'Soulless and dead': Aussies in New York reveal their 'depressing' coronavirus reality

Marni Dixit
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

As coronavirus cases continue to rise worldwide, New York City has become the epicentre of the pandemic with almost 5,000 deaths and more than one third of all cases in the US, which currently sits at over 367,000.

And for Australians and New Zealanders living in New York, it's been seriously tough watching the city they love become "soulless".

New York City is the city most affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the entire world. Photo: Getty

‘The soul of the city is dead’

Rachel Wintle and husband Giles Clayton have lived in New York for a year and spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle about what it's like living in the normally vibrant city as the pandemic continues to spread.

While the situation has intensified there quite quickly, Rachel admits even she wasn't taking things so seriously a few weeks ago.

"A month ago I was saying things that I am embarrassed of now. Without knowing just how contagious this thing is and that it doesn't just affect old people and it just seems so naive knowing how many people are dying every day now. And whilst most people did have underlying conditions or are elderly, you read stuff everyday about a 30-year-old in healthcare, or a 50-year-old musician. It's very very real," she said.

While the news shows us quite a depressing view of New York, the couple revealed that when they go out on the street, it doesn't feel as bad as what we see in the news because they can't physically see the horrors of what's happening in hospitals around the city.

Rachel said, "When you're cooped up in your own environment you're disconnected from the horror even though it's happening on your doorstep."

She also added that one of the saddest parts of the whole situation is seeing what's happening to small businesses, "It's just sad seeing so many of the local businesses close and the soul of the city is dead."

Giles went on to say that it's a very strange time in New York at the moment because after a long winter, it's finally starting to heat up and it's normally quite an exciting time for people.

Rachel Wintle and husband Giles Clayton have lived in New York for a year and have revealed what it's like watching the city they love become 'soulless'. Photo: Rachel Wintle

He said, "Last week on a really nice day it kind of felt like the neighbourhood was buzzing in a weird way. Even though everyone's keeping their distance and walking around... So it's kind of bizarre when you're watching TV and it's so dire and New York is the [hardest hit] place, but when you go outside it's kind of fine and kind of happy?"

When asked what she missed most about New York, Rachel said, "I think small businesses and bars and restaurants, without that New York is just a whole lot of buildings."

"Without all of that industry, which is bodegas, delis, bars and restaurants and small businesses, it's just buildings and it's concrete and it's soulless and dead. And it's sad. And there's less outdoors here, it's all built around going out and socialising."

‘New meaning to claustrophobia’

The couple explained that even if they were able to come home, they'd still be in lockdown, so wouldn't be able to see friends or family anyway. However, the one thing about living in New York right now that makes things harder is the lack of space.

Rachel explained, "I think a New York apartment and the confined spaces brings new meaning to the word ‘claustrophobia’. If we were in Sydney you'd have a balcony or a backyard or you'd have a sense of space even in your own home potentially, which is a real privilege. Here it's a lot smaller, but your life is always outside of the apartment, so now life is just inside, but again, we're very privileged to even have that... It's just small and cramped, so I just miss the space."

Giles also added, "We still have really nice, big parks to go to within walking distance of our house, I'm just really hoping they don't end up completely shutting that down, because that would be quite depressing.

Rachel and Giles hope the parks in New York stay open as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Photo: Getty

Looking after your mental health

When asked how they're looking after their mental health, Giles joked, "Drinking a lot," while Rachel added, "I have spent a lot of time on the couch, watching television and I've just had a rough week, like many other people, I don't think that's New York-specific at all."

They also spoke about the online movement to be incredibly productive during this 'extra' time we have while at home and how they're not in that mindset at the moment.

Rachel said, "When you're worried about the future – I personally feel like there's a whole lot of online stuff telling you to be productive and read that book and do this thing you never did etc. but at the same time I just want to process everything and then maybe I'll get to being a productive human being."

"I think it's completely OK to be down and unproductive for a little while and you'll get through it. But there's actually a lot of social pressure to be very wishful thinking or see the bright side... But it's like, this is quite a big event for everyone, I think it's healthy to be sad for a little while," Giles added.

