Words cannot adequately describe the experience of 21 days in quarantine.
I had a friend mention that her sister just came out of quarantine and, get this, "She actually quite enjoyed it!" and I also got a private message from a regular customer and my former Pilates trainer at a Crossfit Gym from years ago, who said much the same, "I quite enjoyed it!"
And I am like..."Girrrrllllll, you had something to do, like you were probably locked in here while able to work remotely!" and I know for a fact that was the case from my friends sister, I do not fully know what the deal is with the other lovely lady, but I am gonna lay it all down on the line here and tell you that no matter what happens in life, I am not going to do anything that could land me in prison! Like...EVER!
These last 21 days have been like shit on a stick! I would not recommend it to anyone who has even slight concerns about their mental health. And let me tell you, I have many! I am the kind of person who has what we could call "mild OCD". I do stuff like ensure all items in my cabinet face in the same direction, that labels all face the same way. When I shop, I buy the exact same number of each item, it makes me feel good. If I chew my food mindfully, I count how many times I chew it. If I am drinking sips of water, I count how many sips of water I am drinking. When I take money out the ATM, I ensure it is always that an even number remains. I count my steps when I walk, I sometimes even count in my head the number of seconds something I boil an item for, or I count the number of stirs I make of something. Lets just say this isn't an all day, every day thing, but I guess I do this when I am agitated or something is on my mind and I need to be free of it. I count steps as I climb. I am pretty sure my husband has witnessed me counting at times, and we know now, my issue is not something he would do. I count tiles I walk on, Its just...I am not an excessive hand washer, or some shit, although I do wash my hands, but I have noticed a phase where my eldest son went through that and it was a cause for concern when he was a kid, as he'd wash his hands all the time until his skin was dry and unhealthy.
Put it this way, what I am laying the groundwork for here for you to understand why mental health is so important when someone is under severe stress.
I have ADD, for years it went untreated, so I suppose it explains why I would self medicate with whatever was available to help me feel more focused, and they were rarely things that were good for me. I have been prescribed everything from Ritalin to Concerta, never Adderall, but I know my brother has had his share of abusing that stuff, being as it seemed to be very popular at universities to help people with exam study. My concerns about the dangers of pharmaceuticals go way back, all the way back to my attempting suicide with my mothers Valium stash when I was 17.
I am not sharing any of this for pity or such, but just to raise awareness about what has happened to me while here in quarantine. I started this experience believing in myself, believing in mind over matter, believing that I was surrounded by kind and overly giving friends, who much like myself, do everything they can to help. I still have those friends, the same friends who dropped off books, beautiful pillows worth falling asleep on, a yoga mat, a pilates ring, resistance bands, a puzzle, a skipping rope, all of which I requested and was sent, while I started my confinement.
My first five days were spent struggling quite happily with jetlag, I attempted to read, but my ADD prevented me from surviving more than a 20 minute stint of any one book before I had to put it down because I found I simply wasn't absorbing any of the information. Much as I was grateful for the loving friend who sent me a 500 piece puzzle of the night sky, no doubt, a phenomenal piece that would illicit sighs of awe once complete, I cannot even begin to tell you how I am not that kind of ADD person, puzzles stress me the fuck out. And you can imagine what a puzzle in mostly black and gray with a shit tonne of milky way is gonna make me feel. So that remained in the box permanently. My brother, who is 4 years younger than me, likely has ADHD, so he can sometimes get into 10,000 piece puzzles that take months and he loves that shit! Dude can read a big fat book in a day! Nope, not me. I ain't saying this to somehow say I am special, I am just not that kind of person.
After the first 5 days of suffering with Jetlag, I finally started to fall into a routine. My hotel said food was included, but after the first meal I tried, a "vegetarian" option that consisted of "shit tonne of white rice, one slop of beansprouts and a side of boiled radish" I called the front desk and told them not to send me any food for the rest of my stay. It wasn't that kind of place, you didn't have a choice on what you eat, there was a set time table, a set menu of this is what you get on this day. And it was all shit! So I decided to either fast or to drink protein shakes, as I had ordered some meal replacement shakes from iherb prior to my arrival and I had my team drop it off for me at the hotel along with one of those shaker bottles and some oatmilk.
