Written by sociologist Milda Pivoriūrė.
Already in March, following the mass media reports from all over the world and being on the verge of introducing quarantine in Lithuania, it was obvious that it was a special time for social scientists to explore people's daily lives and how they are being influenced by such rare and unique circumstances when the comprehensible world and the accustomed routine started to shatter and collapse. For the first time in history, a global catastrophe has forced a huge part of the world's population to stay at home, to isolate themselves, and to maintain physical and, in a way, social distance. Due to the quarantine, we started to live according to a completely new and unusual set of rules; if the rules were not followed, we could be punished by infecting ourselves or infecting others, by experiencing pressure from the society or even a penalty imposed by the police. We were encouraged to discipline ourselves and observe whether others discipline themselves as well. People were all separated and united at the same time: living in the time of a virus with a major impact to the world.
The sociological intuition was telling me that it was important to skip the waiting and to start collecting data as soon as possible, because the days of new unusual times had already started. That is why I chose preliminary research guidelines and on March 15 I published an invitation on social networks to participate in the research. I asked people to write a diary for at least a month (during the quarantine) and to tell about their everyday life and its changes, about the positive and negative experiences of the quarantine, and then to share these diaries with me. The participants could choose any form of the diary they like, but they had to write it following the guidelines and questions that I have provided. 177 people answered the call, and in the end 125 people remained. The rest withdrawn from the research because they could not manage to write their diaries regularly. For now I have collected all the diaries, but I have read only a part of them. Therefore this summer I will have a lot of interesting work reading the rest and trying to make some conclusions. Meanwhile I would like to share some insights.
One of the most memorable and recurrent motive in the diaries were the descriptions of how people were preparing to go shopping: both psychologically and physically; how they behaved and felt in the shop and after returning home. It reminded me of Tarkovsky's film "Stalker" – when he was preparing to go to the Zone. One of the daily routines that is common to all of us – shopping – has become an activity that requires conscious preparation, attention and caution. The shop has turned into a space of threats and dangers, where every surface and person is monitored, and their bodies, movements and breathing are controlled. One participant noticed that the most difficult thing was not the fear of the surrounding surfaces, but the fear of her own body, as if it was an enemy to itself: “In the morning, I am afraid to rub my eyes until I wash my hands. It’s frustrating that every touch must be well planned and accompanied by a calculation of the potential threat. <...> However, you can't compare it to the feeling that you experience outdoors, as if everything, including your hands, is covered in some nasty coat.”
The experience when common everyday activities suddenly became dangerous, made many participants to feel a sense of derealization: it was too hard to believe that what was happening was real, it was not a dream or an apocalyptic film. For example, it seemed surreal to see people dressed in white and wearing respirators disinfecting a trolleybus or measuring a temperature of those who arrive at the airport. It seemed that such experiences can only be seen in movies. One woman mentioned the feeling of relief when you wake up after a nightmare – it’s so great that I am back to reality! At the beginning of the quarantine, it seemed that every time when you woke up, you could not feel this relief because you woke up in another nightmare, where the epidemic was still raging and you were imprisoned at home: „I wake up in another nightmare, which is full of fear, stress, different theories about the virus, and I can’t tell myself what exactly do I believe and what exactly am I afraid of.”
Nearly all of participants had feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, ignorance and insecurity during the first weeks of quarantine. For the first time, many of them had to experience that due to some external circumstances they could no longer control their lives and plan their future. It seemed that their lives suddenly had changed the direction and no longer belonged to them, which made them feel helpless and insecure. The insecurity has also grown because there were many unknown facts about the virus and the quarantine not only for ordinary people, but also for health professionals, scientists and politicians: the virus is new and unfamiliar, and it seems there is no strong authority to reassure and bring clarity to the people.
Despite these difficulties, the quarantine has also brought some positive experiences, which I will reveal in the future, presenting the detailed results of the study.