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I’ve Been In Isolation In Italy For Two Weeks, And As I Watch Everything Happen Back Home, I feel Like I’m Living In The Future With A Message In A Bottle.

My husband and I came to Italy a month or so ago to do a run of concerts with our band. Shortly after we arrived, the pandemic hit Italy hard and the concerts were cancelled. We were then supposed to return to the U.S. to record a new album, but the recording sessions were cancelled as well, so we decided to stay here, rather than risk unnecessary international travel.

We’ve been self-quarantined in Italy for about two weeks now. The country has been on a national lockdown since March 10, but we saw how fast the virus was spreading and decided to self-isolate in advance of the government’s orders. Now, Italy is at the forefront of the COVID-19’s destruction.

I want to share my perspective, and perhaps some advice for people back home, because as you’ve probably seen by now, what’s happening here in Italy is coming to the U.S. and possibly every country on Earth — a tsunami of very sick people will overwhelm the nation’s healthcare system, and the only solution we have is to “flatten the curve” by staying home.

This is going to be a long ride. If the experience of Italy and China is any guide, expect around a month of complete isolation, maybe more. This is a very serious health crisis, and it should be taken very seriously.

It’s especially hard to watch what’s going on back home and not be frightened by what seems like a patchwork response that has been, at best, agonizingly slow and, at worst, horribly negligent.

We’ve been trying to tell our friends and family how things are here and what to prepare for. In many ways, it feels like we’re living in the future, trying to get a message in a bottle back to the present in the U.S.

Left: September 2018, Right: Today at 5:30 p.m. in Italy. Via Fillungo is the main street that runs through the heart of town in Lucca, Italy. Normally, the street is packed throughout the day — especially in the evening — but, for the last few weeks, no matter the hour, the street has been deserted. Photos by Vanessa Peters.

If your experience with self-isolation is anything like what myself and others here in Italy have experienced, you will go through the familiar five stages of grief:

  1. You will start by denying that this pandemic is really happening, or thinking that maybe it won’t affect you, and you can continue life as normal.
  2. You will become quite angry when you realize how badly this is going to affect you, what with the possible loss of income and plans that won’t materialize.
  3. You will try to bargain your way out of it, to find some way of avoiding the inevitable loss.
  4. You might become depressed when the reality sinks in.
  5. Lastly, you will hopefully accept what’s happening as inevitable and become more constructive with your time in quarantine.

There is a temptation to maintain a razor-sharp focus on the bad news cycle. Please, for your own well-being, break this habit. At least for the time being, accept your powerlessness over outside life. It’s important to give yourself necessary time to check the news in order to stay informed, but don’t allow it to consume you.

I’m as angry as you are about the complete failure of leadership, the flat-footedness of the responses to this pandemic, and the lies and the corruption scandals already bubbling to the surface.

There’s going to be even more bad news, we can all bank on that.

There will be time for pitchforks later — but, for now, we just have to get through this immediate unfolding crisis.

My recommendation: Turn off the TV, put down your device and use the time you will be spending alone to expand yourself. Create some art, grab that book you’ve been meaning to finish or maybe even write your own book. Play your instrument. Get some exercise. Learn some new recipes. Meditate.

Take this time to love yourself and those around you with kindness and positive choices, and find the things that bring you joy and bring joy to others.

There have been many unexpected surprise benefits of all this so far. The city here is amazingly peaceful with almost absolute silence all day, every day. It’s calming, serene and meditative. There’s a hyperactive blackbird that I’d never heard before; now I hear it every night around 6 p.m., and I look forward to listening for its song.

I have never in my life slowed down so much.

Generally speaking, people here are being very good to one another and, while there has been some bad behavior, the crisis has mostly brought out the best in people.

We can be models of the behavior we want and need to see right now. We need to, really.

So, please, just stay home. And be good to yourself and to each other.

It’s the best any of us can do right now.

Vanessa Peters is a Dallas native and singer-songwriter who has released 12 albums and toured extensively across the U.S. and Europe. She funded her next album of original material titled Modern Age on Kickstarter and was due to begin recording the album this week in Austin with her band The Electrofonics before COVID-19 derailed their plans.

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