I am in isolation. Having tested positive for COVID, I have spent the past eight days isolated in a 14’x 8’ room in my house. I am doing this to follow CDC protocols and specially to protect my wife from contracting COVID. Except to cross the by hallway double-masked to go to the bathroom, I am in this room.
Let me clear. I have a phone, my computer, a TV, many books, and a place to sleep. Susan brings me food. I am not suffering in isolation.
However, being in isolation conjures up many images of movies, stories and more where those in solitary confinement, hiding and more must stay in a place where they are separated from others for – God only knows – how long.
My isolation has given me time to think, pray and let my imagination run wild. When you can’t run wild, your imagination becomes your one outlet to wild running. This time has given me a chance to prayerfully and imaginatively connect to my church members, friends, and family who have been so isolated for so many weeks, months and even years by the Pandemic (now endemic) we have traversed.
My eight days are literally NOTHING compared to the time alone that so many have endured for so long. In my mind’s eye, I see their faces. I hear their voices. I connect to them in new and unsettling ways. The loneliness, the stillness, the forced quietness, and the aloneness has changed them. They have been altered by isolation.
We know that Isolation and loneliness directly impacts mental health. We know that social support networks can have a significant positive effect on health. In fact, many countries are now treating loneliness as a health priority. We know that social connection is crucial for both mental and physical health.
Some researchers even believe that relationships are a biological need and vital to our well-being and survival. Mental health risks associated with isolation may include: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, suicide, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, researchers have also identified links between isolation and loneliness and some physical conditions, such as heart disease and breast cancer.
One research piece I just read on isolation is that older adults are especially likely to feel isolated. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers estimated that isolation affected more than 8 million older adults. It is believed that number has at least quadrupled in the last two years. It is important to be reminded that older adults are more at risk of loneliness is that they often experience important life changes, such as: retirement, widowhood, children leaving home, age-related health problems and more. Any one and all of these changes can break social ties, making it more difficult to socialize. People with disabilities or health conditions that limit physical activity may also find it more difficult to socialize outside the home.
COVID has produced a global Loneliness Epidemic. Coming out of our personal and global isolation is not simple. It takes each of us and all of us reaching out to the missing, to the “disappeared,” to the disconnected and disconsolate.
From my little isolation room, I find myself reaching out to people. I have had a lifeline through texting and phone conversations. But I have found that very few people reach out to you while you are in isolation. That is not intentional. I am sure about that. They are moving around, keeping busy, experiencing life and work. They don’t necessarily stop to consider you. They are moving. You are still. Nevertheless, it draws me closer to those in my orbit of life and care who have had so little contact with others throughout the pandemic.
From my isolation, I pray that we find God and one another.
Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens
The Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens is Senior Minister of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio where he has served since January 2000. Ordained in 1985, Tim is a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ.