Off the Island : 14 day Photo Journal under Quarantine from an Extra-Extrovert, and humble tips from inside a box

In my box Day 1 of 14 days in Quarantine

Never could I have imaged 2 or 5 years ago or ever, that a virus in our time , could cause an illness so powerful , so deadly that its changed the whole world and our way of thinking in a matter of months , days and even seconds.

“…The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette…” – World Health Organisation

By Malaysian law, if you travel outside the country , it is mandatory to be isolated for 14 days upon your return. This law was made to protect the vulnerable and lessen the risk of the virus spreading. I am all for it. Since most of us were not able to self isolate, the government implemented strict measures to discipline the public. When I left 2 weeks ago, the UK had hit an all time high of 19,000+ cases in a day. Today at the time of writing , UK, holds the 7th place having the biggest cases of covid-19 in the world.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of “Quarantine” , we’ve heard also good ones but the horror stories stick out the most. 14 days. In solitude.

Preparing for my worst ie anticipating my weaknessnes

I am by DNA, in spirit, by habit, a people person, an extra-extrovert. I prepare for new experiences by thinking the worst. It may not be the best advise but it worked for me somewhat…1 week before my trip back and the impending doom of being in solitude, I made a list to prepare for my mental state. I have never been alone physically, in my life, the only time I was in solitude was in my mother’s womb. I always had my family, growing up, I was constantly with friends, if they weren’t there I always had a boyfriend, I had colleagues for company who stayed back late , I had children, and when they weren’t there I had pets to keep me loved and distracted from my own thoughts.

A list to calm the thoughts

  1. Download Netflix ,
  2. or Prime or both
  3. download a meditation app: 1GreatMind worked for me , as a beginner
  4. learn new language , I signed up to learn Portuguese from DuoLingo its free!
  5. book or books
  6. my hand me down KINDLE filled with self help books
  7. I was recommended online therapy BetterHelp , if you can afford it, do it.
  8. good headphones
  9. pen, pencil, notebook
  10. plastic paper holder for all my gov administration/documents/ and permissions (this proved so useful I didn’t want to miss this out)

I flew British Airways , one of the few flights that flew direct. I felt safe and SOPs were followed. I was lucky to get a whole row to my self. Shops at KLIA were inaccessible to us. We were considered high risk.I had planned to get more snacks, tobacco at the airport. From the plane you are escorted in single file to a depot, told to scan-check in with your MySejahtera app and fill up online forms on the app itself, make sure your phone is fully charged. They have implemented a one way system and we were guided or herded like cattle at every turn. Try to go to the bathroom when you’re on the plane, it saves time and the hassle later . Get your immigration approval letter ready with your passport. After immigration, you’re lead to a designated elevator down to pick up your luggage. With your luggage I was told to cue for a swab test ( a cotton stick goes up your nose so far that it feels likes its poked your brain). Here is where your plastic document folder comes in handy, with passport, docs , payment card ready , you’re to cue to pay for your test and collect your receipts, keep them. Then we were told to a wait again. No one tells you anything, and no one will have the initiative to put your mind at ease. Be prepared for this.

You are asked if you want the standard package or the premium package which assures you a 4 or 5 star hotel. Traveling on a small budget I had no choice but to accept the standard package of RM150 per day and crossed my fingers I get a decent hotel.

“The National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) on 18 September 2020 has decided that following the quarantine procedures imposed upon entering Malaysia, foreign nationals including Malaysian Permanent Residents are subjected to bear the full cost of quarantine without any subsidies from the Government of Malaysia, amounting to RM4,700 effective from 24 September 2020

Essentials List – I made serious luggage space for these , I mean SPLURGE on personal toiletries because you will not know which hotel you end up in. I expected hotel toiletries to be mediocre and sad . Those listed in red are what I should have added to the list.