So I did my best. I played solitaire, I did crunches, pushups, squats, leg raises and stretching daily. I meditated with ease, sometimes several times a day. And I showered daily, even though, technically, who fucking cares if no one can smell you, but I did it, daily, sometimes twice daily, as it helped me pass time.
By about Day6, I began to suffer from insomnia. I found it harder and harder to fall asleep. So initially I was quite nonchalant about it, like, pfff, what does it matter, right? Oh, it matters. If you are staying in a hotel room that you cannot leave for fear of a HKD25,000 dollar fine and 6 months in prison, where you are stuck with a monitor bracelet and you have to keep your phone on 24/7, you have one set of anxiety, but if that hotel room also happens to have the most atrocious Wifi connection on the planet, you will go slowly mad.
Lets face it, this pandemic has been going for a year solid, you know you, if you have Netflix, you have already drained your share of anything worth watching, and if you are like me, you are not ready to start watching 20 year old Stallone movies or Segal movies just to pass time, I would rather fucking die!
So not only was I refusing food, every time I ordered food from Deliveroo, I was disappointed by how bad it was, as I have no idea where to order from and much as you may suggest I order from my own shop, I will tell you here and now, I would always prefer to eat our food fresh and hot, not in take away form. I am THAT kind of person. I began choosing to eat OMAD, which is a more severe form of intermittent fasting where you eat one meal a day. I did this because I was so lacking in hunger or motivation from the sheer stress of being cooped up in a room with no fresh air other than what piped through the air conditioning. The other reason was that these restaurants that I actually was happy to eat the food from, once I discovered them, used plastic packaging. There is a difference between choosing something when you have a shitload of choice, but when you are in a very special situation, where food is the only thing that can make you feel even moderately happier, you aren't sitting there thinking about the packaging part.
No I wasn't up for ordering from somewhere that I wasn't really craving the food, purely because of the packaging, what I did was reduce the opportunity to do more damage, so I ate once a day. On the odd day I would have an urge to binge, I would order from Dough Brothers, which has sourdough pizza with the option for vegan cheese on about two or three of their options. And they have donuts. They do eco conscious packaging, and their pizza if f-ing awesome! You should give it a go, if you ever have a chance.
Anyway...by about Day 9, my insomnia had gotten to where I would be stuck awake, in the dark, sitting up in my bed, rocking to and fro until 5am, sometimes with my head in my hands, crying uncontrollably as I felt so helpless and alone. Everyone who checked in on me to see how I was doing was met with a, "Good, you know, as best as I can be, hanging in there!" and more bullshit, but I was crumbling fast. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, and abject despondency, so I finally called my therapist in Hong Kong, shared my situation and begged for something, anything to alleviate my anxiety and also to help me sleep because the sleep deprivation was getting to a point of impinging on my ability to function normally.
This entire time, I was writing in my journal daily, still trying to "stay positive" but with insomnia and my body only allowing me 3-4 hours of sleep before I was awake again and unable to function, it was getting to a place where I was ready to break things. When you have struggled with depression all your life, its never easy to reach out to friends and family to tell them you need help, because you don't want them to feel helpless. Being an empath, I struggle with this because when others need help, I give of myself to the point of feeling drained and I have had to actually cut myself off from energy vampires because at some point I had to care more about my own mental health as I was not enlightened enough as an empath to be able to compartmentalize or protect myself from other peoples inability to keep their own shit together.
So no, its not as easy as calling someone and saying, "I need help". Because you don't have faith in their ability to help you when you yourself feel so helpless and incapable of verbalizing what it wrong with you. You know you are merely a victim of the circumstances, you are intelligent and coherent enough to know it will pass, years of dealing with depression has taught you that, but its still very real and very claustrophobic to get through without any human contact.
My therapist was able to prescribe and drop off 10 tablets of Valium at the midway point, the point at which I was crying and feeling like I didn't want to begin considering things like "100 ways to die without leaving a mess" (quick heads up, they don't exist, you always leave a mess!). So humor aside, that Valium essentially saved my life. I slept sound that night, and every other night after that. It was also at this 10 day mark that I figured out that my laptop seemed to pick up the shitty Wifi better than my ipad or my phone, and so I was able to stream, only occasionally interrupted or freezing, on Netflix.
