45 days over 3 continents.
As travel restrictions loosened in the middle of 2021, and there were prospects of a 7-day quarantine upon return to Hong Kong, I booked flights to the UK, not knowing the adventure that lay ahead.
After 10 days of self-isolation in London, 21 days of wash-out in Dubai and 14 days of hard quarantine in Hong Kong, here are the top 10 things I have learned:
MOVING TARGET. quarantine rules and travel restrictions are constantly evolving in response to developments, and it is therefore hard to keep track, or plan things down to a tee. This can leave you feeling lost, helpless and confused. Accept that your plans can be thrown out the window, and focus on what is within your control, and how you can make your situation better. Bookmark important websites, and set alerts that push relevant information to you.
END OF THE TUNNEL. A quarantine order will eventually expire, but can at times feel never-ending. You might start off feeling dread and suffer from cognitive distortions, such as catastrophic thinking. However, you can turn the experience around by viewing quarantine as a break from your usual routine, and a chance do things that give you the most joy – even if it is just catching up on sleep, reading or learning something online. Exercising to online videos is also a good way to ensure you move enough to match your food intake, and feel like you are not exercising alone.
I’M INNOCENT! in Hong Kong, those subject to mandatory quarantine are issued an official Order, made me feel like a convicted criminal facing a sentence, even though I had done nothing wrong has been done. The delivery of my meals and sundries made me feel like an inmate, and can be rather unsettling. A personalised call each day to check on the person quarantined, or regular remote counselling to check on how they are coping would surely have made the experience less impersonal and cold.
PPE. As the world struggles to understand and contain the pandemic, it can sometimes feel like government’s COVID policy is dictated by politics and economics rather than by science. There can be a sense that those subject to quarantine do not matter, and are being pushed around for convenience or as an overreaction. This thinking breeds frustration, anger, and consequently cause poor routines, sleep and eating disorders.
LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE. There is also the worry associated with how those on the outside – dependent parents, pets, children, or even work – are coping. Regular calls, texts and sharing of photos and videos can be a great help. Sometimes time away from the ones you care about most refocuses the mind on priorities, and it might be fun to plan things to do together once your quarantine ends.
I WANT / I HAD / I WILL HAVE. It is easy to get caught up ruminating about all the things you want but can’t have during quarantine, such as a good hike, cuddling your cat or dinner with your friends. Rather than allow these thoughts flood your mind, write these subjective “wants” down, and relabel these as positive experiences that objectively you have had in your life, and which you will revisit once you finish quarantine.
LET IT GO. At some point in your quarantine, you may fall off your routine. You might decide to stay in bed, binge eat or watch TV until the small hours of the night. If this happens, be gentle with yourself. You are undergoing a major shift from what you are used to, and letting it go once in a while is understandable. There is a good chance you might feel guilty or empty afterwards, that can manifest as fatigue, headaches, bloating etc. These sensations can serve as a reminder of how letting go ultimately feels, and can help you stick to your routines better.
WHY ME? Towards the second half of quarantine, it is not uncommon to feel victimised, ostracised and sad. You might think that no one understands exactly what you are going through, and that you don’t have what it takes to pull through. These thoughts are unhelpful, and you can counteract them by, for example, making a list of what you think you need to get through quarantine. When you write these things out, it becomes clear that you either already have these tools at your disposal (good music, contact with your loved ones), or that these can be arranged (skipping rope, yoga mat, a good cup of coffee every morning).
UNDISTRACTED. Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learnt about quarantine is that too much time alone, and much less distraction means a lot of time to self-reflect. For those who have unresolved issues, these can become magnified and seem unmanageable. For me, I realised how many things I wished to accomplish, and how much time I had wasted, which led to anxiety and regret. These are important cues and revelations about ourselves that are usually drowned out by the noise of our everyday lives. Once these float to the surface, concrete steps can be taken to address these with the help of professionally trained counsellors.
POST-QUARANTINE. Finally, surviving post-quarantine can be as important. In addition to underlying issues that emerge in the course of quarantine, readapting again to your usual life also calls for care. Ease into your life slowly, and build up social gatherings after you feel you are fully reacclimatised. Of course, if you have been working with a counsellor, it always helps to schedule a quick catch up to make sure you are on the right path.
If I could do it all over again …
A question I am often asked, for which the answer is a resounding YES. I have learned a lot from my journey, and feel that my experience helps others get through or prepare for quarantine.
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