Lonely and locked away

The unspoken danger of COVID-19

It is a disease that feels as if it’s been hyped up more than the Black Death. Given all the fear and paranoia that has crept into our lives, when I tested positive for COVID-19 I was terrified.

This summer I was at Fort Knox for an Army training event. We were midway through our field training exercise when the medics came and started taking people from my platoon.

I, along with several others who were suspected to be symptomatic, were loaded into the back of a medical Humvee to be taken to the troop medical clinic for testing. After our results came back, I was singled out from the group and given the dreadful diagnosis.

It started with a minor cough and ended with a runny nose, but my experience with the dreaded COVID-19 hardly evolved into anything more than a bad case of the sniffles. The most painful experience that I had with this disease was not physical, but mental.

I was taken to the COVID isolation barracks where I would stay for the final 11 days of training. It was a very depressing experience that felt akin to a jail lockup. I was given orders to stay in my assigned room and could only leave during brief outside hours, during which I was limited to a small area immediately outside the building.

There was no entertainment to be had, no recreational equipment, no television, no outside contact. I was, however, allowed to keep my cell phone. This piece of technology that has connected people both near and far provided a window to the outside world that made me feel even more alone.

Seeing my platoon finish their training, my friends making plans in group chats, and people out doing things that I couldn’t be part of was far worse than my experience  with the disease that put me in that situation. Worse was the fact that I was never allowed to say goodbye to the people that I had grown close to during my three months at Fort Knox.

The misery that I felt from being isolated was by far the worst experience that I have had during the pandemic.

My 11 days in COVID isolation pale in comparison to what others have gone through in terms of loneliness during the pandemic. Fortunately, I made it through no worse for wear. Others that are put in isolation, however, have been hurt far worse, and have even lost their lives. A June 2021 report from the CDC estimates a 31% increase in mental health related emergency visits among adolescents. They had also surveyed young adults and found that roughly 25% had experienced suicidal thoughts related to the pandemic.

While I am not an expert in psychology, I know that loneliness can be dangerous. As a military member, I am all too familiar with the effects that mental trauma can have on people. Feelings of loneliness have been linked to suicide among the military community long before COVID-19 ever came around.

When social isolation leads to loneliness, that feeling can foster a mindset that can push people over the edge. Even when suicide doesn’t occur, long periods of loneliness can lead to serious health problems down the line.

Pushing people into social isolation can have drastic consequences. It is our responsibility as social creatures to make sure that those who are isolated because of the pandemic do not feel as if they are alone.