Times are, to put it mildly, challenging.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across all corners of the globe, sending entire populations of people into lockdown, quarantined inside their homes. Companies and schools alike are sending employees and students home to navigate work and study from the safer but confusing confines of their living rooms. With heavy hearts, small businesses are closing their doors, artists are rain-checking their gigs for the unforeseeable future, and freelancers are taking cuts while clients reallocate resources and dollars. Families are suffering the losses of loved ones, the elderly and immunocompromised communities are risking their lives shopping for the ever-more scarce necessities they need to survive in isolation, and many travelers are stuck overseas following travel bans and restrictions.
While an inundation of motivational messages is spreading faster than the virus itself, it's important to remember that while we're all affected by coronavirus, some of us are more deeply impacted by its wrath. We don't all have the luxury to just catch up on Netflix when we have small children at home trying to follow along in an online classroom format that few educators have been trained to teach — or when we are those educators simply trying our best to ensure a better tomorrow. We can't all relax to hold space for others when someone we love has been hospitalized with the virus — or when someone we love is stuck with canceled flights half-way across the world, and we can't just teleport them. And we aren't all able to kick back with a book in the bathtub when we're scrambling to find a paycheck to make ends meet.
At this time, those of us who are privileged enough to have safe spaces to retreat to are spending more time with our loved ones. Some of us are practicing more self-care as we finally find the time to be with ourselves, whether or not it was a choice. Many of us are conscious of making healthier decisions. We're all finding new ways of maximizing our food products to feed ourselves and our families — and minimizing waste in the process. We're using our imaginations more to maintain our sanity indoors. We're feeling more empathy, showing more compassion and participating in isolated togetherness — as evidenced by the Italians playing music for each other from their separate balconies, the Spanish exercising in unison from their individual terraces, and the infinite people around the world jumping on social media to share recipes, conduct live group meditations, and spread love, light and laughter through... painfully relatable memes.
You've seen the posts. "Sir Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity and came up with calculus during the Great Plague!" "Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague!" There's been an onslaught of "now's-the-time!" and "use-this-time-wisely!" language that, while to some may be inspiring, isn't always striking me as such. During this period of chaos, there are some days where I just don't want to do anything at all. Not because I don't have the privilege of choice, which is true of so many others. But because I just. don't. want. to.
If you're finally doing more of what you never quite had the time to do, that's beautiful. Personally, I'm living on my own in a van in Australia — as far away from home and my family in New Jersey as physically possible. It's not easy being so literally alone while I watch the world unravel around me. But, yes, van life in one of the least-populated places on the planet is ideal for the whole self-isolation thing. I'm practicing my ukulele more. (Am I a cliche? Yes.) I've started more seriously brainstorming the book I've always said I'd write. I'm churning out content for my blog that's been on the backburner for longer than I care to admit. And I'm creating a lot of jewelry with all the crystals I've been collecting from my travels. That all feels good, so I do it.
For one, I'm keeping a keen eye on my immune system at present — and I know that sleep is one surefire way to keep my mind and body healthy. But I also just don't feel like stressing over DOING IT ALL because NOW IS THE TIME while I'm already stressing about... you know, the global pandemic currently claiming control over our lives.
This weekend I slept for 15 straight hours, then I stared at the sky for a few more — finding shapes in the clouds like I haven't done since the last time I had nothing better I had to do (i.e. childhood) — before I crawled back in bed to, well, go back to sleep. For the first time in possibly my entire life, doing absolutely nothing, free of distractions, is a viable option. And I don't want to feel shame about it.
I've always felt a pang of guilt when I'm not passing the time in some constructive way — it's probably a product of my freelance lifestyle, never having had the option to "leave work at the office" and my ensuing struggle to set boundaries for myself. But, perhaps now more than ever, I'm plagued with crippling anxiety over not doing more while I can.
Truthfully, after staring at that afternoon sky from a campground in the hinterlands of Australia's Sunshine Coast, being as disconnected and present as possible in a place I've always dreamed of traveling in a van I've always dreamed of converting, I felt equal parts rejuvenated and depressed. Grounded in my body and the space in which it occupied, but anxious over the fear that I'd "wasted the day away." Because, as a society, we've somehow subconsciously decided that restfulness is synonymous with laziness. And while I'm well aware of how fallacious that is, I couldn't shake my own self-shame rooted in this unfounded, preconceived notion.
Would I love to write a best-seller right now? Of course. Do I need the pressure to do it on top of the pressure of keeping myself and others healthy? Absolutely not.
My point is that we're all in this together and, while that's comforting, we also have to be mindful that not all of us are going to handle this the same way together. And that's OK. Want to put together puzzle after puzzle to pass time? So be it. Have to ramp up your resume to land a new job? Go for it. Feel like developing some scientific strategy to eradicate all risk of radiation exposure so we can move humans to Mars — far away from coronavirus — by all means, please do.
Let's just stop putting pressure on each other to chill out because maybe some can't. And, equally, let's stop putting pressure on people to do more work just because they can. Let's just live and let live, shall we?
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.
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