With over a month now in quarantine, our lives and minds may or may not be adjusting to this strange part of humanity’s history. People all over the world are making this snippet of their story their own, in whichever shape or form is doable. The media, be it big newspapers, news channels or social media seem to be giving us various choices on how to tackle our newfound existence:
1) The “Chill Out” Option – sit in front of your TV, put your feet up and wait for all of this to blow over.
2) The “Get up and Go” Option – learn something new, do something new, take up a new hobby, do exercise, work out every day, lose weight, tidy up, declutter the house, renovate your home, landscape the garden, read to your children, teach your children, learn from your children, cook, bake, wash, clean, iron, mend, stitch, work, Zoom, write letters, send emails, explore, dress up, yoga here, Pilates there, go, go, go!
3) The “Mental Health” Option – take it easy, don’t do anything that would compromise your well-being, gently does it, and breathe!
You’d think we’d all be clever enough to go for Option 3, calmly tuning into ourselves and listening to what we really need (no, not another glass of gin). I personally find myself under immense pressure to be a dance monkey to the tune of Option 2. I had embraced lockdown with all its strains and silver linings, and saw it as a golden opportunity to make use of time I would surely gain, idyllic lunch times with my children and long chats in the evenings with my partner. In between that, I would work, home school, study, write, cook, bake and clean the house. I would also sign up for online courses and classes, because, you know, there has never been a better time to engage with strangers and learn new skills. I’d leave the gardening to my partner because, please don’t judge me, I don’t like it. Naturally, it all went a bit pear-shaped after a couple of weeks. I don’t really have anyone but myself to blame as I am an adult and make my own choices. I didn’t even take it slowly during the Easter holidays. I went for complete and utter stimulation overload, not only planning and structuring each and every day for myself and the children, but also taking over managing my partner’s business, allocating his time, writing his to-do list and facilitating online classes. Busy is good. Busy means growth. Busy means never standing still. You already know this won’t end well.
My self-inflicted activity overload didn’t introduce itself to me until yesterday, when I sat in front of my laptop, talking to my dissertation supervisor and found that I was close to bursting into tears, utterly exhausted from frantically trying to keep up with everything. My supervisor looked at me and told me to rest. Wise words, given I am 6 weeks ahead of my deadline but no one likes to break her own records more than I do. But the knowing smile of my professor, her gentle nudge and the uncomfortable question what I was so worried about did force me into a moment of just thinking and taking stock.
Admitting to myself that I had to give up something in order to preserve what is left of my isolated sanity was a difficult step to take, but I evaluated what I needed least at this moment in time and let it go. Another training course I had organised for next weekend will also be cancelled. I doubt I’ll spend the time relaxing in bed with a book, but I can invest it into something that needs my immediate attention. One of the most positive outcomes I have taken from this is, that I don’t see myself as failure, just because I had to quit one thing. This learning is invaluable and certainly a first for me.
Relief is knowing you made the right decision, but it also means that, when you let go of something, you don’t necessarily admit defeat that you couldn’t stick with it. Letting go of something that does not serve you at this moment in time offers you an opportunity to refocus and take a deep breath. Ironically, I had ordered myself to sit still for 10 minutes each day last week, in a desperate attempt to do exactly that: keep motionless for 600 seconds, focusing on nothing but my heart beat and breath. Unsurprisingly, I have managed to mess up this task royally – doing “nothing” just doesn’t fit into my overkill-schedule. Having given up one of my responsibilities has given me a chance to take back some of my time which, in return, could be used to do lots of other things, like getting ahead with my research and submitting more writing to magazines. However, possibly, the universe may like to hand this time to me in form of rest and recuperation, as ordered by my supervisor. I may be a controlling and obsessive workaholic. But even I have reached a point where something’s gotta give.