Learn self-isolation from the experts

Wisdom from a Buddhist, an astronaut, a man who lived in the Australian outback and a man who worked on a research station in Antarctica.

We don’t go out, we don’t go to restaurants, we don’t do anything like that anymore here.” The words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, when California announced it was shutting up shop and locking people in, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

From his LA mansion, surrounded by his beloved pet pony and donkey, Lulu and Whiskey, the former bodybuilder, actor and state governor told his followers, We have a good time eating here together. So much more fun than going outside. Public gatherings, the restaurants, the gymnasiums – out the window. We stay home.”

From the Terminator to the heavyweight champion of the world, swathes of celebrities have joined the global clarion call in warning us to stay indoors. It’s OK for multimillionaires riding out the lockdown in bajillion-acre, uber-deluxe pads in the most prized postcodes on the planet (and Morecambe), but what about us, the mere mortals holed up in one-beds and flatshares, stuck in over-populated cities? Those of us who, regrettably, don’t own a pet pony or donkey?

We wanted to hear from some people who’ve done this whole self-isolation thing before – people who’ve got through it without TikTok dances and a Disney+ trial for stimulation. So we tracked them down for you, and here’s their advice. 

  • Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.”  Even from a spaceship, I could communicate to millions.” 

Legendary astronaut Chris Hadfield spent six months aboard the International Space Station.

Astronauts have to thrive while being isolated from everything, deliberately heading towards continuous danger in a nebulous, scary environment. We have to develop a way of coping in a constantly changing normal – a skill set which works well in a pandemic.

So, it’s important to separate the actual risk from your natural emotion of fear – that’s the only way you can fly a rocket ship. But be it a space walk or dealing with a deadly pandemic, the first thing you have to do is define the danger. With coronavirus, it’s the symptoms. Once you become an expert in the threat to life, you can understand how best to prepare for it as a small group fighting for a bigger purpose.

Do the important things, like looking after yourself and others, but don’t let that become the defining thing in your life. Our limitations are nearly entirely of our own making, so don’t be subdued or paralysed – we just have a new set of rules to play by. Look at your constraints. It may be financial, or caring for someone vulnerable. But once you understand the actual risk, you can start taking action. 

Read, paint, build, repair, think, learn, play, cook. You can come out of this better educated, stronger and more appreciative – and you can make a new friend every day. Technology has never been better to connect with others. Even from the spaceship, from the remotest point from Earth, I could communicate to millions when I performed Space Oddity.

There has never been a better time to be physically isolated, because you still have access to everything. You have the combined thoughts and works of human capability at your fingertips. You can talk to anyone you like. How many senses do you need in order to be present? As long as you don’t count on touch and smell you can join in with anyone else in the world. If you want connection, it’s as simple as typing in a name or dialling a number.”

  • In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.”  In winter, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us.” 

Jimmy Tighe recently returned from a 15-month stint working in Antarctica.

I did maintenance on a research station on Adelaide Island. It’s so secluded, that the sea ice extends for hundreds and hundreds of miles in winter. That’s when you know you’re pretty stuck. You just have to accept your conditions and deal with them.

In the winter, from May until October, there are only 23 of you. It’s ‑32 degrees C, you can’t go outside, there’s no sunlight, pretty much all life goes – it’s just us. You have to make your own fun. We had hundreds of board games, jigsaws, an Xbox and a projector for movies. Funnily enough, before the outbreak, I became quite good at Pandemic.

You’re in a small space with the same people every day, so you become close quite quickly. You feel trapped at times, and everyone gets a little twitchy when they can’t go outside when it’s really bad, but everyone would get creative. We always had something going on, we’d just have to organise it ourselves. It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of not doing much – you have to become pro-active in self-isolation.

The longer you spend there, the more normal it becomes. You see weird things every day and it becomes the new normal. You get polar stratospheric clouds in winter. They’re weird colours, gaseous, really cool. We have icebergs everywhere in the bay, seals swimming nearby and mountains surrounding us. There’s always beauty in the bleakness.”

  • Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.”  Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation.” 

Abhayamati, of the Cambridge Buddhist Centre, spent four months on a silent meditation retreat.

Buddhists are used to feeling self-contained. Solitary retreats are a part of our practice. Being on your own, for most, means facing your own mind and confronting what’s inside. Even Buddhists can struggle with isolation, initially.

The first couple of days in solitary I will fidget around without realising. After a while, it settles, and I’m able to sit and experience a real richness – from your cabin, to a passing bird, it’s all part of your world. You end up feeling more content with yourself and the fact that things don’t always work out. If you can be with your own mind and have some influence over what’s going on inside, you realise that’s the hub of the world for you. If your Ocado delivery goes wrong, you still have control, as you have your mind and your mental state to do something about it.

The advantage of being on your own is deepening into a more essential sense of yourself: What is your expression? What motivates you? People find they become very creative. They paint their best work, write their best poetry, they come up with their best ideas because they settle into themselves through the lack of distraction.

Meditation is a mental toolkit – one that I’d recommend for everyone right now. It can be as simple as sitting by a window and looking outside for five minutes. Whatever comes up in your head, just look out the window. It can be really challenging, but it’ll help you tune in with how you feel and the world outside. Likewise, turn your devices off for half-an-hour and get into nature. It shifts your perspective to something bigger: there’s nothing in my garden that tells me that there’s a pandemic right now. 

You can experience strong fears. And that’s fine – everyone will be feeling some anxiety right now. Yet, if you sit with fear, you often find that there’s a lot of energy underneath – much of your potential is being locked up. You cannot become fearless without experiencing fear. It’s about learning how to befriend fear, and what that fear is telling you about yourself.”

  • I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.”  I wouldn’t see another soul for months.” 

Billy Saunders has worked in the deepest, darkest part of the Outback – 15 hours away from civilisation.

When my new boss told me it’d be a two-day drive to reach him from Sydney, the nearest city, I couldn’t believe it. He owned a remote property in the desert that needed maintenance and repairs – the nearest town was a five-hour drive away. All I had was $20 and a tank of fuel. I didn’t see a car for hours; I was heading down these dirt roads in the darkness, in the middle of nowhere. 

There were only a few of us on the station – I wouldn’t see another soul for months. We became a four-man community, spending all our time together, working, cooking and eating. We lived in converted shipping containers, as the owner’s house had blown over in a storm some years before. Once I finished work for the day, I’d hit the heavy bag I’d hung off a crane, or go for long runs in the fields.

One time, the owner and his partner went into town and there was a huge storm. I was on a 250,000-acre property on my own and it knocked out all the power. I couldn’t contact anyone. Although the power came back, I didn’t have phone reception for days. I realised that if I had an accident that no one would know, and the nearest help was 15 hours away. I stayed inside for two days. That was the most bizarre experience: when you don’t talk to anyone for days on end. By day four, I was talking to the dogs. But it was fine – I enjoy my own company.

I’m close to my brothers back home and once the signal was back up, they were always there on the other end of the phone. Because I could always speak to them, I never really missed loved ones. Just like with self-isolation today, I could always contact loved ones. I had internet access too, although if you wandered five metres off, you’d lose signal. You have plenty to do to keep your mind occupied during coronavirus. It’s not the end of the world just yet.”


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