  1. Shampoos – different types, with luxurious smells and essentials to help lift your spirit
  2. Hair conditioner, and hair masks – you have all the time in the world
  3. Vitamines , pain killers, band aids, gentle Senokot or Gaviscon – I went to Boots and stocked up.
  4. Body wash/gel or nice soaps, Body lotion , a big bottle or different medium bottles – the hotel Aircon unit running 24/7, was fierce on my skin
  5. Face wash, toner, day and night moisturiser, mask, eye cream – do it, all of it, you have time ad need a picker upper
  6. Everything to clean you mouth with and more
  7. sanitary pads, fun ones , anything that has picker-upper colors, especially when you’re on your period
  8. shower glove/ buffer/ wash cloth
  9. set of cutleries, they had ignored my request for normal cutleries and were given plastic sets that break and flake in your hands.
  10. nail clipper
  11. multi plug for all your gadgets , my room didn’t have enough outlets
  12. air freshener , room fragrance or linen mist , you are in your room 24/7
  13. Nicotine chewing gums, nicotine patches or vape, there will be NO smoking once you land til the end of QUARANTINE
Day 2 of 14 , they will give you a pink band where you have to write your passport or ID number yourself and keep it on until they cut it off you

Things I was glad to be reminded of list

  • GOOD COFFEE ! and a French press if you have one, my hotel provided 2 sachets of standard coffee/tea a day and took a few days to replenish
  • Good Creamer – I prefer milk, but a few times shops, through the Grab app, went out of stock, we were allowed 1 delivery a day which would be sent to your room after 7pm
  • clothes detergent – so important , because soaps can’t clean clothes and inner garments well
  • light attire – I was coming from very cold and wet England , make sure you have a few light clothings for day and night that are easy to hand wash and dry

Daily tips and usage of space

  • I did laundry every 3 days. There is LIMITED space so don’t procrastinate. I soaked the laundry in the sink for 1 hour, washed rinsed and washed again, and really squeezed out the access water, then drip dry overnight in the bathroom, the next morning transfer them in your cupboard keeping the cupboard door open for ventilation. it took 2 days for really light undergarments to dry and 3 days for t-shirts and light pants. To save space I did 3 pieces per day , panties and a shirt, enough to soak in the small bathroom sink and dry in the cupboard .
  • There is NO housekeeping, linen and fresh towels are delivered every 4 days, on fresh linen day, I dipped my hand towel in soapy water, rung out the access water and used it to mop the room floor. Put all your used towels in the clear plastic bag they give you and immediately leave it outside your door.
  • WIFI at the hotel was unreliable, I used my hotspot in times of need, especially when communicating with family and friends. Top up to make sure you have data available for your lowest points during your stay. Less stress , less frustration.
  • Make your bed. Keeping the room tidy and neat gave the room a sense of space and order. I put all the stuff I didn’t need packed in my suitcase and relied on the bare minimum.
  • Keep your AC unit to the coldest and full blast I found it helped keep the musky smell of the room to a minimum and helped dry clothes better.
Day 4 of 14. Mopped my own hotel room floor. All shiny.

Mental State of Being

There is this children’s story, thats remained in my memories since childhood . When I was teaching in Kindergarten , I would tell the story when kids get too rowdy, and in need of a quieter distraction. Its about this young boisterous boy who was horrible to his mother, so horrible that she had to lock him in his room. He continued to taunt his tired mum and showed no remorse for his actions so she said, ” …I will lock you in and throw away the room” You could hear him laugh from the other side of the door and shout into the keyhole ” You mean lock me in and throw away the KEY! THE KEY! NOT THE ROOM!” and laughed himself to sleep. But Mom really had thrown away the room. He woke up to dark silence, like the room was lost in another dimension. I’ll come back to you on the title once I find it, but don’t worry, this child’s tale had a happy resolution, that he learnt his lesson and was reunited with Mom, and not that he was banished forever 😉

I did feel a little bit like that boy, trapped in a room , trapped and lost in a distant memory or tossed into another dimension. Emotions are amplified, it was hard to find an outlet and without healthy distractions. There was all these noisy thoughts in my head and it was hard to quieten them down. It was important for me to recognise each emotion.

Emotional Roller Coaster

Sadness. This came from being away from people I love and daily distractions I had when I was “out there”. I had big windows that looked into grey office buildings. There was no sky. I couldn’t see past tops of buildings. The only refection from the sun was the hint of shine bouncing off glass and steel.

My view for the duration. Where is my sky?

Anxiety. This came from what has happening outside my world that I could not control. Social Media, current news, comments and commenting. A lot of it also came from reading the group messages between other quarantined guests, messages to people of authority who were supposed to supervise our requests and ensure our comfort. Every 10 mins or so requests will ping “we are Room 1816 Please send us water”” We are in room 1712 and have not received our meal, my 3 children have not had dinner” “Hello the room is dirty when we checked in, there are cigarette all over the floor, it has been 2 days now” …requests were ignored, not even responded to. I felt helpless until each get resolved. As quarantined guests we could not ignore messages coming in, incase important instructions came through.

