Words by: Shams Ibrahim
What does it mean to be in quarantine? What is it like to be locked up indoors with only a few hours of sunshine allowed? Is it punishment? Is karma biting the human race? Is it a doorway to a mental asylum? In truth, I don’t know what it really means or how it has impacted people. It would be extremely arrogant and ignorant to assume that it has hit everyone the same way. Each experience is very unique. Some might be terrible, while others surprisingly good. This will be part of my personal journey with lockdowns, quarantine, and COVID-19.
I’m a 20-something female—and no, I’m not telling you my exact age, ’cause I’m planning to stay in my twenties for the next 20 years. I was born overseas, lived in multiple countries, and moved to Australia in 2016. I’m married to the love of my life, and we have a lovely two-year-old daughter. I have faced many challenges in life, but COVID-19 was like no other. These strange, unexpected times completely transformed me.
My family and I were cramped up in a one-bedroom apartment trying to save some cash to buy our first house. It was interesting, especially with a toddler that loves turning the place into her personal playground. I was studying for my master’s degree and also working part-time in retail. Hubby was a full-time engineer temporarily relocated on-site. When lockdown number one started, it felt okay at first since Jannah (my daughter) was at childcare, while uni and work online were pretty chill. It almost felt that I was finally given the opportunity to relax. Not to mention, I was saving travel time. Lockdown wasn’t a big deal, it was a temporary phase with many perks. It was fun to indulge in take-away food and late-night Netflix dates. I thought that the entire lockdown would be a piece of cake.
A couple of weeks later, things changed. Hubby started working from home for a few days each week and that was the beginning of our COVID-19 madness. Between using my laptop in the living room, with him using his laptop next to me, both of us in meetings and Jannah home — it was a recipe for disaster! We kept arguing all the time, resentment built up, and guilt over Jannah spending longer hours at childcare increased. I couldn’t keep the house in order. I couldn’t stay calm or give my relationship the attention it deserved. And worst of all, I didn’t have the energy or patience to play with Jannah anymore. I was impatient, irritable, snappy, mechanical and moody. Not only was I a terrible partner, but I was also a terrible mother! Our apartment became unbearable, and I absolutely hated it. I felt completely useless. It was hard for two perfectionist workaholics living with a toddler in lockdown to get along. Many times it felt that our love meant nothing in the face of COVID-19 and. I knew for a fact that the longer we stayed holed up in our house, the sooner our relationship would crumble. Just as the first lockdown was about to end, my prayers were answered; we got a call from Hubby’s work, and they asked him to move to regional South Australia for six months. He would get a raise, there’s no lockdown, we could go with him, and they would give us a three-bedroom house with a huge backyard! I was scared, excited and anxious, but my sense of adventure kicked in and off we went!
I thought I would escape lockdown, but boy was I wrong! I had to quarantine for two weeks, and even after quarantine I was living two and a half hours away from Adelaide, I didn’t drive and I found out public buses suck! I stayed at home five days a week and went out only on weekends. For a few weeks it felt forced, like I didn’t have a choice but it’s here where everything changed for me. It was in that remote town that I decided to turn myself around. As cliché as this may sound, I felt that I could do anything I wanted, and the fears that held me back weren’t real. I enjoyed being at home more than I wanted to admit. And when we went out, we explored nearby towns, beaches, mountains, and parks, and truly connected with nature! It was like a breath of fresh air. I started appreciating the simple things in life. Running with greenery all around as the sun shines felt freeing. It was as if the warmth penetrated my heart and the South Australian flowers blossomed inside me. I fell in love with nature and found a way to love myself again in the process. I was no longer rushing. It was like the world had stopped and the only thing that mattered was that moment in time. I think being in the right mind-set helped push me forward, it was like I was reborn! Our six-month isolated bliss was over before we knew it and it was time to go back to Melbourne.
I honestly didn’t know how much I changed until we came back to Melbourne. I cut toxic people out of my life. Stopped putting myself down or beating myself up over the tiniest mistakes. I started cutting myself some slack and focusing on taking care of myself for once! I needed to be loved, to be appreciated, to be valued and respected, but I’ve been looking in all the wrong places. The only place I can find everything I truly need is deep within myself. The biggest champion I had was myself, but I had muted her for the longest time possible — and hearing her speak has been wonderful! I decided that we could no longer stay in our apartment, but we couldn’t afford a nice place in the same area unless we moved further out, so we moved to the outermost northern suburbs. It was closer to my friends, a three-bedroom house with a study and a lovely backyard! I didn’t fall in love with the place, but I didn’t care. Perfection was a thing of the past for me. At this point, I was crazily flexible and brave enough to face my fears, until lockdown three happened. This time, with my new lease on life. I didn’t expect that resentment to build up again, but I was alone! Hubby couldn’t take time off work, Jannah didn’t have childcare, and everything was my responsibility again. My mental health started suffering. I was angry. To top things off, I fell pregnant!
While things opened up again after the lockdown, my heart didn’t. I tried taking it one day at a time. I settled down; my anger decreased but depression started looming. That’s when my newly learnt self-care finally kicked in. I went to therapy and decided to prioritise my wellbeing. For the first time ever, I did not have a plan, I did not know what would come next, which was equally as liberating as it was terrifying.
I kicked depression’s ass! Hell yeah! I slowly started becoming better, emerging stronger. I found out that some friends weren’t really friends. They were backstabbing or self-centred. I grieved the loss of those I loved and said goodbye to them. I closed my heart off towards them. They are no longer people I trust, but I do not care enough to hate them or even cut them off completely. Once people I loved, today they are people I just know.
As the fifth lockdown hits Melbourne, I look back at my journey. I realise that now I might be almost friendless, jobless and living in a house that I don’t particularly like — but I’m happy.
The whole process wasn’t and still isn’t pain-free. My mental health suffered for a while, but at least I now have the will to take care of myself for a change. I still don’t know what the new normal for me is yet and I’m still trying to figure things out, but I’m content with my blooming, long-neglected relationship with myself. I still don’t know what the future holds, but let’s hope it turns out to be a fruitful one.