The silence is what really gets you.

That, and the physical act of being alone, is enough to send someone over the edge if they can’t reel in the workings of their own mind. The quiet has a power that is unexpected.

Social distancing, known to me as the
act of being alone, is one of the most vital things people can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is essential, not optional, no matter what your cousin on Facebook says.

And now that Gov. Bullock has issued a Shelter-in-Place order for the state of Montana, none of us here really have a choice. Most students at UM are lucky. They have roommates or they can go back to live with their families. The silence may creep in, but it’s always temporary.

But I live in a studio apartment, and social distancing here, entirely alone, is a different beast.

Social distancing isn’t a bad thing. I’d rather be physically apart from the people around me than unwittingly infect them with coronavirus. It is a sacrifice, yes. But it’ is one I would make over and over to keep the people around me safe.

On most days, I love living alone. I love being able to have dance parties for hours or read aloud. I love baking bread in the middle of the night or coming home late and not worrying about waking someone up.

Isolation has never been something that has bothered me. When I spent two months traveling, I did it alone on purpose. I wanted to know myself in a way that I only could if I was by myself.

But now that I am truly isolated, with no way to physically be around other people, things are different. The silence is louder. If I get lonely, I can’t go sit in the Roxy or take myself to a crowded diner. I can’t sit on a friend’s floor and share a bottle of wine. I can’t ask for a hug.

But in this loneliness, I have found other ways to comfort myself. While I am alone, I don’t feel like I am suffocating in my own company. So I stick to a routine. I move my body, even if it’s only stretching or dancing through my tiny studio. I eat three meals a day. I am allowing my body to rest.

I bake and I read and I listen. I trust my hands to knead dough. I trust that books bring me comfort. And day after day, there is always new music to listen to.

I am finding joy in things I didn’t expect. When my plants grow or there is a particu- larly beautiful sunset, my heart feels warm and there is a break in the grayness of being alone.

I end each night by reading in my bath until the water is cold or I am too tired to read another chapter. This brings me so much happiness that I think I’ll continue it after this is all over. I never had time to read before, but now I am swimming in it.

I call or Facetime my friends every day. My best friend and I used to always miss each other’s calls, but now we talk for hours. I have friends who are willing to sit with me through the silence.

Social distancing may still feel like isolation, but it doesn’t scare me anymore.
I know that I can find something each day that brings me joy and that is enough to get me out of bed.

And when things adjust, because I don’t think they will never truly go back to normal, I’ll sit in a crowded movie theater. I’ll get dinner with my friends. I’ll hold someone’s hand. I’ll hug and I’ll love and I’ll go dancing.

And we will continue to be happy.