Here's a controversial opinion. Isolation and quarantine isn't really turning the entire world upside-down like we're led to believe.
Now let me just stop right there and make an important distinction. I'm not talking about the virus itself - COVID-19 really is that bad and a lot of people are genuinely struggling. It's heartbreaking to hear of job losses, increases in domestic violence and watch as death tolls rise. Living in fear for ageing relatives and immunocompromised friends isn't fun for anyone.
However, I'd argue that the resulting isolation and general loss of freedoms for many isn't as bad as it's being made out to be. I know this contradicts what most commentators, government officials and others have been telling us.
So, let me explain. Those whose voices we primarily hear in COVID-19 coverage are having an understandably tough time adjusting to the "new normal" because it's so incredibly far removed from what they're used to.
Yes, it's abnormal for all of us that industries, institutions and organisations are closed, or that simple social gatherings are banned. But for so many across Australia and around the world, this "new normal" is just a slightly adjusted version of their everyday lives.
I am one of those people who, after acquiring multiple disabilities in my early 20s, spent over a year in hospital the first time and have been in varying states of isolation ever since. I'm well aware of my privileges, but isolation is often my normal.
Other people I'm referring to include:
- New mothers who haven't left the house for months. Not because of COVID-19 but because caring for a newborn stopped them from going out long before the restrictions.
- People living in rural or remote areas who have been socially distancing for years.
- Homeless women who weren't attending social gatherings well before the pandemic.
- People with disabilities or chronic health conditions whose social movements were already restricted months or decades before the health crisis.
- Elderly people who have been finding inventive ways to "keep busy and stop boredom" for years since retirement.
- People who have already been working from home for years and aside from losing gym access, are carrying on with business as usual (obviously this example changes if someone is working from home while temporally home schooling).
- Migrants or refugees who, despite their best efforts to assimilate, don't have wide social circles or local family so would only leave the house for food and medical supplies even if we weren't in a pandemic.
- Individuals from another minority community for whom isolation is not a new concept - such as an introverted and queer teenager.
No doubt there are many other groups and individuals that could be added to this list and obviously there will be exceptions to what I've put forward. For example, not every disabled person is "used to" isolation. Some from the disability community (about 20 per cent of our population) are struggling just as much as the rest of society, if not more.
Also, let me be clear, this is not a game of comparison where the winner is whoever has it worse.
So why is this happening? Why are we only hearing about how isolation is turning all of our lives upside-down?
Recently, I made contact with as many people as I could from the above list.
Each had a fairly similar story to tell, a story that went something like: "What's all the fuss about?! I've been in isolation for years and this new normal is just like my usual normal."
The truth is we are only hearing the voices of those whose lives have been turned upside-down. We rarely, if ever, hear the voices of migrants, homeless people, disabled people, rural Australians or people who feel isolated from their community for another reason.
So what's the solution? I'd love to hear a broader range of voices, now and in the future - because we can all learn so much from them.
I'd love to learn from someone in rural Australia about coping with Groundhog Day. Or from elderly people about how they've kept themselves sane and happily occupied (without Instagram) over the decades.
I'd also love to hear from new mums for tips about staying productive on only two hours of sleep a night. Plus, I've no doubt there's a homeless person out there who would have great advice on how to combat boredom with limited access to technology.
Until we hear more diverse stories and wisdom from those who are isolated every day, the narrative around the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be one-dimensional. If we are really "all in this together", we can't afford for their voices to be kept silent any longer.
- Lisa Cox is an author, writer, speaker and advocate who works to improve the representation of disability in mainstream popular culture. Instagram: @lisacox.co