Coronavirus: advice from the Middle Ages for how to cope with self-isolation

Like many people, I curate my social media posts. After a month of coronavirus lockdown, I’ve been curating more than usual.

I have spent (many) sleepless nights scrolling through news reports in slack-jawed horror; I’ve (often) felt overwhelmed; I’ve lost my temper at my family (regularly).

I haven’t posted about such events because I don’t want to dwell on them (not here, anyway). Of course the consequence of all of us putting only our best selves online is that we all feel inferior to what we see on everyone else’s carefully crafted timelines. 

The sense of freedom that came with all that newly unstructured time has faded. Four busy adults with different ideas on acceptable levels of clutter, routine, noise, snark, etc. don’t always fit comfortably under the same roof.

Posting about local theatre and Star Trek and Blender3D are my small attempts to keep going. I have papers to mark and assignments to adapt, as I consider how best I can continue to showing empathy, while also teaching what my students need to learn (and what they need today is not the same as it was when I created the course months ago).

I’m keenly aware how privileged I am to have a job and to be able to do it from home; to be healthy and to be confident about my access to healthcare. Many of us humans don’t have it so lucky, and are in crisis mode 24/7. But those of us who are somewhere between romanticized creative isolation and full-out crisis may benefit from these self-isolation tips from medieval anchorites — including the first known female writer, Julian of Norwich.

Self-isolation may be easier to bear if instead of seeing it as a stretch of boring but comfy nights in, you recognise it as an unpleasant, stressful experience – but also visualise all the people whose health you are protecting by staying home. [Earliest-known English woman writer] Julian [of Norwich] promises that readers will experience emotional turmoil during any crisis but will ultimately conquer it. This promise parallels modern survival psychology. When adapting to life during a crisis, acknowledging the challenging circumstances as forming one’s real life now is essential. Yet one should simultaneously remember that one is doing one’s utmost to return to a better, pre-crisis style of living. Only by acknowledging our vulnerability – both physical and mental – and consequently taking action to protect and care for others and ourselves, will we make it through. — Godelinde Gertrude Perk,  The Conversation