The Strangers Project is a collection of over 60,000 handwritten, anonymous stories shared spontaneously by strangers. For the past decade I’ve been collecting stories out in the real world—no online submissions. While I do share stories daily online on Instagram, Facebook, and my website—every story was originally written in the real world from the strangers I met.
When the 2020 pandemic hit I decided to reach out to the community to send in stories around the theme of “what it’s like being you—right now.”
Over the coming weeks I will be sharing these quarantine stories with you.
If you would like to share your own experience during this pandemic and learn more about the project, please click here.
Quarantine Stories: Part I
The following is a selection of ten stories sent in over the past week. These can be read in any order. More stories to come.
April 4, 2020
Life has been weird. Normal & unnormal at the same time.
In the past, nothing have stopped my parents from working. They continue to operate their little Chinese restaurant, even under tornado warnings, big thunderstorms, black-outs, you name it.
They are quite the hard-working pair — working 6 (12hr) days a week, no matter what. Until this pandemic hit.
As soon as news hit that a resident in our town tested positive for COVID-19, they shut their doors. It has officially been 2 whole weeks of self-isolation at home — the longest period of time they have taken off of work in the past 12 yrs.
We have watched a lot of dramas, messed around with lots of recipes, napped a lot, & stress eat while watching & reading the news.
The ability to live a some-what “normal” life where my parents didn’t have to work so hard every day, where our family could actually eat meals together, where there was no pressure of the family business was a dream of mine when I was little.
So weird that my dream of a some-what “normal” life is coming true admist the very not normal.
What is normal anyways?
And just like that, it’s April. Springtime is meant to be spent revelling in the crisp, cool air and the long-awaited sunshine with friends and strangers in the park. I got a small taste of this right before i rushed out of New York a few weeks ago.
Before self-isolation, I was finally finding ways to escaper my mental and emotional winter rut, which was particularly difficult this year. Suffering from season affective disorder, this time of the year is meant to be my light in the dark. Just a few weeks ago, I was finally taking care of my mind and my heart. I was seeing a therapist through my school resources. I was sleeping on a proper, healthy schedule. I developed a morning routine spent with my journal and a cup of tea. Taking these small steps were the beginning to finding peace and security within myself. All of this has been ripped away from me in self-isolation. I’m slowly retreating to the darkness of my mind.
I feel guilty for even feeling this way when I’m privileged enough to even practice self-isolation and social distancing at home with my family. People are battling at the frontlines. People are sick. People are dying. Our world is suffering. It feels trivial and wrong for me to feel what I’m feeling now. I feel selfish, but, oddly enough, I know my feelings are valid…It just doesn’t feel right. Nothing does right now.
-Somewhere in Northern California
I really wish I wasn’t here right now.
Being cooped up in a house has taken its toll on me. I feel like I’m going mad. Just interlocked behind these four walls. Been inside forever no friends no visitors.
Inside is like an eternal darkness for me. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, just pitch black. I’m reaching out for the end but I just can’t see it. I’ve lost all sense in direction. I NEED ASSISTANCE! I need you to guide me through the tunnel, for my eyes cannot see anymore. Hold my hand and look me in the face and tell me it will be alright.
Guidance is all we need through these dark times we just need to help each other anyway we can. We may not agree politically, religously, or just not have the same beliefs as each other, but there is still hope and we need to fight together. As a family! We all need to be those bandages and patch up the world one at a time. I’m just a kid from Winfield Kansas with one dream. That dream is to be together.
i’ve taken this time in quarantine to try and find myself. discover my self identity. and boy is that EXCRUCIATING and has pummeled me into depression!! i’m envious of those who just exude instant identity. i want to stand out but i don’t think it’s right to try so hard to do so (at least as hard as i do). i don’t even know why it’s so important to me. maybe it’s because i’m in the entertainment industry and they kick you to the curb if you’re just like everyone else. maybe it’s because i’m 19 and quite literally going through Erikson’s identity stage of psychosocial development. maybe i’m just self absorbed. but it’s just so important to me right now and what better time to figure it out than being inside all day infinitely. i’m constantly battling between 2 hypocritical quotes…
“You don’t find yourself, you create yourself” vs. “you are enough as you are”
and honestly i’ve lost hope and gotten real sad these last 2 weeks…but today?? today i randomly cut BANGS and HOLY SHIT it made me feel so good. i’ve never felt more myself, whoever that may be. it’s just the little things. who knew??? bangs!!! when we’re quite literally in the middle of a global pandemic + the world is falling apart, it’s really the little things that are gonna get us by. GO CUT BANGS MY FRIENDS. everyone pls go cut bangs.
Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t have enough control over my life. I’m stuck living in a house where I’ve been subjected to physical violence by two of my family members. I find myself fresh out of forgiveness and understanding for all my four immediate family members often spending most of my life trying to excuse some of their behaviours as well as trying to protect them from their own tendency for making very bad life decisions. Ironically I have decided to put my foot down to violations of my physical and psychological boundaries when I don’t have any where else to go in order to put distance between myself and the very people who drag me to a dark place I’ve spent all my life crawling out of.
I cut off my bangs in a spur of a moment to practice whatever little control I felt I had at the time.
My closest friend lives about 400 km away from me. My support group consists of my three best friends on a whatsapp group chat and my boyfriend. My boyfriend, though not for a lack of trying doesn’t understand me very well. It’s not his fault: He’s had a relatively normal life as opposed to my very fucked up one.
But even as I write this, I have food in my belly and a lot more in the kitchen. I have a cosy bed waiting for me. My big beautiful dog is asleep on my feet: I’m blessed in more ways than I can count.
Yet my demons and past traumas are separated by a very thin veil of hope and sanity. As I was venting to my girls today, one of them said:
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. you may not see it today but you might see it tomorrow. Just keep walking and breathe.”
Her words made me feel better.
New York City
The past couple of days, I can’t help but feel like an elephant that got swallowed by a snake. Like in the little prince, I think. It was in one of the books that my dad read to me growing up.
I look at my life right now from an outside point of view and I see someone stuck in quicksand. It felt like I was just getting things together, at least a little bit.
Being in quarantine reminds me of what it was like to get sent away at seventeen. I keep having to remind myself that I am no longer the person I was and that I have more control over my life now. That this is not only happening to me. That I am not depressed and spiralling out of control; at least not the way I was then.
I’m looking at this an realizing my writing isn’t straight, and I’m trying to not get down on myself about it. I am still learning to be okay with not being perfect.
I woke up from a nap fifteen minutes ago, after having a dream that I was doing drugs again. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if it was real or not, and I was scared. I don’t want to be the person that I was. I don’t want to lose my friends, or my family, or my community.
I guess quarantine hasn’t really taken those things away,
(I just have to reach out & find them again)
04/04/20 — United Kingdom.
I feel afraid to say it out loud, but this world pandemic has allowed me to relax for the first time in years.
I work with young people in crisis and feel as though everyday is tragic. Everyday young people are unwell, are suicidal + are suffering. And like a sponge, I take it all on. I suck it up everyday.
And I am tired of the suffering of the ongoing crisis — that never ends. I am so sad, that it has taken for a global trauma for me to realize this.
Right now I am asking myself — what can I manage today?
So far the answer has been, some lovely walks with my dog. Baking loads of cookies. & watching Harry Potter with a cup of tea.
Today is April 4th, 2020. I started antidepressants about a month ago, right about that time COVID-19 was making headlines in the US. I was a ball of nerves. That same day I was required to attend a victim impact panel. To say the least it as an emotionally charged day. I ended up hysterical on my walk home that evening, out of breath, sobbing and blurry-eyed. Reality was sinking in.
-I have depression. I drove drunk. I don’t know what the future holds.-
Today, after sheltering in place for the past 2 weeks, I feel remarkably well. I usually fear isolation and not being able to interact with friends. But I’m not, I’m content and dare I say, happy. Happy has been hard for me to come by, so this is a welcome change of pace. I’m still stressed and scared, about my health, about my family’s health, about everyone who is an essential worker. But I’m finding peace with myself during this tumultuous time. I am looking inward for happiness and it is showering me graciously.
my mind has been very loud these days, but one thought that keeps returning is this:
I wonder if one of the reasons that quarantine is such a daunting concept to our society is that we are finally being forced to truly sit with ourselves — to listen to them instead of avoiding + escaping from them? (or is it just me?)
this is a time that will
either heal us or break us
but it’s our choice.
let’s choose to
heal our world
by stepping back -
stepping inside —
to heal ourselves
April 4th, 2020
When the whole world stops, time is supposed to slow down, right? Instead I feel every minute shed from my life like autumn leaves. It’s almost as if I can hear every tick of a clock. There are all moments I’ll never get back. Day turns into night then back to day. The cycle of anxiety never ends.
I recently turned 21. I am so young and I already have a weird relationship with time. How will I get to live my life?
My dad has Covid-19. Last week I had to call 911 because he couldn’t breathe. Luckily he came home from the hospital the same day. He is okay. I am okay. But will we always be okay?
I am sitting at my desk drinking tea. I am thankful for the sunlight that fills my room. I have found a moment of calm in the storm. I will take some more deep breaths.
IN OUT IN OUT IN OUT
Back into the storm I go