Life During The Time of Social Isolation

By Varak Babian

One might argue that a tickle of social isolation does the mind and body good. It can purge the countless distractions found outside our doors; an inevitable reality of our modern existence. A few short weeks ago, one could willingly pay to visit an isolation tank: a pitch-black, light-proof, soundproof environment filled with heavily salted water and heated to the same temperature as the skin. Your experience in this tank is about everything you won’t be doing. You won’t be resisting gravity. You won’t feel the weight of your own body. You won’t be able to keep track of where your body ends and the water begins. You won’t hear a single sound as you float in total darkness, insulated against the entire outside world. The purveying belief is that when you are void of your senses and not experiencing countless stimuli, the body has extra resources at its disposal. Your mind navigates free, without physical distraction.  Your body rests and heals.

Currently, we are all in an involuntary isolation tank of sorts. Instead of blocking out light and sound- we are experiencing an entirely different series of won’ts.  We won’t make small talk about the politics of soccer with the Macedonian proprietor of the neighbourhood sandwich shop.  We won’t be navigating the picturesque, curved staircases of the Toronto Reference Library, all the way up to the fourth floor. We won’t be asking the older gentleman with the wrinkled shirt and sweet disposition if the seat beside him is taken.  He won’t be smiling and motioning me to sit.

Yes. The hectic, frenzied pace of everyday life can weigh on us. But it is the vignettes of human interaction that occur within that every day that provide a sense of satisfaction and a connection to the universe.  It is these interactions, both meaningful and meaningless that I feel isolated from the most. It is one thing to take a conscious break from external distractions, but when the decision is forced upon you…

No more small talk, no more muses.  No finite conclusion; an unending tide of the unknown, steeped in fear and panic. The middle-aged woman jumps as she notices me approaching on the sidewalk; fearful our lungs will share a common space. The masked employee of my local fruit stand is visibly disgruntled as I offer to pay for my pears in cash: at least in Toronto, it is no longer king.


We all try to view the glass as half full.  First, the glass is thoroughly disinfected and sanitized, but then- we see a chance to listen closely to our inner dialogue. To make lists. Dust off not only books, but floorboards and old recipes. Create some forced, determined rhythm of normalcy. But… until when? When will all of this come to an end?

Even as the “glass half full struggle” rages on, the answer is a bitter pill to swallow. What we will inherit from this pandemic is something we will live with for many years, decades to come.  We have learned to do without so many things, existing and surviving rather than living and thriving- the emotionally sound approach would be to prepare for a new, modified reality.

Through war, heartbreak, natural disaster- personal relationships help us cope. A loving hug, reassuring head on a shoulder, even the most bland of handshakes: all rapidly outdated, quaint signs of affection in a time pre-pandemic. Alas, technology is here to save the day. Video calls, group chats. Resistance is futile as we commit to a new normal and take choppy reception and lagging connections in stride. FaceTime-ing with my mother as we both stand over boiling coffee in our respective kitchens is the new morning normal.

I continue to struggle with keeping my glass half full as we leap headfirst into glorious waves of WiFi and connectivity.  Seasickness sets in as dystopian discussions of data being collected from cell phone providers to track the infected, microchip implants to help control diseases crest at daybreak.  For once, I wish for a Trump-ian dose of #fakenews.

No matter what happens next, it’s important to shed light on some positives. Our home in this benevolent country, with its outstretched arms, rolling out compassion and assistance wherever it can. A sharper focus on the important. Checking in on friends and family members with a newfound appreciation. All of us have been prescribed a massive dose of humility, it seems.

We are staying home, where it’s safe. Not in bunkers shielding from spraying bullets. I miss my friends, but they’ll still be here in a couple of months. I miss walking to the movie theatre, but I’m healthy and able bodied and soon I’ll make the trek. The latest mantra repeating in my head is “it could be a lot worse” as I still flirt with denial- approaching the world on a week by week basis, refusing to crane my neck months forward.

As we are alone, together, I work on pursuing a sense of mental health and clarity that I hope will translate to a more well-rounded version of me when the dust clears, the masks come off and we are free to brush shoulders once again. That lovely sense of anticipation itself, can be liberating…