Today is my ninth day quarantining in a hotel. I’ve been here before — two months ago, to be exact. This is my second hotel quarantine this year; the first took place after I traveled internationally to stay with a friend before the semester began. But while that quarantine was planned, this one was spontaneous. As life would have it, once again I have found myself in an unfamiliar place, quarantining alone.
Before I undertook my first quarantine, I had the time to stop and anticipate it. As I considered the prospect of spending weeks in a hotel room by myself, I realized I was afraid. If I could write my 2020 as a novel, I would have chosen loneliness as a principal theme. Never before had my position as an international student become so glaringly apparent to me. I had spent months lamenting the fact that I could barely communicate with those I had grown closest to, separated by a 16-hour time difference and the distance of an entire ocean, while my friends had the freedom to drive across state lines to visit each other.
Having spent half of a year feeling left out, I had good reason to fear my upcoming isolation. The last thing I wanted was to be confronted with my own estrangement as I sat alone in my hotel room.
And no, this wasn’t one of those situations where I was pleasantly surprised — my fears of loneliness were certainly realized in full force. The first few days I spent aimlessly, bereft of the usual routines or familiarities that normally guided my days. I wandered around the streets of Florida (and quickly discovered that I was NOT in a walking city) in 100-degree heat, because there wasn’t really much else to do but walk.
I felt vulnerable and alone, a feeling only exacerbated by little incidents like getting honked at by strangers as they drove by (at first I thought I was doing something wrong, only for it to dawn on me that the drivers in Florida were perhaps more unsavory than those at home).
As my days idled by and my purgatory persisted, on my third day of quarantine I called my mother and sobbed over the phone, barraging her with an uninterrupted string of complaints of how this year just seemed to get worse, and worse, and worse …
But then, something changed. A switch flipped. The following day I woke up, and the feelings of despondence and melancholy had lifted. I realized I had found a routine that I enjoyed. I looked forward to the little things in my day, only discovering how important those things were when the fog had dissipated, and I had stopped to listen.
Whether I liked it or not, my loneliness had given me an opportunity to really learn about myself. I realized that I liked to keep the curtain open so that in the morning I was greeted with a room slowly filling with natural light. I learned how much I really liked to walk, even if the temperature did waver around the 100-degree mark and the air was always wet with humidity, threatening to break out in a spontaneous sun shower at any given moment.
My days were marked with small moments of beauty. And these were moments that, were it not for my isolation, I may never have come to recognize. So now, as I undergo my second quarantine in the space of a few months, I feel more prepared to face my isolation for a second time.
The first few days brought back those feelings of loneliness — I was once again adrift, struggling to readjust to the severity of being utterly alone. But this time, I understood that my feelings would be short-lived. I turned my attention inward, learning what I liked; slipped into a routine that I enjoyed; found pleasure in the small parts of my day; and relished in the freedom that comes with being alone. I similarly projected my focus outwards, appreciating the beauty of the ocean as I walked along the shoreline each morning and watched with awe as pods of porpoises cruised across the water a mere hundred feet away.
Of course, I miss people. Being alone is hard. But perhaps loneliness isn’t the evil we perceive it to be. Disconnected from all the wonderful distractions that fill our days is an opportunity to not only learn about and grow closer to yourself, but to relish in the small wonders and joys the day offers.