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.

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