Marcie Callewaert poses for a selfie with her Shitzhu is Yoda.

COVID-19: Stepping away from the ordinary

Freelance writer Marcie Callewaert talks about her self-isolation in Ahousaht

Marcie Callewaert

Special to the Westerly

I didn’t think writing about my experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic would be difficult. But as I sit here, starting over repeatedly, I realize that within the days I have been self-isolating, I have gone through every emotion in the books.

It’s been very difficult navigating this changing social climate – especially as a social and physical person who enjoys hugging friends. Suddenly, I feel very cut off from those around me. I have had to remind myself repeatedly that there are other ways to connect and make sure I am taking advantage of them. But it’s important to remember, every day that we step further away from the ordinary brings us closer to a return to normal.

I live in Ahousaht and our Chief and council made the decision to restrict the travel of non community members into the village relatively early.

This meant stopping contractors from coming in to work on key construction projects, but it was a necessary step. Because we are so isolated already, cutting off outside visitors immediately reduces the risk of the virus spreading to us. Housing is limited in the village and homes are crowded. The virus would spread quickly if it made its way here. I still worry immensely about our community members travelling to larger urban areas for supplies but we have to trust that everyone is taking as many precautions as possible and do all we can to protect ourselves in the meantime.

Even though self-isolation can create an “every man for thyself” mentality, Ahousaht has pulled together as a community.

Seafood deliveries have been shared at the dock often – fresh cod, salmon, crabs, hiishtuup (chiton) and tuutsup (sea urchin) – which is keeping villagers fed with traditional foods.

There have also been deliveries of other essential groceries and supplies to households in the village by our leadership. The Emergency Operations Centre has been activated and they are monitoring boats and passenger travel in and out of the village and co-ordinating the community response.

We’re all spending a lot more time on social media at the moment and one post I have seen circulating talks about how those with everyday anxiety struggles are handling COVID-19 crisis better than most due to their familiarity with general anxiety… except here’s the thing, I certainly am not!

In the initial days of self-isolation, the business closures, accepting a failed start to the tourist season, and wondering how we would survive financially, my anxiety was at the highest I have ever experienced. My heart was racing, hand tremors made it impossible to do anything with finesse, and I had headaches that kept me in bed. But once I recognized that my mental health was slipping, I began taking steps to take better care of myself and limit my time online or watching the news.

Even though we are being encouraged to stay home, and Facebook is full of memes about saving the world by staying on your couch, to me, self-isolation doesn’t mean sitting on the couch all day. I haven’t turned on Netflix once.

We have several animals, so there is a lot of cuddling time with the dogs and cat, time spent with the bunnies and gathering them fresh green treats, and afternoon coffee with the chickens in the back yard. I am also making an effort to get into nature.

Putting our mental health first and how we do that is going to look different for everyone.

Being out in my garden wasn’t enough for me.

My depression episodes became more frequent and deeper and I soon realized I needed to be out on the ocean and beaches as well. As soon as I began thinking of Vitamin Sea as an official part of my mental health routine, things started to improve. I think as long as we are maintaining our physical distancing practices, time outside our own yards is a very good thing, when possible.

As we continue to face the uncertainty before us, how we come together as a community to support one another and our frontline workers in various industries, will determine how we come out the other side of this pandemic.

Continue to hold each other up and remember, this is only temporary.

READ: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, other First Nations mobilize resources

READ: Ahousaht First Nation closes community to non-residents

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