Rachel and Giles said it's been very reassuring to watch New York governor Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings, calling him a "ray of light". Photo: Getty

Speaking about whether they have a routine, the couple revealed that they're not quite in that headspace to exercise at the moment or be too hard on themselves about not feeling up to much with Rachel saying it's like they've been in "shock" the last few weeks.

"I think the past two weeks have been shock, quite frankly, so it hasn't been like, 'Right, let's start a routine and be healthy individuals', it's just been dealing with it and living through it. And as we go on over the next month or two months we can start to become a bit more mindful or conscious in terms of our routine."

The couple advised people to limit their news consumption every day and added that it's been very reassuring to watch New York governor Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings because he is "an awesome leader". Rachel added that if Australians want to see a more positive side to what is happening in New York, they should watch Cuomo's briefings, calling him a "ray of light".

Rachel added, "When this godforsaken thing ends there'll be a huge respect for local businesses, hopefully some of them are still open for business at the end of it and a respect for essential services, medical staff and I think we'll all go back to normal, but it'll still be a really weird, new world that we'll have to find our feet in again."

‘It’s become quite intense very quickly’

Fellow Australian and freelance journalist Stephanie Nuzzo has lived in Brooklyn for the last two years and has described the situation as "intense".

She explained, "It's been a journey, I would say. It's been pretty hard, because it's a difficult thing to process and it's been moving so quickly, especially here, it's become quite intense very quickly.

Australian freelance journalist Steph Nuzzo lives in Brooklyn, New York and is finding it very difficult to be away from home right now. Photo: Steph Nuzzo

"It's hard to keep up with all of that, and being away from home and being away from family and knowing that I can't travel back if I needed to is quite difficult. That's been pretty hard for me. But, you know, I'm trying to make the best out of a pretty terrible situation. That's all you can do."

Because Steph is a freelancer, she has lost a huge chunk of her work, saying she's "working a little bit, but not enough".

She also revealed that her suburb has been very heavily hit with the virus, which has made her feel slightly uncomfortable with leaving the house.

‘Terrible reality where it's so serious and so scary’

"The suburb that I'm in is quite heavily affected, New York in general is, but also my specific suburb, so I don't really like to go for many walks. Could be a bit extreme, I don't know, but it sets off my anxiety a little bit," she explained, also adding, "I think for some people that little walk is the thing that keeps them on track [mentally]."

When asked what it feels like to be a few weeks ahead of Australia in terms of cases and deaths, Steph said it makes her "stressed".

"It makes me a little stressed, because, obviously, the way I'm experiencing it is a lot more intense than the Australian experience right now. And I worry a lot for the people I care about at home, because I know in normal likelihood it probably won't get as bad as New York, but I'm expecting it to get worse.

"I feel like I've noticed that people are starting to take it a little bit more seriously, but not to the level that I would like. I think about it a lot, because I want to know that people are taking the opportunity that they have to squash this thing earlier. And when I hear about people not following the recommended practises or that perhaps the government is perhaps not being clear about certain things, it makes me mad.

"Because I'm over here in this terrible reality where it's so serious and so scary. I would just really like to see people back home taking advantage of their 'head start'. But I think it's gotten better since that Bondi mistake and hopefully it continues in a way that you guys can flatten the curve earlier, because I would really hate to see it to escalate to a point like anywhere near this."

Steph reveals that because her suburb is the hardest hit, she's anxious to leave the house. Photo: Steph Nuzzo

Similarly to Rachel and Giles, Steph has found it difficult to get into a routine throughout the day, "I'm trying to, it varies, I feel like week to week has been very different experience strangely, so last week was a difficult week for me. I think because that's when I started to lose all my work and I was talking to people back home and I was very worried about what was happening. So, a lot of my attempts at keeping a routine went out the window."

How to stay sane through lockdown

However, one of the few things that keeps her sane is her daily workouts on her rooftop.

