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  • Ana Sofia Valdes

Isolation and Uncertainty: the 2 things Covid And Ex-pat Life Have in Common

In September 2018, my husband and I had been married for six months. I had also been in a new job that I was loving for the same amount of time. We had our apartment, friends, and living a great life; I had finally stopped planning my next move and was enjoying being at the place I was at. And then one day, as unexpected as it could be (given that he is German), my husband calls me and tells me about this opportunity that has been presented to move to Frankfurt. I knew right away that we needed to take it. From that moment, I knew that I was leaving my country and that it wasn't going to be easy. I just didn't know the extent of it.

No doubt, it has been the most challenging thing that I've ever had to do. I went through a tough face that put a lot of strain on my husband and our marriage.

Back then, I couldn't put into words what I was feeling. The pandemic has given me a lot of perspective, and I can draw a parallel between what I went through and what most of the world is going through. The worst part of moving and COVID-19 (apart from the physical damage it can cause) has been uncertainty and isolation.

Uncertainty because every decision that we take has to be thought through in a completely different way. The day-to-day choices that you used to make automatically, suddenly become a game of pondering risks and planning. Things like, "should I go to the supermarket?" Or "should I risk going to the doctor for my routine checkup?", "Should my kids go to school today?", "When will I see my family or friends again?"

Both as a new ex-pat and with Covid-19, ordinary decisions bring fear and reconsideration. In the first scenario, for instance, the possibility of getting lost and not being able to ask for help because of the language or going to the supermarket and realizing you can't choose the type of milk you want because there is a whole aisle of options, and you don't understand the difference between them. It may seem dumb, but when it's like that with every item and everything you do, added to the fact that you are not in the best mental place, to begin with, it can make you crumble. I felt so frustrated and, a lot of times preferred to stay in the safe space of my own apartment. With Covid-19, the fears are different, of getting the virus and passing it on to your loved ones. It is the fact that something so ordinary can generate so much anxiety, it is the feeling of being stripped of what was always there, freedom and autonomy.

The daily uncertainty and struggles are only matched with the feeling of isolation. We take social contact for granted, and both experiences have taught me how essential closeness and community are. Back when I moved, I could see people out and about. However, I still felt as alone as being quarantined for months, surrounded by the same walls and the negative thoughts and fears in my head.

There is also a feeling of responsibility to stay in touch with your loved ones and, at the same time, the pain of seeing them so close and yet so far. The first months after the move and the first months of the pandemic, there were so many people trying to reach out and stay in contact. But with time, this stops. I don't blame them, and I hope they don't blame me. With COVID-19, the conversation becomes scarce because the only thing new is the rate of vaccinated people and infections; with living on the other side of the world because your life has nothing to do with theirs. You also don't want to talk about how much you miss them or how talking to them reminds you of what life used to be.

So it becomes a vicious circle where you don't want to reach out because it makes you feel alone, and not reaching out makes you feel more and more isolated.

Because of the place this uncertainty and isolation put you in, the rest becomes hard to manage. Changes in season or hearing about the next wave or variant become impossible to handle because you have just started feeling comfortable with things as they were. If you are doing fine for a week and then take the wrong subway by accident and are forced to take an hour ride into god know where, it can break you. It is also the feeling I used to get when I went back home for the holidays. It is the feeling we had after the vaccines started rolling out. For a moment, you allowed yourself to be ok, to think that you are going back to "normal," and then from one second to the other, you are stripped of that hope, and all the fears come back to haunt you.

How to deal with all this?

That is THE question, and there is not an all size fits all type of answer or a miracle medicine. Having Max and wanting him to have an example of happiness has been the push I needed to get out of my hole, and I did it by deciding that I wasn't going to be miserable anymore. It started with little things like getting out of my PJs early and not wearing sweatpants anymore, doing my hair and my makeup every day, even if I'm at home all day. Taking care of the outside helped me feel better inside, and from there, I was able to appreciate all the good things around me. For example, thanks to both experiences, my relationship is stronger, and we were able to enjoy our own little bubble with Max. I can appreciate my surroundings and the positives of living here. But most importantly, It has made me realize what is important in life: health, family, and love.

Some days, like today, I go back to my sweatpants and my hair bun, and I let myself have all those feelings, but I am aware and in control of them. They don't rule or overpower me anymore, and for that, I am grateful.

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