Guilt. Guilt for the self pity, for sleeping in a comfortable bed, guilt for having running water , electricity, and food sent to you 3 times a day, while there are many out there without a roof over their heads, those stranded in war torn countries, those trapped in an abusive relationship…what right did I have to moan and grumble about the condition I was in?

Loss of Appetite. Halfway through Quarantine, food was no longer appetising. It may be depression and sense of pathetic resignation that the ability to choose was taken away from you for the duration.

Displacement. My emotions were on high alert. I was sensitive to words and flippant remarks, especially from people who I craved positive energy from. There was not one day I didn’t cry. Being in this solitary situation made everything bleak, hopeless and jaded, I was dangerously considering cutting ties with people I love.

Self Worth. The only physical human interaction were with the staff sending food. And they were covered from head to toe. Meals were placed outside your door. Official papers slipped under your door in silence. My pink tag was found just outside the door on the floor, the whole transaction seemed degrading, and dismissive , even if it was the SOP to avoid risk of contamination.

My Dos and Dont’s for coping

Take a shower twice a day. Even knowing that I would be in the room all day, I shower in the mornings and took advantage of the hot water for a long steam bath. I would put on day clothes. In the evening I’d shower again and change into pyjamas. To me it meant that a day is done and I’m getting closer to the end of my stay.

Stay off Social Media or minimise exposure to it. I tried my best to stay off Facebook, I forced myself to read even when the noise in my head was louder. Instagram was better that it had less words.

Don’t BINGE ON JUNK FOOD. It didn’t make me happy ordering 6 donuts from Jco (it was on offer) . I thought it would be a treat, but it worked the opposite because you are left feeling fat, pathetic and severely unhappy. Its not worth it for the 20 minutes of sugar high. We were able to order from Grabapp as long as it was dry food and not a “hot meal”. I stocked up the pantry with fruits, nuts, oat drinks and fibre crackers because it made me feel better making that healthy choice for myself.

My Headphones. Music always makes me feel better and helps release negative energy. I swayed and danced in my little space with the music on full blast. It took me away from the room.

Meditate. Almost everyone will tell you this. I was skeptical about meditation because of intense experiences from previous sessions. Its been 12 consecutive days now. 1GreatMind meditation app worked for me as a beginner, the tone is gentle and more importantly …forgiving. Its been an interesting journey and different each time. And kills 15 minutes of the day away. Will it resolve the stress for the rest of the day? No. But for that 15 minutes I could focus on learning to quiet the mind and pin point tensions in my body.

DIY Meditation Lamp with scarf

Be Kind. If you have a friend or family or partner in Quarantine, Be Kind. Those last words said can either lift a soul or destroy it. I looked forward to routine chats and videos of my loved ones. Yet intense conversations would leave me abandoned in a dark place until it gets resolved. My reactions would be different in a normal situation, yet it wasn’t a normal situation, I was in this box to deal with feelings and not able to walk away or channel the hurt elsewhere. Messages and photos from home helped me feel connected to normalcy.

Stay Fit. My routine was simple , an hour after breakfast or coffee I would work through these, recommended by GermaniFitness for the small space I was in.

Warm up
1 mins stationary jog
1 min inch worm
1 min jump jacks

10 Jump squats
10 suicide burpees
10 push ups
10 alt lunges

2 mins stationary jog

Ambiance.Keep your space clean and tidy. I am messy by nature. My work space has always been chaotic, I pile my clothes and usually am last-minute-dresser, my toothbrush will never be in the same place, and towels usually end up flung on a chair or at the end my bed. I found NOT being me helped bring more zen space into my room. Neat surfaces, made beds, and soft lighting in the evenings softened the anxiety and made breathing easier.

Tonight is my last night in the box. Tomorrow morning, officers will go floor by floor to release us. They will bang on my door, escort me down and the releasing process begins. We were advised to check everything before leaving the room, because going back into our rooms meant entering back into a RED ZONE. The perfect poetic closure to 14 days in Quarantine, NO WAY IN HELL WILL I look back when I leave this room, I will be looking forward and upwards.

Tomorrow. I will see the sky.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. quiall says:

    Reading your account was touching and horrifying at the same time. It was an ordeal I hope you never have to repeat. But I think it will help other people to understand what others go through. I commend you for sharing your trials. I hope you feel better now that you’re out of your box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Penang Local says:

      Thank you for letting me share this with you. I’m within hours of checking out and I’m shaking with happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

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