All aboard the isolation rollercoaster of emotions

It is coming up to a month practising social distancing in New York, or as I like to call it, social isolation. Because let’s face it – if you’re not an essential worker, and you’re doing it properly, and you live in New York, there’s a high chance you live alone, and the only people you’ve had any form of contact with are your local bodega owner and the cashier at the supermarket.

What a month.

It’s gone surprisingly fast, but also excruciatingly slow.

I’ve had my entire world turned upside down.

As a freelancer, or someone self-employed, we generally factor in for the quiet weeks (if you’re smart), or even month, when there might not be any work going around for various reasons.

In the modelling industry, we often joke amongst each other when we’ve had a quiet couple of weeks about how mentally challenging it is – we question if ‘our time is up’, and ‘if we will ever work again’. But then we’ll get booked for jobs again, we’re busy and completely forget about the mini-meltdown we just had.

As I’m about to end my fourth week in isolation reflecting, I believe that I’ve gone through a (mini) loss of sorts (and a meltdown). Over the past four weeks, I’ve been grieving the loss of my way of life. A life that I’ve been taught I wanted and needed through the systems that are now shut down.  I’ve likened it to being on a rollercoaster, albeit figuratively — the peaks and troughs of the theme park ride being my emotions as I navigated through this ‘unprecedented time’.

In the first week, I experienced the beginning two stages of grief – shock and denial, as well as pain and grief. I believed that if we all bunkered down, we’d be out of isolation very quickly, that it wouldn’t be that bad. I was in disbelief, and operated as usual, ordering Amazon Prime deliveries and takeout several nights a week. By the end of the week, it hit home that it wasn’t going to be over soon at all. It dawned on me that it would, in fact, be quite the opposite.

Our industry has completely shut down, and I had that moment of questioning whether or not I would ever work again. I farewelled all the opportunities I believed I had lost. If the life that I’d built for myself in New York was in fact now sustainable with no sign of a rent freeze, and if I had to give up on my dream and go home.

I was in a barrel roll, I was deep diving and burning fast, and in a frenzied panic, I almost booked a flight back to Australia. That was just the first week.

By week two, I was angry (stage three – anger and bargaining). Australia had just officially announced social distancing measures, and I continued to see friends and complete strangers flaunt their disregard for the new rules on social media. I lashed out on my own social media, even rage texting one of my friends, (to whom I have since apologized) telling her and the rest of Australia to stay home. I was angry because I was reading about the wealth disparities in the United States, and how that played out within the American healthcare system (access to tests and treatment of minorities). In essence, my anger and frustration led me to a (two day) social media break.

Cue stage four (depression, reflection, loneliness), during my social media break. I felt terrible for lashing out at my friend. Realizing that the life I had was no more and that even when we come out of isolation, ‘normal’ won’t be that of pre-corona New York, I contemplated going back to Australia again. I cried watching movies and television shows set in New York, just at scenes of people walking down the street, or hugging goodbye. I phoned my Grandma. I had a movie night with my best friend back in Australia. I scrolled through my photo albums and reminisced at photos with my friends. I drank a lot of wine.

By this stage, I was all cried out and woke up one morning almost as if a lightbulb moment went off in my head overnight. I’d been doing bunny hops up and down with my emotions. I hadn’t become ‘happy with my situation’ overnight, but I had definitely accepted my reality (stage five – the upward turn).  Re-reading books from university suddenly fuelled an internal fire I hadn’t felt for years, and I began writing lists of all the things I used to love doing but never had time for because of my busy work schedule – writing was one of them.

By now, I was approaching the end of the rollercoaster ride. The ups and downs weren’t nearly as extreme, and I’d found a sense of clarity and purpose. I’d entered the sixth stage of grieving (reconstruction and working through). I began for the first time in about three weeks thinking into the future, still imagining myself in isolation, but being ok with it. I had written myself loose goals of what I wanted to achieve if I couldn’t model during this time. I also have a date I have to leave New York if my situation doesn’t change – something I’ve come to terms with. I guess at the end of the month I’ve found myself at the seventh stage – acceptance, and hope.

For the first time in years, I have a structured routine, and I’m waking up in the same bed every morning. I’m able to make breakfast in my apartment, and just sit down and listen to podcasts. I make plans with friends to FaceTime or workout, and can actually put it in my calendar and commit to them. Readjusting to a new normal isn’t easy, and it has been hard. I’m still on an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s just one of those kiddy ones at a local fair not one of those crazy ones at a giant theme park. I’ll still experience ups and downs because the reality is we don’t yet really know what’s at the end of all this, but I’ve found solace in the things I never had time to do.