"I do think though that there is a lot of benefit to having a routine, it just can be hard, sometimes I do think you need to just give yourself time to feel bad and experience it and hopefully move forward from that point, but I'm doing my best."

She added that every little thing she's doing at the moment is for her mental health, "I think everything that I'm doing right now is for my mental health, because that's the biggest thing with being in the house. Because, I am safe and healthy and I'm in a secure environment, so I'm really lucky with all of that. But being locked inside and having that concern for the situation and how it's unfolding, it has a huge weight on your mental health and that's the thing that I'm trying to look out for and pay attention to. So, literally every new thing that I start is probably just to lift my mood a little."

When it comes to tips and tricks to making lockdown easier, Steph suggests having nights at home that are "makeshift nights out".

"You play some games, make a few cocktails and get dressed, put some makeup on if you want to. Just to feel sort of like a regular human. That has been really good for me."

She added that while she's been enjoying communicating with friends and family via video chat, it's something that can also be emotionally tiring.

"The thing that I'm finding, people are going to be doing a lot of video chats, and that's really great, feeling connected is hugely important, at least to me. But there's also a sort of weight that comes with that.

Steph is hoping that Australians 'take advantage of their head start' in trying to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases. Photo: Steph Nuzzo

"Sometimes I will have four FaceTime calls in a day and by the end I need to lie down. So, I think that's something that you do need to manage, make sure you take care of yourself and make sure you're not taking on too much emotionally."

Steph said that the main things she misses about New York life are the live music events, shows, restaurants and bars, adding that when they're finally allowed to return to regular life things will go one of two ways, "I've thought about this a lot. Maybe I'm just going to want to go and drink a lot at a bar, or maybe I'll just want to see people, see my friends and see them in a park and just hug them and cry. I don't know which way I'll go, I'll either party or get super emotional."

When asked what she misses about home, Steph said, "A lot. I miss my family and friends. I miss the feeling of knowing that I can go there. I feel really far away, so that's something that's had an impact on me."

‘An interesting time to be single’

Being single, Steph has continued to use dating apps, but revealed it's a very different experience now and, surprisingly, it's easier to make connections.

"This is an interesting time to be single, I went on a FaceTime date recently, it was weird. We were both talking about the fact it was weird. It's like this thing where you're wanting to talk about normal things and it's like, 'What's your favourite TV show, oh and by the way, how are you dealing with the apocalypse?'

"So, it's obviously this underlying thing that permeates every discussion that you have and I'm finding that with dating that people have to be more vulnerable, there's just not point even pretending. I'm finding that connections seem to be easier to make, weirdly. Even though it's all online. I think people just want to connect more, so nobody's out trying to be a player right now, people want to talk to one another."

"That's been quite nice, I mean, it's sad at the same time, because you're chatting and you're thinking, 'Oh it would be really cool to meet up with this person.' But that won't be a reality for some time."

She added that people are clearly putting in more effort, because they could be speaking for months before they even get the chance to meet, almost as if you're dating your penpal.

Steph believes that there are two ways that things will go when these online relationships become real world relationships, "I think it's going to go one of two ways when it comes to these really intense quarantine dating situations, I think it'll be a thing where people meet and will be like 'OK, we are in a serious relationship immediately, because we went through a trauma and we're going to bond.'

The usually buzzing Williamsburg has now become uncharacteristically quiet. Photo: Steph Nuzzo

"Or, they'll meet and be like, 'That's all this was, we kind of got each other through this thing and I don't really want to talk to you anymore now, because you're too much and I need to go the other way.' I don't think there will be any in between."

Steph added that something that's become especially apparent to her is how the crisis is bring out the best and worst in people, but the examples of kindness are getting her through.

"It's obviously really trying, it's really stressful, it's hard for everybody, but I think there's been a lot of incredible examples of people acting out of kindness and reaching out to one another and things like that. And I think that's so helpful at a time like this and to focus on all the ways people are stepping up."

"I think if we all try to be a bit better at that, it's going to make the whole process so much easier. And as somebody who's stuck in a place that feels quite dark right now, those little acts make your days much easier. So, that's something to focus on."

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