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Being Forced Into Self-Isolation Allowed Me to Rediscover My Teenage Self

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

By Jessica Fisher

The Year of Our Collective Misery, 2020, was a tough one. We lost so much when it came to time, freedom, community and, most tragically, the very people we know and love. I was brought up to try to see the silver lining, but it was very hard to do that this time around.

Then something seemingly impossible happened. I was asked by the British government to make a huge change to my personal life and in reluctantly doing so, I discovered a gift: a pearl buried inside an obstinate and ugly oyster.

Early on in the lockdown period, I received a text message, a phone call, and an official letter — all in very quick succession — from the Department of Health in Great Britain. A long-standing autoimmune medical issue of mine had placed me in a category of the population that was considered by the Chief Medical Officer to be “extremely vulnerable.” The letter advised me to isolate myself not just from public spaces but also, in an unexpected move, from the other members of my own household.

My tears flowed. I’d already checked the conditions listed in this vulnerability category on the government’s Covid-19 website and determined that mine was not one of them. After going back to re-read some very ambivalently phrased sentences right at the bottom of the list, I discovered I was wrong.

And so it was, at the end of an April week that had already started to feel somewhat Groundhog Day-ish, we cleared the junk out of our spare room and I moved in.

Books: check.

Night cream: check.

Fairy lights strung up by my teenage son to cheer me up: check.

I slept in that room by myself for four and a half months before I received a government-mandated pass to freedom and back into our main bedroom.

Although the nights I spent in there were, at times, miserable and maudlin, I continually told myself that other people were having a far, far worse time of it than me. I had to suck it up and consider myself lucky.

And I did: because I began to discover things about myself that had long been hidden. I started to feel like a teenager again. I had “my own room” for the first time in nearly twenty years! Once I shut the door at night, after saying a bittersweet goodnight to my husband on the upstairs landing, I could do whatever I wanted. So I did.

I could read for as long as I liked, lamplight or Kindle glow be damned. I watched YouTube videos of overnight hair-curling tricks and sat cross-legged on my flowery single duvet, trying them out. I painted my nails while listening to Spotify playlists of movie soundtracks from the 1990s. I bought a second-hand PlayStation on eBay and stayed up until 2 a.m. playing Stardew Valley, an adorable 8-bit-style game where you inherit your grandfather’s farm and learn to grow and harvest crops. I even started writing again, after a ten-year drought of personal confidence.

It wasn’t always fun. I missed my husband. I missed intimacy and having someone to hug in bed. I felt alone on many of those nights, and not in a good way. But at the same time, I gradually began to feel alone in what started to feel like a good way.

For the first time since 2002, I could do whatever I wanted once that bedroom door closed. I didn’t have to feel conscious of my reading desires, my TV-watching choices, or the fact that I wanted to stay up late scrolling through inane celebrity gossip on my phone. I didn’t have to think about anyone except myself, and that was something I had become very unaccustomed to doing.

Even in the best and most solid of relationships, you give up a little something of yourself when you partner up — even more so when you become a mother. You are no longer just “you.” Instead, you are now in charge, responsible for, or at least very aware of somebody else’s needs, wants and existence alongside every second of your own. And in that tilt-shift into this new phase of your life, as a partner or a parent, you start to release your grip on your own wants and needs. It can happen slowly — though with parenthood, it happens unbelievably fast. It’s overnight. You suddenly give so much of yourself to the new person that all the earlier versions of you start to slip away.

That nail-painting, game-playing, gossip-devouring, hair-experimenting, fan fiction-reading, earphone-wearing, self-focused part of you? She fades over time, but I think the lesson is that she never fully goes away. I found her in the depths of a letter that made me cry because it asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. I didn’t know it then, but beyond that personal difficulty, she was there waiting for me.

She’s waiting for you, too. You can find her, if you look.


Jessica Fisher lives in Oxford, England, with her husband, teenage son, and two Corgis. Fisher loves books, cups of tea, browsing the aisles of TK Maxx (as it’s called here), collecting too much stationery, and finding time every now and then to paint her nails.

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