What a Nuclear Submarine Captain Knows About Self-Isolating

How to work from home with the same people for a long, long time

Joe Keohane
Forge
Published in
5 min readMar 26, 2020

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Rear view of woman looking out at the city through a window.
Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

Like many people around the world, I am currently in a state of self-quarantine.

This is stressful on several levels. My wife and I both work full time, our three-year-old daughter insists, rather greedily, on routine care and feeding, and ceaseless domestic and professional demands, coupled with an inability to ever go outside our long, narrow apartment, itself coupled with the knowledge of the silent nightmare coursing through the city just beyond our walls… well, it’s taking a toll.

Hoping to gain some useful tips staying sane while confined inside a dim, pressurized space for days on end, while stressed out, tired, irritable, disoriented, and quite likely living off dwindling supplies of fresh food, I did what one does: I called a legendary submarine captain.

“I’m kind of an introvert anyway, so this is perfect,” he said.

Check-in with people

Life on a submarine, Marquet says, “is hard to describe. You’re underwater. You’re in this steel tube, and if you think about it too much, it kind of freaks you out. But we’re so busy with the work that you don’t sit there thinking, Oh, there’s 500 pounds per square inch of sea pressure on the other side of this one-and-a-half-inch steel plate. And oh, by the way, there’s a nuclear reactor 200 feet behind me that could incinerate half the world. You just dive into the work.”

What makes this pressurized existence survivable is how the crew members check in with each other. “When you’re walking around the submarine,” he says, “people are like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ ‘How you feel?’ That’s what you hear, and you hear it a lot.” This sort of chatter can ease the stigma someone might feel for admitting that they’re having a hard time, and it creates cohesion, “because I know that other people are under stress, and that they’re all feeling what I’m feeling,” he says.

Do extra

Marquet describes a common scenario for a submarine crew: You’re out at sea, and the initial plan is for 30 days, but then you get word that you’ve been extended to 45 days or more. “The…

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Joe Keohane
Forge
Writer for

Former Features Director at Medium, and editor at Esquire and Entrepreneur. Written for New York magazine, New Yorker, The New Republic, Boston Globe, etc. NYC.