‘I had a panic attack and shaved my head at 2am’: My self-isolation horror story

Picture this: you’re trapped in an empty room with two suitcases, a pot of noodles and a water bottle. You’ve arrived from a foreign country and so you don’t have currency money to order food. Or bed-sheets. Or a pan. You can’t even leave the room. No one else is there. What do you do?

Quite dramatic, right? Well, I’ll tell you what I did. After a three hour flight from Romania to the UK and two hours on the train, I’ve finally arrived in Nottingham with two suitcases and no idea of what was going to happen to me.

I knew that I was going to isolate for two weeks, as I flew from a country deeply affected by coronavirus. I knew that I had to be careful. But nothing other than that, really. So here I am, a 21-year-old international student carrying 30 kg of clothing, shoes, and other ‘girly essentials’ to what was going to be my lovely, dreamy isolation cell for the next two weeks.

My empty and sad-looking room.

Cell sounds too dramatic, you might say. With a little care, a few plant friends and some posters here and there, you can make any uni house feel like home. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to pack my home in two suitcases.

All my uni essentials were resting in peace at my friend’s house in Nottingham, where I left them before going home in July. Misfortunes never come alone, as they say – I was not given any time to go there and sort out my moving. As soon as I got to the accommodation, I had to check-in and lock myself into four walls for two weeks.

I felt like a rat in a cage and had no idea what to prioritise. “Well, I could use some sleep”, I told myself. Of course, that sounds like a plan. Too bad that I don’t have bedsheets or a pillow. I’ve asked my friend if she could bring me some essentials from the boxes I’ve left at her house. Easily done.

But surely I’ll get hungry at some point. And the self-isolation bag with snacks provided by uni wasn’t going to be enough, I thought. Now, keep in mind that I’m an international student, and in order to have access to the money my parents give me, I have to go to a bank, take cash out from my Romanian card and then deposit it into my British one. And we all know by now that, at this point, I couldn’t psychically leave my room.

The ‘welcome package’ I got from uni.

I was lucky because I had some money from my last year’s accommodation deposit fee on my British bank account, and also some cash that could be used. The tricky part is that I had to share my money with my sister, who just moved in her student accommodation in Manchester and did not have a bank account. So all this time I had to think and worry for both of us.

For some reason, I thought I would manage to look after myself. It’s been two years since I moved to Nottingham, I know people who could help me – but what about my sister, who is a a first year international student coming to Manchester for the first time in her life?

Everyone’s situation is different, but those of you who have younger siblings will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that I have the Big Sister Syndrome. First off, I had to make sure that she has access to an active sim card and will also be having food and essentials delivered to her as soon as possible.

This is me and my sister (left to right) just before the plane took off.

After I got her sorted, I was finally able to start worrying about me. As being all by myself between four walls wasn’t enough, I wasn’t happy with what I was surround by either. And that was going to get even worse as my window in my room opens just slightly, so I was slowly becoming to feel like I was stuck in a cage. An empty cage.

It didn’t take me too long to lose my patience. On day five, I had a panic attack. I started crying because I could hear my brain saying ‘you’re stuck, you can’t get out’. I could hear it so loud and clear that I just lost my breathe for a couple of minutes. No one was there. No way out. No fresh air. Nothing.

There was me and a razor. I did the only reasonable thing that you could think of and shaved a small part of my head. Not all of it. I’m not a maniac.

I’m not a maniac, she says.

Research shows that people’s greatest fear is public speaking. It’s fair to say that it might be different for me. This experience made me realise that my biggest fear is loneliness, being stuck between empty walls, and the thought that I might die and no one would know.

The next day after my panic attack I asked the receptionist if it would possible for me to go outside, even if it’s just for ten minutes. He said I could, but only after 6pm, when the staff will be gone. I can’t possibly describe in words the feeling I had when I went outside to take the bins out for the first time in five days.

The fresh air, the cold and (very) British breeze touching my cheeks. The awful weather. The bins smell. Freedom.

I’ve never been happier to take the bins out. Never in a lifetime.

If you’re about to self-isolate, please remember that you’re not alone. We may social distance, but we’re still together, closer than ever. Prioritise your mental and physical health, look after yourself. If I was to do it again, I would definitely try and enjoy the little things like having a nice meal instead of skipping them and cry in a corner of my room.

Have long showers, read a book, call your friends and, if possible, take vitamins. If ever in doubt, reach out to Student Support Services available for students who are self-isolating. Tell your family and close friends that you love them. And be patient and kind to yourself.

From a Romanian girl with love,


On the first day I got out I’ve had to complete my first shift as an RA at Byron. It still felt like freedom.

By Olimpia Zagnat

All pictures taken by Olimpia Zagnat.

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