What Chronic Illness Isolation Can Teach Us About Social Distancing
Mar 14 · 5 min read
I have a chronic illness.
It appeared when I was around eight years old. I’m 35 now.
I’m not unique. Statistics say that roughly 4% of American adults suffer from the same condition and the CDC estimates that anywhere from 11–40% of adults in this country have some sort of chronic pain condition.
Most days I have at least a low level of pain. Measured on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m around a 4 today and rising. Each day I do a complicated dance; avoiding certain activities, checking labels, limiting exposure, managing stress, and carefully planning for the next time I find myself completely unable to function. Even with pain management techniques and a combination of medications, an attack can last hours, or days, or several weeks at a stretch. I’ve lost entire months. A November here, an April there.
Life keeps moving forward while chronically ill people lay in bed waiting to regain the ability to think, or move, or see properly. Pets still need to be fed and cared for. Work still needs to be attended. Food still needs to be bought and cooked. Lawn still needs to be mowed. Trash still needs to be taken out. Cleaning still needs to be done. Relationships need to be maintained. Health needs to be pursued.
With the specter of coronavirus bearing down upon us, and the idea of social distancing and voluntary quarantines thrust upon the panicked masses in the US, it all started to sound strangely familiar to me. It sounded like they were describing how a lot of us manage life with a chronic illness.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
I live alone now, and making that leap into independence meant learning a deeper level of preparedness than I’d ever dabbled in before. I don’t mean doomsday prepping — hoarding bottled water, toilet paper, and buckets of dry beans in massive quantities. The matter of the world ending or the grid collapsing is a separate issue from the possibility of being struck ill for a number of weeks.
My style of prepping means always having a plan ready so I can manage all of my normal responsibilities, without much mental or physical exertion. Often it means spending strategically rather than buying in bulk. Usually it means knowing how to access and replenish the things I need without too much human interaction.
Our over-familiarity with doomsday prepping may already be working to our detriment, leading us down a dangerous path of panic and class warfare as people rush to clear stores of everything they can grab onto. The prospect of spending a few weeks closer to home feels like the end of the world.
I can tell you from experience that it isn’t.
It may be a dramatically different world than the one we’re accustomed to, but it’s still one that we can approach rationally.
The same lessons I learned about prepping for my own unpredictable health circumstances can help us learn to be better prepared, and better community members.
Here are some alternatives to filling a doomsday bunker:
If your tap water is safe and functional, get a filter instead of buying it in cases. You can buy filters that attach to your tap, filtered pitchers, and filtered reusable bottles. Most last for about a hundred refills. Leave the bottles for those who have no other option.
Sign up for a grocery delivery service and figure out all of the logistics (delivery area, fees, membership requirements, etc) before you need it. Nearly every major grocer and warehouse club has a delivery service. Their delivery zones are expanding into more rural areas every day. There are online-only retailers like Boxed and Amazon Pantry, as well. Many are experiencing shipping delays and inventory limitations due to the pandemic, but they are still operating.
If you’re able to, take advantage of produce delivery from organizations like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Foods , who rescue “wasted” food that retail grocers would have otherwise rejected. These are pricey compared to grocery stores, but they donate to food pantries and reduce food waste, so it’s worthwhile if you have the privilege. Food pantries are going to experience lots of extra pressure while wage workers lose work, and have kids home from school and daycare. This is a great way to help give back.
Speaking of groceries, it might be tempting to buy 30 cans of Spaghetti-O’s and fill the freezer with pizza rolls. If that’s not already part of your diet, you’ll only exacerbate your cabin fever and make yourself feel more sick. Cook double batches of things you normally eat and freeze the leftovers so you’ll build a library of home cooked meals ready to go if you do become ill for a while. If you’re able to, invest in sturdy, freezer safe baking dishes to reduce waste and make reheating easy. Note: borosilicate glass can undergo thermal shock and explode if it goes straight from cold to hot. Let it thaw completely in the refrigerator before reheating with the lid off.
We’ve probably all over-purchased an item in our lives, only to forget about it, then found that it was destroyed when we finally discovered it again. Websites like Chewy (for pet supplies) and Amazon offer discounts for scheduling regular deliveries, on an interval of your choice. This leaves home storage areas clutter-free and ensures that there’s enough of everything to go around since we’re only taking what we need, when we need it. I only remember to change my air filters because they show up at my door exactly on time, thanks to FilterBuy .
Check the app store & Google for other ways to use technology to your benefit. Services like The Pill Club , Cove , Lemonaid Health , and CallOn Doc can provide medical consultations and prescriptions for various minor health needs if sitting in a doctor’s office isn’t exactly your idea of social distancing. Need to send a birthday card but the drugstore is another big no-no? Postable will send a real paper card in an envelope and all postage fees are waived for now. If you normally mow the lawn , or handle spring yard clean-up but you’ve caught the bug, there’s an app for that. If you need someone to walk the dog or puppy-sit while you’re working or recovering, there’s an app for that. Need your house deep cleaned and sanitized? No problem . Pick a movie and host a viewing party with your friends to stay connected and let your kids do the same with their pals from school.
Be kind. Think of each other. Remember your neighbor who can’t prep and plan ahead. Be extra considerate of those living on tips and making your deliveries.
I don’t want to minimize the gravity of any of this. It is an unprecedented experience at this scale. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, and this list isn’t meant to be a step-by-step solution to make everything better.
Even as we keep our distance, we need to lean on each other like we never have before to maintain our health, share our resources, and stay collected until we make it to the other side where a new normal can resume.
Once it does, give your friends with chronic illnesses a nod every now and then. We’ll still be prepping.