Discovering the real Stockholm Syndrome: hotel quarantine in 14 not-so-easy stages

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Discovering the real Stockholm Syndrome: hotel quarantine in 14 not-so-easy stages

So you’re returning to Australia in these COVID-blighted times, which means a fortnight in a five-star hotel with 24-hour room service. Easy as, right? So are the best-laid plans of mice and men.

By Mike Bushell

Illustration by Simon Letch.

Illustration by Simon Letch.Credit:

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Stage 1: Amusement

This is hilarious! The Australian government is transporting little old me to a hotel! I wonder where we’re going? I’d be happy with a $50 a night Airbnb in Penrith, yet here we are at a five-star joint in central Sydney – very posh. Look at all these nice soldiers, pretending to be service industry workers. Of course you can take my bag, sir! And what’s this? A room on the 33rd floor! Well just look at that view. Wynyard Park below, Darling Harbour off to the right, planes gracefully approaching the airport to the south and Botany Bay beyond. And the room: a study in restrained opulence! A mid-century modern, walnut-hued design scheme. A nice deep bathtub. A chocolate on the pillow! Can a continental breakfast be far behind?

Stage 2: Bewilderment

Isn’t all this a bit much? I thought I tested negative? Five times in the last three weeks! Don’t get me wrong, I love the view, the restrained opulence, the delicious food, but couldn’t I quarantine at home? With my family? Do we really have to do the whole returning-Russian-opposition-leader charade?

Stage 3: Outrage

I’m taking this to the Supreme Court! Nay – the United Nations! How dare they infringe on my civil rights. My great-grandfather’s third cousin trekked the Kokoda Track for those rights. He’d turn in his grave if he could see what was happening here. I won’t stand for it! As if losing my freedom isn’t enough, I have to replace my own sheets and towels. Is there no end to this humiliation?

Illustration by Simon Letch.

Illustration by Simon Letch.Credit:

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Stage 4: Hyperactivity

Right, quit your moaning and get busy. I’m going to use this lack of distraction to achieve everything I didn’t get done on the outside. Run 10,000 steps – check. Do 100 push-ups – check. Memorise pi to the one-hundredth place value – check. Create a database of everything I’ve eaten in the last year and its calorific value – check. Clean these hotel windows like they’ve never been cleaned before – check.

Stage 5: Ennui

Is this a trick? Has someone messed with this clock so that each minute takes an hour to pass? Who knew that simply existing could take so much effort? I’m not sure if I have the energy to sustain my basic bodily functions. How long has it been since I shaved? Brushed my teeth? Bathed? A day? A week? Who knows? Who cares?

Stage 6: Abandonment

So this is how it is, Australia? I leave your hallowed shores for a few years and you treat me like a leper? Like I’m the creature from the Wuhan fish markets? You leave me to rot in this festering mid-century modern flea pit. After all the taxes I paid, and that time I donated to the Children’s Hospital Appeal, this hurts, Australia, like you could never know.

Stage 7: Detachment

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Look at those people walking around the city, living their lives of quiet desperation, feeling normal emotions, free to perform all the essential work that they please. I could scream and no one would hear me, much less care. I’m madder than hell, and nobody cares (probably because my window won’t open and I’m on the 33rd floor). Look at me, dancing naked in front of this hotel window. I’m like a fish frozen in a lake watching the skaters glide gracefully overhead.

Stage 8: The real Stockholm Syndrome

Not the one where you come to empathise with your captors, the only interaction I ever get is with a bored Irish nurse whose questions about my health and mental state can’t disguise how she’d rather be down at the pub – or anywhere but here. The one where I wish I was in Stockholm – or London or Los Angeles – or any city where the authorities rolled out the vaccine much earlier than they have here.

Stage 9: Self-loathing

You’re not really going to eat that whole pack of Tim Tams, are you? Don’t leave your wet towel on the bed, you lazy mongrel. I’m not the maid! Look, it’s 7.15am and you’re still laying in bed like a beached whale. You haven’t brushed your teeth in three days, you pig!

Illustration by Simon Letch.

Illustration by Simon Letch.Credit:

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Stage 10: Fear

I’m never gonna make it out of here. What if they stop bringing me food? What if they forget I’m here? What if I die in here? What if they read my Twitter posts and accuse me of subversive activity? Is that person pacing the halls there to make sure we don’t escape? What if he’s about to re-enact that scene from The Shining with the knife through the door?

Stage 11: Despair

I can feel the life force slipping away from me. With every minute spent in this room, I’m one minute closer to death. If the boredom doesn’t kill me, this crappy hotel food will: seriously, who eats chia porridge with passionfruit for breakfast? My friends were right when they asked, “How will you handle two weeks in a hotel room?” I won’t.

Stage 12: Determination

I can do this! I have enormous willpower! Like Shackleton’s men, holding out in the Antarctic, thousands of kilometres from civilisation and warmth, I will make it through this hellish nightmare.

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Stage 13: Existential crisis

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What if this has all been a dream? Has two weeks really almost passed? Do those people on the street exist or are they just figments of my imagination? If I don’t make my bed, does that make me a bad person? Is there morality in here? Could this mozzie buzzing round my head cause a hurricane in China? Will the Chinese retaliate?

Stage 14: Inadequacy

Look at all those cars and people on the street barely missing each other! Look at the tradies digging holes for people to fall into! I’ll never make it on the outside! I’m going to fake COVID and they’ll have to keep me in here forever!

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