March 17 - April 3, 2020
I had been working on a cruise ship in Hawaii for almost three months. On March 16th, I started feeling feverish at work. A few days later, the ship's medical team sent me to a hospital in Honolulu for COVID testing. When I got back to the ship, I was put in isolation in one of the guest rooms for 16 days. I wasn’t allowed to leave the room except to go on the balcony. My test results ended up coming back positive, but my symptoms went away after a few days.
Before getting on the ship, I was working full-time, but I was also doing the things that I loved. I was out taking photos in the blistering cold Michigan winter almost everyday, seeing and talking to my best friends and family on a regular basis, traveling often, exercising, learning new things, and even though I hadn't realized it at the time, I was happy with doing just that.
Working on the ship, I wasn’t very happy. I had been working 60-70 hours a week, no days off. The hardest part for me was not having enough time or cell service to talk to my friends or family. I missed dozens of calls from the people that I had always made a point to keep in close touch with. I usually worked breakfast and dinner shift, so I would have the afternoons off. Most days, I would just sleep in between shifts.
I felt like I had lost myself. I went the first month without taking a single photo and I didn't even really have energy to think about creating. Between the lack of time and cell service while out at sea, I hardly talked to anyone outside the ship. It was really weird. I felt like I was losing touch with my own self, my passions, and my loved ones.
I signed up for that lifestyle, and by all means, I'm not writing this to complain about the job. I learned a lot during those couple months, I met some amazing people, and I'm really thankful for the experience. The point is, ship life just wasn't for me and I had hit a pretty hard low before the pandemic.
The whole time I was in isolation, I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to be in there and was told something different everyday – most days I wasn’t told anything. I kept being told new dates for when I would leave.
I realized almost immediately that, however long I would be in there, I wanted to document the experience and capture how I was feeling to give myself a solid story to look back on. I started writing in my journal and taking photos every day. I ended up shooting 3 rolls of film while in that room and writing down whatever came to mind. Here are some excerpts from my journal:
Day 5: Saturday, March 21, 2020
I had a fever a few days ago so they think I have coronavirus. I was sent to the hospital to get the test, so I’m waiting until Monday for the results to arrive. The experience at the hospital was surreal. They put me on a stretcher and brought me to the hospital in an ambulance. I’ve never been in an ambulance. I told them I was fine, but they asked me to get in anyway. At the hospital, anyone who might have had the virus is set up for testing in an outdoor tent/garage-looking area with cubicles for each patient. The doctors and nurses were dressed in full body suits and masks. It felt really apocalyptic.
I’m in one of the guest suites now, but the balcony is locked off so I can’t go outside. Every time I open the door to the room, I have to wear a mask. The room service people who deliver my food drop the tray on the ground and then stand about 10ft away while I pick up the items off the tray. They also have to wear masks and gloves. The nurse has been coming to take my temperature everyday and she’s dressed in a full body suit and mask. I feel like a prisoner of sorts, but I feel relaxed inside because I know that this will be something to look back on. In the long run, this may be something I learn to appreciate, really.
Day 6: Sunday, March 22, 2020
My friends from the ship keep asking me questions like “are you the one with coronavirus?” and “are you the reason the ship’s in lockdown?". Even people I don’t know are talking about me and asking me questions. It was all starting to get to me, but now I’m realizing it’s just kind of funny. I don’t feel sick, so it’s really strange to be treated like this.
Day 7: Monday, March 23, 2020
I called the hospital this morning to check on my test results. They said that things are backed up so it may take another 3-4 days. It looks really nice out today and I just want to go outside, but I can’t. I’ve been in a good mood today, though. I’m trying to stay positive.
Day 8: Tuesday, March 24, 2020
They finally opened my balcony door this morning. I hadn’t been outside in 8 days, other than when I went to the hospital to get tested. I laid outside all day today. I’m grateful to be somewhere warm so I can enjoy the sun. Being quarantined isn’t ideal, but I’m realizing that my situation is not as bad as it could be. I don’t think I have the virus, but if I do, I'm glad that I feel so much better already. I watched the news today and a lot of people are dying.
