Suggestions for dealing with isolation — from someone who spent many years bedridden.

9 min readMar 19, 2020

By Kate M. Nicholson

Painted image of a heart with colorful droplets emanating from it and the word heal written in large blue letters.
Renee Stout, “How We Heal” (2019). Courtesy of the artist.

On a crisp September day in 1994, while my friends headed out for a hike in the Shenandoah’s, I lay in my apartment in bed. Ordinarily, I would have joined them. But three weeks earlier, I had suddenly become unable to sit or stand, and severely limited in walking. Those three weeks would stretch to more than 15 years, during which most of my time would be spent in physical isolation and in bed.

That evening, my friends brought their day back to me. They arrived at my door with goldenrods and purple asters, newly harvested apples, and groceries to prepare a fall feast. As we dined, they described their hike in vivid detail — recounting how the verdant hills were beginning to turn, spotted with vibrant reds from a few precocious oaks and the nascent yellows of ash trees. This vicarious tour and their companionship helped me to feel as though nothing had changed, even though — for me — much had.

The funny thing about sudden life change is that the world continues to move impossibly forward. Aspects of one’s former life intrude into the present, demanding attention. Like many people with disabilities, I learned quickly to adapt my job as well. By using available technology, I was able to continue to work.

Figuring out how to navigate in new circumstances is essential to living one’s best life. I offer a few reflections and resources, since most of us now are experiencing some form of isolation.

Thought # 1: Continue to do your thing — just do it differently.

Even though digital technology is ubiquitous, relying on technology as a mainstay may feel initially cold and awkward. As professors struggle to get courses up on line, a law professor friend mentioned that she asked students to introduce their pets to break the ice and add warmth in her first online class. Tilt West Board Member, Bianca Mikhan, who is a hip hop performer, put out a call on Facebook, inviting others to join her in a freestyle challenge. Improvisation seems an apt metaphor for the adjustments we are making right now — we are all freestyling.

Whatever your passion, find ways to engage it. While binging on junk food and entertainment might feel…


Tilt West is a nonprofit org based in Denver. Our mission is to promote critical discourse focused on arts and culture for our region and beyond.