OPINION | How I’m surviving lockdown solo thanks to help from space

What can we learn from astronauts right now? (Photo: Levi Stute on Unsplash)
What can we learn from astronauts right now? (Photo: Levi Stute on Unsplash)

By the time you read this, I would’ve been in solo self-isolation for at least 25 days.

I started applying physical distancing early in March already before the president implemented the first measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

At first I thought it would just be a few days, but I quickly realised that I’d be stuck inside my compact apartment much longer when the president enforced a nationwide lockdown necessitating everyone to stay indoors, except for essential services or having to retrieve food or medicine.

On Thursday night the president added another 2 weeks of lockdown as the country bravely continues the fight against the pandemic which has now infected more than 1.6 million people across the globe.

I support the president’s efforts to save lives and I’m dutiful in ensuring I do my part. I also feel extremely privileged to be able to continue working with a roof over my head in a time that will have devastating after-shocks for many, many South Africans.

By the end of April, I will have been in solo isolation for 44 days.

This new way of life came quickly and unexpectedly. I wasn’t ready to spend an extended amount of time locked up in tiny space on the seventh floor of an apartment building in the heart of the city.

From my window I can look down at the ghostly empty streets below – there’s no other human in sight.

My only real-life interaction with other people has been the kind tellers at the pharmacy and grocery store still working bravely on the frontline while wearing masks and plastic visors that look like something from a sci-fi film. 

I consider myself an introvert that’s comfortable with being by myself, but even I went through an array of emotions struggling to cope with my new lonely reality.

It was only when I read an article by Scott Berinato published by the Harvard Business Review titled 'That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief' that the first piece of the puzzle clicked in place. There was finally an explanation for the flurry of emotions fluttering around inside me.

A few days later a friend said he had read a piece online about astronauts surviving alone in space that he found interesting and helpful in this time. A quick online search and I found the piece written by Scott Kelly on the New York Times titled 'I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share'.

Scott, a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station, had lived through what I was experiencing and gave extremely helpful tips on how to survive lockdown alone.

The astronaut, who had to survive an extended time in a small space, had the following helpful tips:

Stick to a schedule:

Scott advices to create a daily schedule and to stick to it. I’ve set my alarm to go off every morning at 05:30. Then I get up and make coffee, catch up on the news that broke during the night and then I go shower. I log onto my work laptop at 07:00 and try my very best to be done by no later than 17:00. I follow this up with an online gym session and then I prepare dinner, watch a show, shower, and get in bed by around 20:00. There’s very little I can control right now, but my schedule is one thing I can plan down to the minute. This helps a lot.

Make time to relax:

It’s important to pace yourself, Scott says. “Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul - just like we all are today.” He suggests taking time for fun activities and things that provide a mental escape. For me it’s been virtual hangouts with my co-workers, friends, and family. I try to schedule these throughout the week and it’s something I look forward to. Last weekend I treated myself to a special movie day by staying in bed and streaming the local film ‘Moffie’ online. There are plenty of virtual escapes and it really is worth having a look at. Find your virtual escape. Together with News24’s lifestyle team and Newsletter Editor we’ve put together a daily newsletter for lockdown in which we share fun activities, helpful tips, advice, recipes, and reviews to keep you entertained during this time. Sign up here.

Keep track:

Scott says: “Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories.” For me personally it’s been a digital diary of sorts. I try to post regularly on my social media, sharing my experiences, my thoughts, and silly moments I have by myself. Social media has become a form of journalling for me. It also helps to not just be a passive consumer but also an active user by sharing my experiences with others and engaging with them rather than just endlessly scrolling.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with this unprecedented time we’re going through. We can only gather all the information available to us and bring it to our nest where we will process it and unpack it to find what works for us and what doesn’t. We have to create our own space where we feel safe and less anxious.

I’ve accepted my fate. I understand the enormity of the crisis, and I’m dealing with it one day at a time. Now when I look out my window, I pretend I’m an astronaut in space on a mission, looking down on earth – hoping to return soon.

Click here for more information from Health24 on the coronavirus.

*Herman Eloff is News24's Lifestyle and Entertainment Editor. (Sources: New York Times, Harvard Business Review. Photo: Levi Stute on Unsplash)

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