Cork man shares hacks for isolation that stopped him from 'going insane'

In 2014, Cork man Damien Tracey, a theatre producer living in London, was diagnosed with MS. He underwent stem cell treatment in 2019. On his blog, Stem Cell Boy he shares his tips on self- isolation, which he endured during his treatment, and allows us to reproduce here — to support people during the COVID-19 crisis
Cork man shares hacks for isolation that stopped him from 'going insane'

RECOVERY: Damien Tracey and his parents, Sean and Kathleen Tracey, who live in Passage West, in a photo taken just a week after his stem cell treatment, last October.

I WILL start this by saying I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but having spent 12 days in isolation in October, I wanted to share some of the things that stopped me from going insane!


Try where you can to stick to as regular a routine as possible. I made sure I was out of bed by a certain time each day and always started the day with a loose plan of things I wanted to achieve.

I was in a tiny hospital room so this might sound insane but it really made a difference. Knowing I couldn’t leave the room was tough but also knowing there were still elements of my life I could partake in was great and got me out of bed.


This will depend on how well you’re feeling but I made sure I did at least 20 minutes of exercise every day. One of the things that can happen when your movement is restricted is that you can start to loose muscle mass so anything from Yoga to star jumps to walking up and down the stairs will help keep you moving and get the blood flowing.

It will also stand to you when you leave isolation as you won’t be prepared for how exhausted you will feel doing what was normal to you before you checked into Costa Del Corona.

I know I was coming off the back of intensive Chemotherapy and had no immune system so my symptoms will be different to yours but I remember the mere act of going to Tesco just five minutes from my house resulted in perfuse sweating, light headedness and a two hour nap.


Unless you can’t keep anything down, eat even if you don’t feel like it. If you are fighting a virus your body will need some fuel.

Try where possible to eat healthy but the main thing is that you eat. I went through three days after Chemo where I had no mind for food but I still eat a little bit of toast a few times a day as I knew it would help.

Damien Tracey, a week after he was released from hospital.
Damien Tracey, a week after he was released from hospital.


As much as you need a routine you will also need rest. Listen to your body and let it guide you. Being in a small space unable to leave is actually quite exhausting. If you’re also feeling unwell you will be more exhausted then usual so don’t feel guilty about a duvet day.

It’s important to stay as active as possible but don’t give yourself too hard a time if you find yourself napping far more often than usual. This is all part of the recovery.


Although I was in isolation, as long as they were healthy I was allowed visitors. I was also fortunate to have a long line of doctors and nurses coming in and out which made it all the more bearable.

I realise if you are self-isolating this won’t be the case but I believe, and this may change, that as long as the person is healthy and they stay one meter away from you, visitors should be allowed and encouraged.

It made such a difference to me to have face to face visitors and phone calls etc as it reminded me that there was a world outside isolation. I did limit the number of visitors per day and some days just said no to anyone popping by but it really did help.

Social media may make you feel connected but nothing beats a voice on the other end of the phone or a smiling face sitting opposite you (one meter away) with a cuppa.

What I also felt really helped was focusing the conversation on the visitor. Giving them the chance to really tell me what was going on in their life especially if things weren’t great as it made me feel somewhat useful that I could give them an avenue to talk.


This is the biggest battle you will face and where you need to pay the most attention.

The mere fact you can’t leave your room / house is enough to send anyone gaga but the fear that will inevitably come with it when you are ill will make it that bit harder.

Meditation really helped me (Headspace app) as well as keeping a journal which included five things I was grateful for each day. Gratitude really is a great natural mental booster and helps you even for a second to focus on what’s good.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises also helped me stop my mind from spiralling. If you’ve never had CBT before don’t worry, a great book I read called “Feeling Good, the new mood therapy” is full of easy to follow CBT exercises that you can use to talk back to the destructive thoughts that are coming out to play.

The main advice I can give to you is TALK!

Even though you know isolation is transitory it will still mess with your head, and your mood could change from hour to hour so make sure you’re talking it out.

I mean this with all sincerity, if there’s no one in your world you feel you can talk too then drop me an email and I will send you my phone number so we can chat.

I’m also a trained Samaritan volunteer so know how to give someone the space they need to chat, albeit it’s been a few years since I practised but genuinely happy to talk.

One day this will all be a distant memory but right now it’s a bit s**t so don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you.

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