 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep, and sometimes toss and turn the night away. I wonder why so many people talk about the lockdown as a sort of getting off the carousel, slowing down. I discovered that there are two main factors.
Human beings can be roughly categorized as introverts or extroverts and the way they cope with solitude are very different. The introverts are enjoying watching the healing of the Earth, the blooming of flowers after our rainy winter, the singing of the birds in the quiet skies. The extroverts are yearning for human contact, just needing a hug.
The other factor, particularly for older people, is whether one lives entirely alone or shares one’s home with a partner. Speaking to friends, I discovered that it is a world apart. While those living alone do not have much pleasure in cooking or eating when there is nobody to share it with, some who still have their husbands complain that with them home all day they spend too much time in the kitchen!
But for many older couples, they have found renewed interests, clearing out several years of junk from the house, sharing the household jobs, experimenting with recipes. And the house is not silent as they share conversation and interests. And presuming they are all healthy, they can give each other a hug.
Let us just hope that there is not another wave of the virus so that eventually we can all get back to busy active lives. ■
The writer is a freelance journalist and editor as well as a childbirth educator and author of ‘Life After Birth: Everywoman’s Experiences of the First Year of Motherhood’ and a poetry collection titled ‘The Soldiers’ Mother.’