So at this point I passed days with watching one season of Dusk till Dawn a day for three days straight. My dreams were full of vampires, thanks to Valium, and I am lucky I am a lucid dreamer, so for the most part I enjoyed the dreams because I knew I was dreaming.
As the days crawled on, and as I got to the last week of my stay, I began to experience further troubling mental health issues. As a younger me, I struggled with body image and weight related issues, I still struggle with these issues, and for a few days in this final week, I have found myself beginning to binge and purge from the stress. I would eat, but then because I was consuming, obsessively, 3 liters of water a day, I would feel excessively full, almost to the point of throwing up, and the only comfort I got was to actually purge. I am not sharing this because I wish to concern anyone, I am sharing this purely matter of fact. I would eat and then I would chuck it all up. I wrote this in my journal, I also signed up with a registered dietician online to try to understand better my relationship to food and to try to work on, from a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) perspective how I could have a healthy relationship with food and how to have a positive body image, to make peace with my body that has birthed three children and that oftentimes makes me feel ashamed to look in the mirror.
These realizations would not have become an urgent issue had it not been for this 21 days of forced isolation. Realizing how important my mental health is has always been at the center of my life concerns, but here, in this hotel room, alone for 21 days, it became the only thing I could face, day in and day out. I had gone from excessively cleaning every single piece of furniture or window sill in my room until my hands smelled like Clorox to insomnia to almost starvation, from binging to purging, from over exercising to dejected refusal to leave my bed, all in the course of 21 days! For 21 days I went through the entire spectrum of all the ills that plague my mind! I cannot tell you how, through all this, I did my best to stay positive and to think outside the box and to maintain perspective on the "this too shall pass" I have always maintained when dealing with depression.
It has not been easy in the slightest.
And yet, I got through it, as is what we all do in life. In life, sometimes we get sick, sometimes we lose a loved one, sometimes we suffer through an accident, sometimes we lose a job, sometimes we suffer severe depression, and we still get through it because time stops for no one, no matter how hard you try, time just keeps on truckin, and so you just survive it, like a message in a bottle, bobbing about on the ocean, buffeted by the waves, until one day you find the sandy beach and someone finds you, picks you up and knows what lies within you.
For the last two days of my stay I have tried to do something good for a stranger, and that has made me feel so much better and I have not had to struggle to feel alive. Since I am vacating this room with more shit than I came in here with, it made sense that I try to offload things like cleaning products I had delivered in. Rolls of paper towels, hand soap, Clorox wipes, Tea bags, Bars of laundry soap for handwashing clothes, Hand lotions, Fresh fruit, Mineral water...things I wasn't going to get a chance to use anymore and didn't want to carry out with me. So I put them into two Deliveroo bags, and with a hand written note that said, "Dear Neighbor" I offered them up to the lovely lass next door who I know, purely from hearing when she moved in, about three days ago, that she could use all this shit. I also informed her that although the hotel had not offered as such, she could actually call the reception and ask for new towels, new bedding, all that sort of stuff, and change it herself. I suggested she try to stay fit and healthy, that she drink lots of water, and that she pray if she was the praying type. I knocked on her door and left that outside her door, much the same way they knock on our doors to drop off take away.
My husband asked me, "is that legal"? And I said, hell, I just got tested for the third time and I am negative, so I am sure this poor girl can take my stuff.
She then came back with a knock on my door and left a hand written note thanking me, saying she cried, that she was so overwhelmed with the kindness and that she didn't know how to repay me, and there were some cookies and some sort of raspberry perfume. Hmmm...So I took this into my room, put it in a bag immediately, washed my hands to ensure I was safe from her newbie possible germs, and then considered how I would return it without being rude.
So then I went through my stuff again and found little cosmetics, unopened, from my business class flight that Cathay had given us free when they fired my husband, and I thought, yeah, lets put this together with the toiletries bag, as I brought them as a "just in case" and so I made another note, thanking her for wanting to return my favor, but that she didn't need to. Because of my degenerative inner ear disease, I couldn't consume much processed food without setting off my symptoms, I also don't use much in the way of aromatic chemicals, so I would hate for her to waste them on me, to know that I am not ungrateful, that I appreciate her gesture, but that I am giving them back to her so she can gift them to someone more deserving. I gave her my HK temporary number, said if she ever needed any help, to let me know and I would do what I can.
