Social Distancing Alone as an Expat During COVID-19

COVID-19 seemed so far away when I first heard about it. I didn’t consider how quickly it could spread and that it would effect every single person on this planet. Like most of us, when I moved abroad, I didn’t consider what it would be like if a global pandemic were to occur.

Feeling distant from home

I can tell friends and family back home are worried about me because the “how are you doing?” question has become ever more frequent. If I am honest, I’d been too busy worrying about them, and didn’t see myself as someone who needed to be worried about.

Knowing I was just a 90-minute flight away from home had brought me comfort over the 3.5 years that I’ve been living abroad. I’d always said to myself that if something were to happen, I could get on the next flight and be home within approx 5 hours. But when my flight home to the UK got cancelled, followed by a holiday with my best friend, I started to feel it. This is probably the first time that I’ve felt I am really far away.

The main thing that has kept me going, and that I keep replaying in my mind, is that my mum and aunt came to visit me just before things made a turn for the worst, and my sister turned up as a surprise. I was extremely grateful at the time, but now even more so, given that I no longer know when I’ll next be able to leave Germany.

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My mum, aunt and sister visiting me in Frankfurt at the start of March 2020.

Reading the news

To begin with, I was checking the stats everyday. But repetitively refreshing the page as I saw the number of infected people increase rapidly (especially in the UK)  was not good for my mental health. I was constantly being forwarded WhatsApp messages with bad news, and I felt it was getting too much. So I stopped refreshing the news and if I receive a forwarded voice note or super long message about Corona, I don’t read it.
Of course, I still check the news, but not in a way that doesn’t allow me to think about anything else. And to be honest, since doing this, I’ve felt much better.

Social Distancing conditions in Frankfurt, Hessen

Germany’s social distancing rules are set according to each state. In Hessen, the rules are as follows until 19.04.2020, which is when we will receive further information:

  • Everyone who can WFH must do so
  • Schools/ universities are closed
  • Museums, cinemas, zoos, gyms etc are closed
  • Parks are open
  • Restaurants can serve takeaway only and must close by 6pm
  • You are only allowed out in groups of 2 if you do not live together

The good weather is helping, but it’s generally just so quiet, almost eery. I live in quite a busy area and when I went to the supermarket in the evening, I felt like it was 3am. So. quiet.

Working from home

I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and I really am grateful for this. The first week was a struggle as it’s important for me to have physical separation between office life and home life, and this has of course been impossible.

Whilst I am able to get on with my daily job, I do work with some amazing people who I miss not seeing on a daily basis. Video calls just aren’t the same. There’s no more bouncing ideas off each other and laughing at random stuff.

But over one month in and I am more or less accustomed to working from home. In fact, having to work from home during COVID-19 is the least of my worries.

My worries

I am worried about my grandparents.
I am worried about the NHS. More specifically, my friends who work for the NHS.
I was worried when Germany went into lockdown and the UK was still carrying on as normal.
I am worried about the amount of deaths in ratio to the amount of intensive care units in the UK.
I am worried about my friend from London who lives and works in Italy.
I am worried about the people who live in abusive homes but are now forced to stay indoors because it’s ‘safe’.

Living alone throughout the lockdown is not worrying me. And if I am honest, not seeing people regularly is not bothering as much as I thought it would. My heart aches to see my nephew but that’s just something I have to accept.

In an odd way, I feel that having to social distance has taken me back to when I first arrived in Germany as an expat. I spent so much time on my own and, to a degree, it kind of feels like that again. However, I am aware that it’s easy for me to say this now that I am fully settled in Frankfurt. I’m sure I would be in a completely different mental state if this had happened when I first arrived.

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An empty Frankfurt park in spring.

How I am keeping busy?

I write, read, cook, clean, talk on the phone, do video calls, go out for exercise and do random YouTube tutorials. I’m sure it’s not too different to what other people are getting up to. I must admit though, I have not yet been bored. Being such a busy body, even when we’re stuck indoors, really seems to be making the days go quickly.

We are living through an unpredictable, historical time. It’s bizarre to think that in generations to come, students will answer questions on the COVID-19 pandemic in their exams. The foreseeable future may be uncertain but for now important we look after ourselves, look after others, and continue to social distance.

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