Three months into my Thailand experience, I'm totally adjusted to where I live, I have my daily routine down solid, I have amazing friends to hang out with, I'm genuinely considering whether or not I want to leave in April. It feels like all these things I've been waiting to fall into place, finally have, and I'm on top of the world. But like anything we love so much, it's a little too good to be true. Clearly, someone felt I needed to be humbled, because my world did a big 180 and sent me falling down down down until I hit rock bottom. My weekly ATK test showed two little lines and told me, looks like your attitude isn't gonna be the most positive thing in your life now.
My school went into an immediate frenzy when I tested positive for COVID-19 in the building. I was speechless when I saw the results, and was immediately asked to go home. No one knew what to say or what to do. In the two years since the pandemic started, my school has not had to deal with a case until now (leave it to the American, right?) I called my mom at 2:00am Eastern Time and woke her up to my tears telling her that one of my worst fears while being here came true. Instantly, all I could think about was how many people were going to be mad at me. My bosses, for temporarily shutting the school down, my co-teachers, for putting them online, the parents of my students, for potentially exposing their children, and my friends, for spending so much time with them while unknowingly carrying the virus.
I know that in the United States right now, there is only a five day quarantine for positive people, while everyone else carries on with their everyday life. Some may argue that this shortened quarantine window is foolish, and maybe so, but Thailand steers on the complete opposite end of caution, which isn't so great either. I was terrified that I was going to be sent to the hospital to quarantine there for two weeks, and wanted nothing more than to avoid going for an official test. However, my school insisted I go for a PCR to confirm, and I had to practically beg them, with my extremely minimal Thai skills, to let me isolate at home.
Turns out, that option was just barely the lesser of two evils. I know a lot of people who have had to quarantine from contracting COVID or from exposure, but almost all of them have been in a situation where they can do so in a house with multiple rooms, access to outside, windows for sunlight, and a kitchen to feed themselves. My one room apartment with a mini bathroom whose door doesn't fully close, and balcony covered by mosquito netting didn't quite provide the same luxury. I very quickly memorized every crack on the wall and could feel myself getting paler by the minute. There's only so many hours of Netflix you can watch before your eyes start to burn from the blue light, and even sleeping gets old.
I am an extremely independent and extroverted person; two qualities which did not mesh well with my quarantine. The last thing that I wanted to have to do was ask people for anything, but with no means of making my own food, I was constantly relying on others to bring me lunch and dinner daily. The thought of making anyone go out of their way to cater for me did not sit well at all, but it was either that, or starve. The hardest part though, was the loneliness that I felt. I only like alone time in the smallest of doses, and not being able to see my friends absolutely crushed me. Sure we have facetime and texting, but nothing compares to spending genuine quality time with your pals. I had a big trip to the beach planned for the weekend, with a bunch of my CIEE friends who I haven't seen in over a month, and obviously was unable to attend. I don't like last minute plan changes, especially when they are out of my control, and especially when they stop me from soaking up every moment of this adventure.
I am very fortunate that I did not get too sick from COVID, as I really only had minimal cold symptoms for the first two days. I am grateful to be in good physical health, as I know many who fought this virus were not as lucky. However, physical health is only half the battle. Mental health is so important, and I think that is something that has been overlooked since this pandemic started. Everyone is so quick to make sure you're not coughing up a lung or using a whole box of tissues, but what about the emotional toll that COVID takes on you? If you ask anyone who knows me, I always have a smile on my face. I'm a very positive person and always try to make the most of every situation. However, I'll admit that this quarantine pushed me to my limits. I hadn't cried at all since I moved to Thailand, and these past two weeks have managed to break me down more times than I'd like to admit. I hate crying. I know it's a healthy way to express your feelings, but it has always made me feel weak. I had a phone call with my boss on day 8 of quarantine, and I absolutely broke down for the full thirty minutes. It was so embarrassing to me, as I didn't want her to think that I couldn't handle this situation, but it really is enough to drive a person mad. There was so much unclarity with the length of isolation, the hospital tried to rip me off two-thirds of my paycheck for medication that I didn't need, I was 8500 miles from home, I missed my students so much, and just as fitting, it rained every day, so I couldn't even SEE the light at the end of the tunnel.
However, Walt Disney once said, "After the rain, the sun will reappear. There is life after pain, joy will still be here." I'm writing this blog post on my last day of quarantine, and I know he is right. I'm trying to look at this whole situation as just a brief commercial break in our regularly scheduled adventuring. I'm so appreciative of everyone from home who reached out to check in on me, and for all those here who helped me in any way that they could. It's been said that this pandemic has shown peoples' true colors, but I think it's just made them shine brighter. One of my best friends I met here (who had to isolate after our winter break trip as preliminary action for work) told me to remember that there's life after quarantine. We still have three more months of trips to take and memories to make. Finally going back to school tomorrow and seeing my kids' smiles is going to feel like Christmas morning, and I know for a fact that I'm going to be hugging my buddies a little bit tighter. I guess that's the good thing about rock bottom. When it feels like life has thrown you down as far as possible, the only place that you can go from there is up.