OPINION: Social distancing taught me the importance of valuing human connection


Signs are displayed on I-80 near Dixon as a reminder to drivers to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Less drivers have been on the freeway since the stay-at-home was put in place. Photo Credit: Ashton Byers

Ashton Byers

As a United States Air Force veteran, I already struggle with feelings of isolation.

Those feelings were only amplified by the shelter-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

I served in the USAF from 2010-2017, getting out to pursue my degree in journalism. As a senior at Sacramento State, school is the only thing that saved me from feelings of isolation.

This pandemic has taken that away from me, replacing it with Zoom classes.

My two small kids are left trying to make sense of this new normal, as much as a 3 and 7-year-old can comprehend. 

Scheduled Zoom classes and homeschooling give me a reason to get up, despite anxiety keeping me up at night.

I’m living with anxiety as a veteran during this time, requiring us to be socially distant and stay at home. As a mother in California raising two small kids without family nearby, I feel completely and utterly lost.

Getting sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, doesn’t scare me. What scares me the most is the isolation, not only for myself, but everyone else. I feel more detached than ever, as a fear of germs is plaguing the world. 

Stress levels are up, as well as alcohol sales, unsurprisingly. Jokes of “quarantinis” are all over social media but what about the reasons for drinking?

Feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and layoffs are all reasons people drink.

I am staying home for those who are at high risk but I am struggling. 

I am struggling to raise my kids. 

I am struggling during my classes.

I am struggling with feelings of losing control of my future, unable to see what it will look like.

My mental health has been all over the place. I am struggling in isolation.

Struggling to adapt to a new normal. Struggling to find a routine.

I have to switch my phone to airplane mode and shut the world off for a bit several times a day. As a news junkie, the idea of having to shut out the news because it has increased the number of panic attacks I have a day is alarming. 

I used to have thick skin, now everything makes me cry. 

When Sac State closed in mid-March due to COVID-19, my body rebelled against me. I was sick for two weeks with a fever, headache, dizziness, body aches and chills. Did I catch something, or was it my body’s way of responding to the news all around me? I will never know because it wasn’t severe enough to get tested. 

When I recovered from whatever the hell that was, I had a shingles outbreak. I was diagnosed with shingles ten years ago (at 19 years old) in the military and it reactivates in periods of high stress.

I’ve tried to adjust to this new normal and be strong for my kids. I do this in the form of board games, crafts and relaxing my no-television rules a bit for my kids.

I don’t know when we will return to our new normal or when social distancing will no longer be a thing. What I do know though, is I will no longer take relationships for granted. 

This has changed how we view the world and those around us. The term essential worker makes me appreciate those trying to provide us with a sense of normality.

I will no longer question having the time for a playdate, a coffee meetup or a hike. When this is over I will make sure to form deeper human connections. I will tip more at the hairdresser, nail salon and restaurants. 

Above all, this has taught me to never take human connection for granted because we are all connected. We are in this pandemic together and together we will come out stronger.