I don’t know what the future holds for my career, or the industry I work in. I’m just taking it day by day, doing things once more out of joy rather than out of obligation – even staying in bed all day simply because I can. It’s the small things that matter, and knowing I’m safe and well is all I can ask for.

Falafel recipe

What you’ll need…

  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
  • Onion
  • Parsley
  • Coriander
  • Garlic
  • Green chili
  • Garam Masala (or Cumin and Cardamom)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Chickpea Flour
  • Oil (if you’re frying)

Step one: Soak your dried garbanzo beans overnight. Don’t use tinned ones as you won’t get the same consistency. Once they’re soaked, drain and rinse them.

Step two: Add all the ingredients (except flour and baking soda) to a food processor (I used a NutriBullet, I would NOT recommend).

Step three: Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the flour and baking soda and stir through.

Step four: Cover and put in the fridge for 30 mins to an hour (I did not do this step, so I can not confirm if it was an essential step, but my falafel still tasted good, so I guess you can do this step if you want).

Step five: Portion your falafel. I used my hands to roll them into little balls; apparently, you can also use a falafel scoop (didn’t know they even existed). It might be worth flattening them a little too; I made mine too round and hadn’t planned on deep-frying them, but I did by accident, and they were very bulky. I would 100% flatten.

Step six: Fry those balls. Or bake them. If you fry them, I’m sure you know how to put oil in a pan, but cook them for 2-3 mins each side and then transfer them to a paper towel to drain the excess oil before putting them on a plate. If you bake them (healthiest option), pre-heat your oven to 425F and bake for 20-30 mins flipping them halfway through.

How will you feel once this is over and you look back at how you acted right now?

It has never been more important to stay indoors. I’m talking to you Australia. You have the rest of the world as your example, yet you’re still not taking this virus seriously. It’s not just ‘the flu’, it’s a pandemic, and it’s hitting people hard.

Businesses are going to go under, the economy will take a toll, but the longer you all stay out and about, the worse this will be for you all in the long run.

The people that are coming home from overseas and quarantining are not the ones bringing in the virus. It was already here. And by staying out and socializing you have been spreading it around because the majority of you (and I’m talking to my age demographic) will remain asymptomatic this entire time.

The fact is though, there are people our age contracting the virus because we continue to socialize with little to no symptoms.

But have a think about the people you love most – your parents, your grandparents. What about your friend’s brother who is only 18 but has an already weak immune system. Or that girl at your younger sibling’s school who has leukemia. Or simply your mate who’s been smoking since he was 14, and is only 26.

We are not immune to this virus. These are all the kinds of people you are putting at risk by staying out and socializing.

Australia’s confirmed number of Coronavirus cases has risen to 1068. There were only 456 cases on Wednesday.

Just take a look at other countries who failed to act until it was too late. Look at Italy. Their hospitals are so overflowing and overwhelmed with cases that they can not treat everyone. They are prioritizing those who have a higher chance of recovery over the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

Italy officially shut down on March 11. At that stage, there were 12,000 cases of the disease and 827 deaths. That was after Italians failed to take social distancing seriously. As of today, March 21, there are 4032 deaths. Here in the US, we are rumored to be 10 days behind Italy, and I would assume Australia not too far behind that.

The military has been called into cities in Italy to help usher away dead bodies and assist with cremation because their morgues are inundated.

These social distancing measures are being put in place so we all don’t end up like Italy.

Italians have shared how they wished they took social distancing more seriously. Australians have had the rest of the world shutting down as an example that this isn’t a joke.

Is that brunch at a cafe allegedly practising social distancing really worth it? What about that fitness class with reduced numbers? What about that swim at the beach?

We have been doing social distancing now for about a week here in New York. It’s tough but it’s manageable. It is going to last a while, but we live in an age where technology can bring us together, even in isolation.

Have brunch with your friends on FaceTime, Messenger, Zoom – the list is endless. You could even have a night watching movies with Netflix Party. Read a book. Just stay at home.

It’s no longer about making excuses around what the government says you still can and can’t do.

It’s about what is morally and socially right for your fellow citizens. Show some compassion and stay at home, because the longer you don’t, the worse this will be, and the longer it will take for things to get back to normal.

When this is all over, how do you want to remember your actions during this time?


