When my mother died, I put myself in emotional quarantine. It was the only way to survive. I feared that if I let my agony out to roam among the general population, it would lead to a grief epidemic of Bubonic Plague proportions. I didn’t want to expose others to my sadness. I didn’t want others infected with my misery. It was hard enough to live while mourning my mother’s death, I didn’t want to see my suffering passed on to or reflected in the eyes of anyone else.
And so, for my own protection (and that of others), I isolated myself. I quarantined my emotions—keeping them confined and grossly limited. I erected barriers. I reduced my life to the minimal allowable dosage of social interactions. I amputated relationships. And like an amputee, I hobbled through my existence.
My emotional quarantine was necessary in order to maintain my sanity. My grief was more pain than I could bear. I needed to feel as little as possible at times because at times my only emotional option was despair. I couldn’t breathe for sadness. I couldn’t see through the tears. My condition would have been critical if not for the escape sleep offered.
I was broken. My understanding of life and “the big picture” had been shattered. My desire to remain in reality had been severed. I would have welcomed delusion—even just a mirage of my mother’s presence. I prayed to dream of her—to have even that fleeting sense of connection.
My heart hurt in a way that felt fatal. I couldn’t imagine how life—the world—could possibly go on with such a vital component of my family missing. The loss left me acutely vulnerable. Everything (even laughter) was painful. I needed intensive care. The smallest tasks of life overwhelmed me. Getting up felt like climbing a mountain, and smiling felt like agony.
Unable to fully face the world, I retreated. It was what I needed. In my self-imposed quarantine, my emotions found the time and space to convalesce. In isolation, I could work on the broken pieces within myself. Seclusion was like a cast that protected what needed to be repaired. Alone, I began to find and assemble myself again.
It took years of therapeutic intervention to heal. My soul—my very will to live—needed rehabilitation. My personality underwent reconstructive surgery. I had to relearn how to use all the parts of me. I tested my new emotional boundaries. Could I smile and mean it? Could I cry without drowning in despair? Could I accept each feeling as it came? Was I ready to participate in living again?
Eventually I became able to endure exposure to all of my emotions. My life had been irreparably altered, but now I could function. The hermetic seals I’d secured around my feelings were superseded, having become obsolete. I was still deep in mourning, but I was no longer drowning in it.
My release from quarantine wasn’t dramatic. It happened in stages—some almost imperceptible until they had passed. One day I simply looked around and saw that all of my feelings were out in public—that my emotions were again being expressed.