The staff captain called me tonight and told me that I’ll have to stay in here until at least Friday. Nothing they’re telling me really adds up, but I'm trying not to argue with them. I'm just happy to be able to go outside though. It sort of feels like a vacation after not having a day off for over 2 months. I’ve been taking baths a lot lately and meditating. Two things I never did before this. It feels good. I feel good.
Day 11: Friday, March 27, 2020
I’m reading a book about a prisoner recounting his experience and I'm having a strange realization. The author says, “his existence has become provisional. A small time unit, a day, for example, filled with fatigue, appeared endless. A larger time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly”.
I’m realizing that this is exactly how life on the ship had been. And I’m hearing in my head people telling me how “the days drag by, and the weeks fly by”. Is it dramatic to think that we were suffering from the same type of mental/physical exhaustion as those in prison?
This realization is kind of disturbing. Realizing that we were all dulled down people, just working all the time. I would try to get out and enjoy Hawaii as much as I could, but even I started to get to a point where all I was doing was sleeping, eating, and working – sometimes drinking too. But that’s not a life I want to live. And obviously I know that we didn’t have it as bad as prisoners, it still feels like that really wasn’t a worthwhile life – regardless of the money.
Anyways, I'm kind of glad this whole virus happened. And even though I’m not making as much money and I’m isolated in a room, I’m still much happier just having time to be an actual person.
Day 13: Sunday, March 29, 2020
I had a dream that I was on the beach looking for shells. There were hundreds of huge conch shells everywhere. I realized I had just by chance come to the beach at the perfect time. I looked around for the best one, but each time I went to get it, someone else had already picked it up. Apparently, everyone was there looking for shells…
Day 15: Tuesday, March 31, 2020
I’ve been feeling quite inspired these past few days. I just discovered this photographer named Bieke Depoorter who spent months riding the trans Siberian train to small cities in Russia where she would stay the night with any stranger who would let her. Her photos picture the families she stayed with and their homes. Her photos are so intimate. They really make me feel something. Maybe it’s the beauty in the fact that a family would let a stranger into their home. Well, I don’t really know what it is, but it’s there. I want to evoke that kind of emotion in my work. I’ve realized that I’m fascinated with emotion, and especially people who express it. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been good at doing that myself.
Sunday, April 5, 2020
I’m on the plane heading home. There are only 2 other people on this plane with me. I’m thinking about everything and this all feels like a weird dream. The ship already feels like so long ago. All I know is I’m relieved to be going home. A wave of calmness set in and it feels good knowing that I made the right decision. I feel really lucky to have had the experience that I did and to be healthy.
I think it’s so important to recognize and embrace both the good and bad moments in life. Recognizing these moments is what allows you to identify the difference between the two. I always find myself thinking “I’m gonna look back on this one day and laugh” or “I’m gonna really miss this one day” just to remind myself to LIVE that moment and embrace it and appreciate it for what it is. I think it’s important to do that with the bad things too, and to understand that neither the good things nor bad things will last forever.
I wrote all of this only 6 weeks ago, and it’s already really strange for me to look back on. Those couple weeks grounded me and made me realize so much. It was a time for me to reflect on myself, my life, my feelings, my health, and my art. I also understood that sometimes the most negative aspect of something is your mindset. I came out of it feeling a strong appreciation for simple things, like being able to talk to family and friends, and even just having family and friends to talk to. Seeing the sun and being warm. Having a healthy and abled body/mind. Being able to feel emotions, good and bad. Simple, little things that I realized I had taken for granted before the whole ship experience.
If you know me, you know that I’m a pretty guarded person. Openly talking about my emotions doesn't happen often or easily for me, so sharing my journal and these photos is a really uncomfortable thing. Still though, I felt that the lessons that I learned were important ones so I wanted to share it.
Looking back on it now, the point of the story is to document a negative thing turning positive - also to appreciate the good and the bad for what they are. I think that’s something we’re all working on right now, so I hope this reminds anyone who needs it not to worry so much about the little things. These times are hard for everyone, especially those dealing with sickness and death, but I really think there’s something positive we can take away from it all.