Cartagena, Colombia

One of the things I love about my job is the amazing travel I get to do.

Yes, flying through twenty million different time zones and having to look fresh on the other end can be tiring, but all the jetlag pays off when I get flown to beautiful locations for work.

Last year I was flown to Cartagena, Colombia for Bloomingdale’s Spring Campaign.

Sometimes on a job, you’re fortunate enough to have downtime, or, you don’t have a job straight after that you have to fly out for, and you’re able to enjoy the city you’ve flown in to for a couple of extra days.

I had five days in Cartagena in total. Two days I spent working, and the rest I walked around the walled city with my film camera, and cheap expired film – this is what I captured.


Why my holiday wasn’t the homecoming I was expecting

When I was younger I became acquainted with a verse from the beautiful poem by Dorothea Mackellar ‘My Country’.

‘I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror – The wide brown land for me!’

As I sit at the airport about to travel off to another part of my country, I can’t help but reflect on this verse, and how much it resonates with me in the wake of the disastrous bushfires that have ravaged a large part of Australia.

Maybe it’s the ferocity of the thunderstorms that closed airports over the past couple of days and have delayed my flight today. Maybe it’s the fact that while one half of our country burned, the top end was experiencing deluges as a result of tropical cyclones.

I came home this January for a holiday. I’ve lived overseas now for almost two years, and will always call Australia home. But flying into Sydney in early January I had tears in my eyes because this wasn’t my home. At least not the one I remembered.

Each morning I was watching the rolling news coverage of the bushfires, and crying.

I returned for a holiday in a place that was familiar to me amongst all the unfamiliarity of the places I’ve travelled to for work over the years. Australia was unrecognisable. A thick greyish-ochre coloured smoke filled the sky, and the beautiful harbour that you look for out the window of the plane as you fly in was nowhere to be seen.

The Australian lifestyle is one that is envied all around the world.

Growing up in the small capital of Australia as a young girl, playing outdoors was the norm. I was born in Canberra, a planned city, with its suburbs scattered around national parks, small mountains and bush.

I’d make houses from fallen eucalyptus tree branches and get bitten by giant bull ants who were just trying to exist where my cousins and I made our little house. My mum and I would go for hikes up Mount Ainslie, or Mount Majura. We’d go cool off during the summer in the Cotter River on our way home from the beautiful national park filled with native flora and fauna.

A few years later, we moved to Melbourne and we’d road trip to explore the country outside our city. Whether it was to explore the rugged mountain ranges of the Grampians, or to find fairies living in the Otway rainforest down in the creek beds – we really got outdoors to explore.

It saddens me, because not only is Australia unrecognisable, but it’s being governed by a government that is so out of touch with the people it’s supposed to govern – it makes me really worried for the what lies ahead.

I had always envisioned a future of raising my own family one day back home in Australia. I’ve dreamed about taking my own children on similar adventures. But the countryside I grew to know and love was gone. Entire cities looking like apocalyptic wastelands, with the air quality so poor, the only way to live was to stay indoors.

One of my fondest family memories was driving through Gippsland Victoria through to the New South Wales south coast all the way to Eden, where, in the middle of winter, we had hoped to spot some whales along their migration route up the coast.

When I turned on the news one morning in Australia that place was a hellish inferno. It was not the sleepy seaside town that I had once known. The skies were a deep red, smoke clouded the streets, and some photos even showed the skies being pitch black at 3pm.

I’ve never experienced this kind of sadness and sheer shock and disbelief over something I literally have no control over. Perhaps this is why I’m feeling such an impending sense of helplessness.

I feel hypocritical, because how can I feel sad for the planet when my carbon footprint is so high.

I’ve asked myself, how can I continue to do the work that I do, and make it more sustainable. How can I be more ethical in my day to day life?

As of January 1st, I became plant-based. Once my holiday is over, I am asking all my clients to add a carbon offset to all my flights, and each month I will be planting trees if I’ve had to travel for work.

What I can do right now is use my voice to spread the word about the bushfires in Australia, and the effect that climate change will have on our planet if we don’t change our behaviours now.

What’s happening to my home is truly devastating, and it’s ok to feel sad. I’m allowed to do the work I do and still feel bad. I’m still allowed to protest and raise awareness about climate change. Nobody is perfect.

I’ve allowed myself to cry, and even though I’ve resumed work- it doesn’t mean I don’t still care. I do.

Please donate <3


Celeste Barber’s Bushfire Appeal

First Nations Fundraiser…