Colette Sheridan: My Covid guilt as I happily adapt to solitude in this strange time

In her weekly column, Colette Sheridan talks about the fact that she is 'having a good Covid-19' and the guilt she feels.
Colette Sheridan: My Covid guilt as I happily adapt to solitude in this strange time
RTE Investigates: Inside Ireland's Covid Battle, revealed the harsh reality of life and death of Covid-19 for the patients and staff in St James's Hospital and their families. 

IF ever there were any doubts about how severe and awful illness from Covid-19 can be, they were dispelled last week with the RTÉ screening of ‘Inside Ireland’s Covid Battle.’ This two-part investigation looked at the incredibly hard and risky work of doctors and nurses in St James’s Hospital intensive care unit as they strove to keep Covid-19 patients alive. Gowned up, their faces partially covered, the medics were heroic.

And as for the access granted to the programme makers, it was quite remarkable that we got to see patients hooked up to oxygen, as they fought to stay alive.

Their families were interviewed including a woman who had seventy wonderful years with her husband but wasn’t able to be with him when he died from Covid-19. She was heartbroken but hopefully, in time, will be able to appreciate her long and happy marriage.

In the early days of Covid-19, I used to dutifully turn on the early evening TV news to get the daily briefing on the latest figures of those who had died from Covid-19 and the number of new cases. Each time, my spirits lurched as I thought of the devastated families behind the statistics. But over time, I became somewhat inured to the unfolding tragedy, occasionally daring to hope that the whole miserable business might be coming to an end whenever the death count was relatively low. However, we will be living with the virus for the foreseeable future.

Such is the ubiquity of Covid-19 media coverage that I’m inclined to be only attuned to particularly startling reports such as the one a while back about the inmates from a jail digging graves on Hart Island in the Bronx to bury the bodies of New Yorkers that died from the virus. Their families couldn’t be reached to claim them. What a horror story for those families. What guilt they may go on to experience.

I have my own Covid guilt. There’s the desensitisation that comes from tuning into too much news. I wonder if I have a beating heart at all that I can blithely absorb constant news items about fatalities. And then there’s the fact that I’m actually having a good Covid-19. Am I even allowed to say that? But the truth is I’ve never read so much or cooked so many meals from scratch. Not distracted by much of a social life (my friends and I think the lockdown ended too early), I’ve been thrown back on my own resources and am surprised to find that I’m so self-contained. Admittedly, I’m on WhatsApp calls every day to a friend living in isolation in London. We moan about weight gain. Losing it is a backburner project.

Having had mental health issues over the years, I feared I’d succumb to depression at this time. With no precedent, I assumed that living in lockdown would rouse the sleeping black dog that I live with. But apart from an occasional low-lying feeling of despair, I’m surviving - and thriving in unexpected ways. I look forward to the Saturday morning visits of my sister and a friend for a socially distanced chat over coffee in the garden. I work from home, something I’ve been doing for years. My world is small. But it’s not really lonely.

I was interested in author and modern-day hermit, Sara Maitland’s recent account in The Guardian of her lockdown experience which she described as “rather good.”

Sara lives in a part of rural south-west Scotland which has about 60 people per square mile compared to the UK average of 727. Used to being alone for the past 30 years, she distinguishes between solitude and loneliness.

When I interviewed Sara in September of last year when she was the 2019 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival fellow, I spent too much time trying to pin her down on just how much of a hermit she really is. (I couldn’t quite countenance how such a sparky and quite chatty woman like her could opt for the sound of birdsong rather than stimulating conversations with other writers and maybe the clink of wine glasses.)

I’m no hermit but I now get the bliss of solitude. If it gets too much, there’s always the phone. When I asked Sara whether she ever gets lonely and feels the need for company, she conceded that yes, that can happen. She said the most difficult thing to do on your own is change a duvet!

Sara, who can joke about the downside of living alone, is comfortable in her own skin. I’m getting there and don’t fully appreciate getting back to normal. Sara Maitland’s ‘normal’ is not without its merits. ‘How to be Alone’ is the title of one of her books - and is something we could all learn from.

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