It’s been an inconvenience for me, this stay-at-home situation. I want to go out to eat at a restaurant. I don’t want my office to be in my spare bedroom. I want to zip to the store for an item or two for dinner without wearing a mask and worrying about how crowded it is. I want to get my hair cut. I want to talk face-to-face with people I love. These seem to be legitimate and common concerns.
Yet they pale in comparison to what my friend is experiencing right now, as I write this in the beauty and comfort of my back deck, sun shining warm and bright, a cold glass of water within arm’s reach.
All my concerns begin to sound like the whining temper tantrum of a spoiled toddler.
You see, my friend lived her entire childhood and much of her young adult life in a kind of lockdown most of us cannot fathom. I don’t know all the details of her life, but I know her family belonged to a strict religious sect that prevented her from experiencing the freedom you and I take for granted.
Then she married her first and only boyfriend at the age of 26 and thought her new husband was Mr. Wonderful. She soon discovered she had moved into a different form of isolation. He became cruel and controlling, subjecting her to sexual torture while claiming the Bible said she had to consent because he was her husband.
Church was one of the few places she was allowed to go. And never alone. She went nowhere alone.
When she gave her husband children, she hoped things would get better. They never did.
Just last year she summoned the courage to divorce him. She finally broke free from years of fear and bondage. It hasn’t been easy for her to navigate this world as a free woman with children to care for, but she’s done it.
Then along came COVID-19 and the governor’s order to social distance and stay in our homes to save lives. Talking to my friend the other day we agreed that these measures to stop or slow the spread of this insidious virus are important.
But—and this is so important for us to understand—it has sent her into an almost constant state of panic. While intellectually the lockdown makes total sense, her PTSD-addled brain and fragile emotions have kicked in. Every day is a stark reminder of the virtual imprisonment she had only recently escaped. “The other day,” she confided, “I actually thought about wanting him back because at least then things would be normal.”
We all want our “normal” back, but to want her horrendous normal rather than the unknown of the pandemic is clear evidence of the extreme panic she is feeling.
Thankfully she has a counselor who is able to talk her through her intense reaction to being forced to isolate. She is able to see that thought—that longing for normal—for what it is. She is able to see that her fear is a liar.
That doesn’t make it any easier, especially when we don’t know when this pandemic might end. Just as she could never see an end to her bondage before the day she made the break from her former life, now she can’t see an end to her current isolation.
And yet, in compassion, she expressed concern for women still living in abusive relationships who have no respite while stuck at home with their abuser. Her compassion is inspiring.
My heart aches for her, and for all women and children isolated with abuse. My friend’s struggle reminds me to stop complaining and count my blessings.