It's Self-Isolation, Not Self-Improvement
by Nayantara Chandrasekhar
Earth is closed. Time to be productive! Try this new home workout! Learn to cook! Get your ‘summer body’ ready! Write a bestselling novel! Lose the weight you’ve been meaning to! Self-care, all day every day!
The first thing screaming in your face every time you open Instagram is a new Thing to try today. It seems like everyone online is using this time to improve themselves, so that they come out healthier, skinnier, more successful, or better people. And when I open social media, I immediately feel guilty for not using this time productively to write a novel or invent a cure for cancer or become a Michelin star chef.
My teacher sent our class a quote that read ‘If you don’t come out of quarantine having improved yourself in some way, you didn’t lack time, you lacked discipline.’ She proceeded to ask each and every one of us what we were going to come out of lockdown having achieved.
Needless to say, this stressed me out. I had been (and still have been) spending my days in quarantine either on school zoom sessions, finishing homework, or binge-watching Gossip Girl and Doctor Who online. In my bed. With the lights off. Stuffing my face with a massive bowl of popcorn.
Not exactly the productive state everyone is ‘supposed’ to be in, is it?
The reality is that you don’t need to be doing that. If you are using this time to try and improve yourself or learn a new skill, then that’s good for you! I’m glad that you are. But the internet is telling us that if we’re not, then we lack focus and determination. Well, maybe we just need to take care of ourselves first.
The truth is that this is a difficult time for all of us. People are dying, we can’t leave our homes, we haven’t seen our friends in weeks, exam schedules are getting messed up, every news platform is throwing news about coronavirus at us left, right, and center –it’s tiring, and exhausting, and we’re all irritable.
And if it’s all getting to you? That’s okay.
Sometimes you just need to take some time to breathe. Turn off your phone, don’t check the news, make yourself a cup of tea, and breathe.
Even if you’re not creating something new, you’re staying alive. And that’s productive enough.
Even if you’re not achieving your lifelong goals in a short span of a few weeks, just because you may have a little extra time, you’re keeping those at risk safe. And that’s productive enough.
Your mental health might be taking a toll, being away from so many people. That’s okay. What’s happening right now is enough to overwhelm anyone, because all anyone can seem to talk about is the one thing you don’t want to hear about. It’s fine if it’s catching up with you and you just need a minute to be. To sit and stare at the wall, or trace the patters of your curtain with your eyes, or stare out of the window longingly. You don’t have to spend every minute of every day doing something productive if you just want to take a minute to process everything.
Because, quite frankly, there’s a lot to process. Whether you’ve lost someone from the coronavirus, or you’re just overcome by an impending sense of doom because it feels like the world is falling apart around you – or even if you're just bored, and you miss your friends. Your emotions are valid. And doing a home workout isn’t going to help you deal with them.
I think that one reason I’m not sure I want to go back to the world is because I still haven’t achieved anything. I haven’t gained any incredible new skills, and I haven’t become a better person. If we walk back into the world tomorrow, I’m not going to have a ‘perfect summer body’ and I’m not going to be a 2.0 version of myself. I’ll be the same I was before. But do I really need to change?
It’s called self-isolation, not self-improvement. You don’t need to come out of this being a new and improved version of yourself, because that’s not what this time is meant for. The earth isn’t closed because governments decided to give everyone a month to achieve everything they’ve ever wanted, it’s closed because we’re trying to save people from dying, and save our healthcare and hospital workers from exhausting themselves.
So you might come out of lockdown with a ridiculous sleep schedule and a terrible fringe you cut for yourself out of boredom, having put on weight because you eat out of boredom and stress and you don’t exercise, in a strange mental state because you have some unconventional desire to stand in the sun for hours and get burned just because you haven’t been outside for a month. And you know what?
It’s fine, and it’s normal, and you don’t need to do home workouts and get a summer body because you’re beautiful as you are. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you can invent a cure for cancer in a few weeks because you are enough. You don’t need to be productive for every second of every day, because it’s a lot.
We’ll get through this together. But stressing out over standards of creativity and productivity aren’t going to help any of us. Just do what feels right, whether it’s painting the scenery from your window or screaming into a pillow. And that’s more than enough.