Surviving the Upside Down

My quarantine journey


Heidi Vasone

The writer and a friend swim in the ocean in West Palm Beach, FL, before returning home for social isolation.

Imagine sitting on a beach, crystal-blue waters rolling out in front of you as far as you can see. You’re relaxing on the sand, enjoying your spring break with three of your closest friends from college. It’s been a busy and stressful semester and you’re happy to finally get a vacation.

Suddenly you get a notification on your phone, a message from another friend. He tells you that his college has just gone online for the rest of the semester in light of the coronavirus pandemic and your college likely will too.

Unfortunately, few of you have to imagine a scenario like this one. You’ve lived it. This was the beginning of my wake-up call about how bad the coronavirus crisis had become.

The first step was denial. I assured myself that even if Chapel Hill had transferred classes to online, there was no way Guilford would follow suit. Surely there was no way that college could be over for the year in March. It was too early. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. I looked at my friends with a pervading sense of worry now weighing on my mind, wondering if this spring break getaway would end up being the last hurrah of our sophomore year.

From that day, March 11, things escalated quickly. It seemed like in a matter of hours my friends and I went from enjoying our Florida vacation to anxiously waiting for someone to cough. We followed through on our plan to eat at a hibachi restaurant in Palm Beach and as we all sat at the table eating our fried rice, we couldn’t help but notice the woman across from us coughing excessively into her hands. What once would have been a relaxing dinner turned into an evening of intense anxiety, the tension in the room so thick you could cut it with a knife.

We tried to finish our break with some sense of normalcy and enjoy the time together before we had to return home for a period of complete uncertainty. But it seemed that the time for normalcy had already escaped our grip, gone in an instant before we had any idea that the rug was being pulled out from under us.

We left the trip with plans to keep in touch and promises that we would see each other again soon. But even in a week’s time, I could already tell that things wouldn’t be the same. Not any time soon, at least. Reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. had skyrocketed by the thousands in a matter of days. And within that week Guilford moved the rest of the academic year online, just like my friend predicted in his message.

With the promise of being able to finish my sophomore year on campus extinguished, I returned home like the rest of my fellow Guilfordians, hoping that online classes wouldn’t be too bad. Hoping life wouldn’t be changed irrevocably.

Going home to Asheville wasn’t bad, but it was strange. I resolved to spend this unexpected time relaxing and keeping up with my classes, initially optimistic about this pandemic that had brought me home from Greensboro so suddenly. What I was not prepared for was the mental toll that this global health crisis would take.

Within a couple of days of being home, my temperature registered at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Everything I had been hearing about the coronavirus didn’t feel quite so distant anymore; it felt like it might be inside my own house. My fever resolved within a couple of days and a complete lack of coughing convinced me that I had contracted the common flu and not the virus, but the scare was enough to stick with me.

Suddenly, the classes I had been working on all semester no longer seemed so important. It became harder to write essays for my English class, to study the vertical analysis of corporate income statements, when every day I could see The New York Times tally of cases in America going up, up, up. The number of deaths followed this trend too.

Students like me have struggled to juggle this anxiety with their daily responsibilities. Not to mention the fact that it is much harder to deliver a quality education online, particularly when no college was expecting to have to do so.

Motivation is another issue entirely. Even though I suddenly had all the time in the world to complete my work, I somehow found it even harder to get started than when I was at school. It felt irrelevant, and my will to do work was constantly battling with the unsettling feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and that this shouldn’t be happening.

This disease was no longer on the other side of the world at a safe distance. It was in my county. And it was impacting my life—and the lives of everyone I know—in ways that I had never imagined. Things which never seemed scary before, like going to the grocery store or going outside on a walk, became battle zones. I start to tense now when I see another person walking down the street, even if they’re a block away from me. Nowhere feels safe. But like all bad things, and like everything that changes your life, you adjust.

I filled the hole in my life once occupied by social interactions with texting, phone calls and FaceTime with my friends from school, who live all along the East Coast. I embraced seeing my classmates over Zoom and made an effort to stay connected. It wasn’t the same, but it was a dose of normalcy and sanity.

The daily anxiety of what’s happening in the world doesn’t go away. There’s still the fear of someone you love getting sick or losing their job. Or falling ill yourself. But it can be managed. And however lonely staying at home and social distancing may be, it is how we all do our part to save lives.

There is something that is important to remember in the midst of this crisis: However awful it may be, it is temporary. It is this reminder that helps motivate me to keep working toward my degree, and to look to the future for the possibilities that exist for a career in writing, journalism or publishing when all of this is over. There’s no telling what the availability of jobs or the state of the economy will be when we emerge from this crisis. But no matter what, I think it will be more than worth it not to give up on education in the meantime.

I’m on day 27 of my self-quarantine as I write this and it somehow feels like a lifetime. It feels like there are still lifetimes yet to go before I can visit a friend, before I can eat at a restaurant or walk the streets of downtown Asheville again without risk and fear. But this quarantine is not completely without its benefits. It’s given me more time with my family, more opportunities for self-improvement and reflection. I continue to do my part to stop the spread and wait for the day when things start changing for the better.