How I Found Joy and Community During Quarantine
When Covid arrived on US shores and began its spread through America, we were sent to our socially isolated corners. For the most part, we were stuck at home, sometimes not seeing another human being for days or even weeks at a time.
I identify as an extroverted introvert, or “ambivert.”
I’m naturally a homebody. I love curling up with my cats, a good book, and a cup of tea. I could happily go days alone at home, just writing in my office and listening to music. However, over the years I’ve developed social skills in order to survive.
Today I can chat with just about anybody, and enjoy it, but it does not come naturally to me. I often feel exhausted after parties or work functions. Events leave me feeling completely drained of energy.
So when I was ordered by New York’s governor to abstain from social activity and stay at home, I felt a little relieved. Finally, I could be my naturally introverted self.
But the gravity of the greater situation—the pandemic infecting thousands of people daily and killing hundreds of thousands—weighed on me. I couldn’t just hide in my cocoon and pretend the world outside didn’t exist. A depression crept in.
Up until I was thirty-years-old, I saw myself as an island.
I didn’t consider myself as part of any community. I didn’t see any value in gathering with other people with whom I shared something important in common. I had few friends at school, and didn’t belong to any spiritual, activist, creative, athletic, or other interest groups in my home-life. It was just me and my family looking out for ourselves, and that seemed fine.
Except that I was perpetually unhappy.
At thirty, I discovered the joy of communities. I gathered with others in a spiritual community which made me feel as though I was not alone. A few years later, I became an animal activist, joining with others who shared my passion at meetings and protests. I volunteered at a center that provided community and a hot meal to people with mental illness.
Each community I participated in brought warmth to my heart and a vibrancy to my life that had been missing previously. I was part of something bigger than myself. I was helping others. And it shone bright sunshine where previously there was emptiness.
When the depressive grayness of Covid’s social isolation swept into my life, despite my love of alone time, I couldn’t imagine a solution.
It seemed that acceptance was the only answer. I was just going to have to deal with it until we were on the other side of the pandemic. I was wrong.
One day during Covid, I spontaneously suggested to my friends from elementary school that we meet weekly on Zoom. I was happy to host the video call. Each week, I opened our online room, and whoever wanted to come appeared.
I didn’t realize that the meeting would change my life, but it did. The warmth of our community, the connection, the smiling faces, and the emotional embrace of my old pals lifted my sense of isolation. Knowing that our virtual space together would be there each week, at the same time, reassured me. Somehow, although we were only meeting online, our weekly gathering gifted me with the same joy of community that activist meetings and other in person group endeavors had in the past.
I had also been working for some time to launch a writing community with the college I’d graduated from, to support students and recent graduates who were aspiring writers. When Covid arrived, instead of putting it on the back burner, the team who were creating it shifted into full-steam ahead. The community was born online in the midst of our isolation at home, with a Facebook group, and Zoom events featuring author interviews.
Each contact I had with a student or alumni, each face I saw at the video conference events, every new member request that popped up on my screen, gave me the sense of purpose and connection that social isolation seemed to have taken away.
There is a saying: “No man is an island.” Today it would certainly be written: “No person is an island.” Covid has the appearance of sending us out to our little islands in the middle of the sea.
However, even during this time of apartness, we can build and nurture community, while maintaining social distance. Whether it’s a writing group, an activist group, a spiritual group, or a group of friends, we can create and grow communities that cast bright light on our seemingly gray lives.
Maya Gottfried is the author of books for children and adults, including Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary and Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal.