Finding Myself in Self Isolation

by Shoshi Gordon, Features Editor Emeritus
photo by Ari Gordon

When discussing a potential article on how self-isolation has impacted our sense of self with Editor-in-Chief Carrie Ryter, I wrote: 

 “I was thinking that quarantine has changed a lot of people’s relationships with themselves and with who they are in the world? If that makes sense, because you no longer have your everyday activities and interactions and how despite the world stopping in a way people are still changing and that can be confusing.”

What I didn’t realize in sending this text was just how confused I was about how quarantine has affected my sense of self. I began to try to write about my experience. I tried many times — my notes app and Google Drive are filled with semi-completed paragraphs, each different and unrelated to the next — but I just couldn’t figure out exactly what I felt and how to say it. 

I spent a portion of a more-developed paragraph clump (I believe that’s the technical term) writing about how self-isolation feels like the period between two birthdays. 

“On my 10th birthday I woke up and tried to figure out if I felt older. I stood up against our door frame, which was adorned with height markers, to see if my head had suddenly surpassed the most recent penciled line. I thought really hard to see if I felt older, if somehow having the honor of the double-digit label had given me new knowledge about the world. I concluded that it had not. It was just so crazy to me how I was suddenly older. The last time I remembered truly thinking about my age was when I was nine and 12 days — after that I stopped counting — and now, here I was, 10 and zero days old. I didn’t understand how I could’ve forgotten to keep counting; I promised to continue. How did time pass without my consent or knowledge?” 

Reflecting on this helped me to describe the confusion I’ve been feeling. Just as I had grown in the 11+ months between being nine and 12 days and 10 years old, I’ve changed as a person without noticing and without fully understanding the person I’ve become. I don’t feel like a completely new person or even close to that, but I feel distant from who I was. I’m pre-quarantine Shoshi + 92 (is that how long it’s been?) days. Despite my ability to put a name to how I was feeling, I still felt confused. Even though life seemed to have been put on pause, my existence had not. But how come I felt like it had?

This led me to evaluate (the very small, unimportant) question of how I thought of my existence. In trying to find the answer to that, I, in typical graduating senior fashion, looked through all my writing from freshman to senior year. In essay after essay, I circled back to the idea that the key to finding purpose in humanity is through our relationships to other humans. 

To me, to exist means to relate to others, and in quarantine I wasn’t doing that. I was FaceTiming and social distancing and living with three other humans, but I wasn’t existing in a world of humans as I was used to. I was existing in my head and in relation to glitching faces on a screen and words in a Facebook post.

As my English teacher Eliza Tyack said, “I feel like life broke up with me, and I don’t know if I want it back.” 

But yet, despite my perceived lack of existence, I changed. I guess what freaked me out about that was feeling like I didn’t do anything to spur the change; it was the result of something completely out of my control. In one of my other documents, I wrote about my favorite movie, “Lady Bird.” 

I wrote about the beauty of slice-of-life movies and how much I love the excitement in the simplicity of people living their lives. I wrote about how Lady Bird says “I wish I could live through something.” I wrote about how we are living through something right now and how it feels frustrating. It feels like I should grow as a person through my “slice-of-life” senior year, not through a pandemic-panicked yet incredibly monotonous senior year.  

Now, having gone through the process of about eight unfinished drafts, I realize what I was missing: I hadn’t yet accepted that this time period is a “slice-of-life” movie in and of itself. It doesn’t feel like anything huge or drastic happens to me on the day-to-day, but isn’t that true of so many coming-of-age movies? That’s what makes them so special. The confusion that I felt about who I am is not unique to self-isolation at all. It’s just being a teenager, a senior, a person in a liminal space.  

I didn’t meet new people or try new things or do anything remarkable — and some days I really didn’t do anything — with my life. Yet I’m different from who I was three months ago. With every day that we live, we change a little bit, and this will happen in school or not, pandemic or not. Somehow, these minute changes ultimately accumulate to noticeable differences.

Through my countless Google docs and notes pages, I learned to question how I view my existence (for better or for worse) and to accept (for the better) the inevitability of change. My reflection, even though it’s not what I expected, showed me that changes in my sense-of-self will occur regardless of my surroundings. Change is independent of where I am, it is the cumulation of constant, gradual and welcome shifts.