When the situation with COVID-19 first started unfolding, I reacted the same way a lot of people did: with a combination of anxiety, concern, and an instinct to comfort myself. For me that meant buying wine and a bag of mini donuts and sitting on my couch for a few days, just trying to process what was going on in the world. As it became more and more clear that we could all expect to have our daily lives restricted and social distancing guidelines were implemented, viral challenges started popping up online as people tried to keep themselves busy or feel connected. While I understood that, I also began to resent the implication that even in a time as scary as the one we’re currently in, if we aren’t filling every single second of our days with something deemed creative or educational or that can be viewed as bettering ourselves, we must be wasting our time.
I didn’t want to participate in a push-up challenge or join in on a live-streamed workout to try to turn my abs into a six-pack while on lockdown. I could barely process the stream of news updates as everyone scrambled to prepare for self-quarantine, let alone start planning a daily routine where I would become a crochet master with one hand while completing a three-thousand piece puzzle with the other. Sure, a lot of us were suddenly presented with an abundance of free time. But that doesn’t mean we’re on vacation. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic.
That fact has led to a lot of us losing our job entirely or having hours majorly cut, commitments and travel plans canceled, and events from weddings to graduations to birthday parties put on hold. I might be in sweatpants on my couch, but when it’s because of social distancing mandates and not because I just don’t feel like hitting the bars, the entire experience is different.
Having unexpected free time, like when your boss cancels an afternoon meeting, is one thing. Staying inside because it may not be safe to interact with other people and you’re on a statewide lockdown is not that. Even though the best thing we can do adds up to staying at home, it’s still hard, and we’re all processing the changes in our lives at our own pace. What we should spend more time realizing is that this isn’t a contest of who can quarantine best or who can emerge from this as the most successful edition of themselves, because anyone who is doing nothing but staying inside and away from people at this point or reporting to an essential job is doing their part to help slow the spread. And we’re still at the beginning. There will be weeks and months to come of this adjusted lifestyle, and planning for that long-term might be healthier than anything else. Everyone is going to handle that differently and being compassionate to everyone’s approach right now is important. If that means running a marathon in your backyard, good for you. But it’s also okay to do less. Like, way less.
I don’t want to eat a salad. I don’t want to organize my pantry. And that doesn’t make me lazy or scattered. I’m allowed to be sad and disappointed and working to ride the emotional waves that come from being forced to react over and over again to the constant stream of terrifying news we’re hit with every few hours. I have family members who are at risk and family members who are essential workers and I’m allowed to be worried for them and to be preoccupied by those concerns and the general uncertainty that comes with every routine being disrupted. I’m allowed to work my way through my emotions without being pressured to perform an activity designed to optimize myself.
That doesn’t mean that learning something new or challenging yourself in some way isn’t allowed or is somehow negative; it just means you don’t have to push yourself to be “better” right now. You don’t need to show up at the end of quarantine as a new, upgraded model of yourself. We are not robots. There is no one designing a template for the best version of who we are. We all carry around this concept that we need to be putting this time to use in some significant way, that we should be remodeling the kitchen or learning a new language if we can’t be working, and if that’s your headspace, fabulous. But if you’re staring at the bag of supplies and tools you brought home weeks ago that you still haven’t used to build a new planter box like you swore you were going to, that’s okay. Living through a global pandemic pretty much qualifies as a full-time job, right? That’s allowed to take up a lot of space in your mind. The world around us has come to a crashing halt, and it’s not your responsibility to treat it like a yoga retreat.
I know people are bored and looking to entertain and distract themselves. I’m right there too, but my current priority isn’t challenging myself to discover new realms of efficiency or fill my time with as many constructive activities as possible. Not only is my focus scattered in a million directions as I cope with the changing reality I find myself in, but there’s this idea that the way I am right now is actually just fine. I’m doing the best I can, and that’s productive enough for me. I am getting up in the morning and having coffee and walking around my neighborhood. I’m also sleeping late and letting myself have a cookie as a snack and watching my favorite TV shows because I just want something familiar and comforting on the screen sometimes.
I’m adjusting and recalibrating and I’m not saying I want to go full sloth on the couch until Christmas—I’m just encouraging everyone to allow yourself the space to admit that this is hard and weird and we’re all wishing for our normal, boring lives where we can see our friends and go to a happy hour that’s not on the couch. If it takes you a little time to feel like yourself again, or if you have a bad day and have to start over again tomorrow, you’re not failing. Maybe for right now at least, that’s plenty.
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