Season 6, Episode 10
March 27, 2022
Just over two years ago, I took a leave of absence from work in order to attend a mental health day program. I left most of my stuff at my desk, expecting to be back in a month after my treatment concluded. My goal was to finally make some major changes to my life in order to combat the depression and anxiety that had made the prior two months unbearable. I knew, of course, that these conditions were not new. They had always been part of me, flaring up a number of times – second semester of sophomore year in college stands out as a particularly dark time for me. Now, at 33 – my Hobbit year, my friend Raven informed me over dinner and drinks a few weeks earlier – I was ready to break the cycle.
My treatment involved driving to a center in Woburn, a stone’s throw from the Burlington Mall. It felt good to remove myself from my routine, to talk openly about my challenges and learn skills to cope with my experiences. It also helped to have medication that could help me climb out of the hole I was in, to get to a normal level as a foundation for the continual work of living with mental illness. There were many others who attended the program, some of whom I enjoyed talking with and hearing from, some of whom would not be part of healthy treatment.
But as the weeks went on, I saw fewer of these people. The oldest members of the group left first, switching treatment to a virtual program pretty soon after I started. Then others stopped coming because their treatment had concluded. In my final days of the program, the staff began wearing face masks. It was a weird feeling, seeing these items from a hospital show up in a classroom setting. But that was the way things moved in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States. And the next time I was at my desk in the office again, it was 18 months later. I wasn’t there to work; I was there to collect my belongings before starting a job at a different organization.
I am grateful to have begun treatment when I did, before we entered a period of substantial lockdown and isolation. I honestly am not sure if I would have made it through these years without the skills and medication to bolster me. We are, after all, social creatures. We are meant to be connected, to share space in communion. Losing that for an indefinite period of time fractures us. That said, the power of quarantining oneself when ill is undeniable, and continues to be a key element in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lot of dipshits have complained about the requirements imposed on them by governments, agencies and companies in an attempt to reduce the pandemic’s spread. But these requirements have not caused extensive isolation. And, let me state clearly: none have suffered like the dead.
And those of us who have had to self-quarantine have not shared the fate of Mary Mallon. Mary was an Irish-born American cook and asymptomatic carrier of the Salmonella typhi pathogen. This meant that she was able to spread the pathogen that causes typhoid fever without becoming sick herself. You may have heard her with the nickname “Typhoid Mary,” but I’m not keen on repeating that much now. Her frequent changes in workplaces – moving from rich household to rich household – led to at least 53 people getting sick, three of whom died. After an initial quarantine of 3 years, she continued to work in restaurants and other spaces, spreading the pathogen even further. She was forcibly quarantined on March 27, 1915 on North Brother Island in New York. She lived there for the rest of her life before dying in 1938. Mary Mallon had been quarantined for a total of nearly 30 years.
We will always live in perilous times, I think. We must always weigh the balance between stability and freedom, safety and danger – and these will never be easy or simple deliberations. That makes it all the more important to continue to wrestle with how we live together. So let us conclude season 6 with a meditation on the theme of quarantine.
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