Knock, knock, and drop off.
And then I got a knock about 10 mins later, and there was a note with HKD100. The note was read swiftly, and then I washed my hands again after I threw it in the bin, she was asking for my help to get a sim card, as she didn't have one, and if I had a friend if I could ask them to bring one, she would be grateful as she didn't know anyone here as she was new to Hong Kong. Her name was Mary Ann and she has come here to work as a Domestic Helper, so of course now I did what felt like the best thing I could. I got on Deliveroo, went to 711, ordered one of those 1500 min, 300 SMS, 18GB sim cards, and I had it delivered within 30 mins. I wrote one final note, told Mary Ann that the world works in a weird way, that we find it hard to accept kindness without feeling indebted, that it was ok to deserve a little kindness without feeling guilty. I told her this was a gift, that as soon as I got out of this shithole I would find her a prepaid calling card so she could then call her family in the Philippines, being as she mentioned they don't have Wifi, and so I said, for now, at least if they wanted to call her, they had her number, and if someone had a mobile with data, at least they could whatsapp her.
I folded the note, put her HKD100 back in there, and knocked on her door once more with the Deliveroo bag with the sim card and the note in there.
More handwashing ensued in my room. And then I got a call. She had called to thank me. Today I feel good about life. I feel positive about the good in the world, and that may have something to do with my having taken my last Valium during the day coz I know I need to be awake to get the hell out of here at midnight tonight! But hey, lets just say I am alive, I am feeling kind, I am feeling generous, and I am so fuckin ready to get out of this room.
I am certain I will be leaving this room in a better position than when I arrived. I have asked them for the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed this room myself. I have cleaned all the surfaces with cleaning products I bought, as they provided none, and I changed my own sheets upon requesting for the clean bedding, as they didn't offer it at all. Insanity. Daily, I have opened the curtains and have been grateful I have windows at all. My biggest source of suffering has been the lack of fresh air, the lack of direct sunlight, and the shitty wifi.
Other than all that, I am grateful that I have come to address all the things most pertinent with regards to my mental health, and I hope that the government addresses this aspect of what they are doing to people by making the quarantine period 21 days. Its inhumane, it truly is, without mental health support, it is just cruelty to human beings. To be fed food not even worthy of an animal, to be kept in quarters much akin to a pen, to be made to languish in your own flaking skin and falling hair, its counterintuitive if we are considering containing a disease. If you didn't come in sick, you could well leave here sick! If not physically ill, mentally ill! And lets face it, mental illness can lead to physical illness. I have been struggling with severe constipation from the lack of ability to move about, I have had to have everything from Metamucil, Senokot and Ducolax delivered, all to varying degrees of effectiveness. I have essentially just given up on being able to take a proper shit until I get out of here.
Yeah, these are things NO ONE thinks about. You'd think I would be doing all sorts of creative things while trapped in here, but the only thing I have been able to do is just try to stay sane. All my work is only able to be dealt with once I get out of here. I have papers to sign with the tenant who will take over the space after us. I have spoken to him on the phone, lovely young man, former Cathay Dragon, imagine that, full circle. He knows what it was like to lose his job, much like my husband!
So there is that bond there.
The rest of my work involves selling every little bit of excess we can afford to get rid of. I have sold the license transfer and all the basic furnishings and equipment for just enough to cover the cost of my trip, basically, for nothing, but its what I know its worth. It would cost us so much more to break the place down to bare shell condition, and to try to flog one item at a time on facebook. I just...I don't have that fight left in me.
I am just glad that we are almost to the end. I have so much love in me for my team, and I can't wait to get out of here and hug each and every one of them, with our masks on, and to tell them how much they have been missed. Yeah...I am just so ready to get the fuck out of this room. 21 days has felt like an eternity. I just want some semblance of normalcy. I want for my brain to just feel at home in my body again, not like it wants to escape.
This is my testament to what it has been like, experiencing quarantine in Hong Kong in a government approved hotel.
That is about all I will say about that. :)
My name's Lisa. I love to cook, I love to laugh, I love to write. I don't always believe I have the time for creating, and now I am going to work on simply going with the flow, with the food, the restaurant, the writing...and if I can, for one moment, spread a little joy along the way, well, its worth the effort.