Life lessons from a quarantine-ee.
I’m a wellbeing consultant and coach, but honestly, if I read another article about how to meditate through this period, I’ll throw my yoga mat at the laptop!
As someone who manages a funky mind, I anticipated isolation might be the equivalent to “solitary confinement” – used as a punishment for a reason, by the way. I imagined I would be able to use the time to finish my dissertation, develop meaningful theoretical frameworks for wellness and wellbeing, learn to do a headstand and start my own Unicorn. Um, not quite. In fact, I have discovered that being an Associate Dean of a University that has now moved entirely online has transformed my usual 8.30 – 6.30 days into easily 8 to way too late. So, amidst this rather stark new normal, I decided to pick out the life-lessons acquired over the last week in isolation. And yes, I said week.
Lesson #1 – make time
I am finally managing to ‘meet up’ with distant friends and relatives. So, let’s unpack that for a second. Before Covid-19 (B.C-19), I had the freedom to travel, the means to travel, an agenda that I had some semblance of ownership over and yet, I couldn’t take 30 minutes out of my week to dial into one of my dear friends living in Philadelphia. I would telephone my mother twice-weekly, and now I drop a text on a daily basis to check-in. Our family WhatsApp group (that I muted for about a year) is rife with nostalgia and family photos.
What this tells me is that B.C-19, I failed to acknowledge people and areas of my life that when allowed to, have an infinite capacity to bring me joy and pleasure. We talk about work/life or life/work balance a lot. I read less about life admin/life joy balance. I acknowledge now that this is an area for personal development.
Lesson #2 – there’s a time and a place for dark humor
As many of you will know, I live with an artist. He is internationally recognized for his penchant for dark humor and satire. His drawings are morbid and macabre at the best of times. Occasionally, he’ll create a happy portrait – but similar to Hieronymus Bosch, there’ll be an angel holding a flamethrower in the background. Because I know the person, and the goodness in his heart, I appreciate his work as art – not as some evil diktat for humankind. However, I have seen and read some Covid-19 jokes that have made me cringe. B.C-19 took hold, a pharmacist chuckled when I asked for a face mask.
Now is no longer a time to find fun in the virus itself. Nor is it time to make jokes about other people’s suffering. There are thousands of people who are literally putting themselves in danger so that the rest of us can cling on to some appearance of normality. However, humor is so important. Laughter will help. I strongly recommend taking a moment to attempt to find at least one funny thing about this terrible mess we’re in. I find it highly amusing that my partner thinks he is a world expert on social-distancing because he claims ‘he’s been practicing for years!’ I also find it both cruel and typically British that whilst we are all confined to our homes Little Mx Sunshine has decided to pop out and provide us with the most glorious of Springs. And, “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama is playing in my mind on a vicious, self-celebratory loop.
Lesson #3 – brushing hair is over-rated
I have never been one for tidy hair. I (think I) read in “How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits” that washing and brushing hair was not the path to Chic. Or something to that effect. So, I am operating in Parisian-style mode now. I barely wash my hair, until it physically itches, and I scrunch it into a messy ponytail. It actually looks great on Zoom. This leads me beautifully to the next lesson…
Lesson #4 – treat video-conferencing as your personal theatre
The first time I used Zoom, I was bewitched by this ghoulish translucid face starring back at me. White-washed and beyond the help of a pair of glasses (known to hide a number of flaws). I realized I needed to put a face on for these moments. Since then, and more so in isolation, I have taken at least ten minutes to put on foundation, concealer, blusher, mascara, and lippy. Admittedly, I can’t be seen too close-up, but my lighting team (my desklamp and cat) have assured my glamour remains au natural on camera. And, frankly, that’s all that matters.
Lesson #5 – mindfulness
I have a personal aversion to terms that become over-used or too popular. I like to think of mindfulness as paying due attention and care to things you would ordinarily take for granted. My coach, Suzy Reading, who has been a real blessing in A.C-19 and B.C-19, has shared some wonderful 5-minute rituals I can perform to ground myself, pause, and reboot. My suggestion to you would be to ensure you give yourself moments. It might feel like self-isolation, self-quarantine and lockdown are “pause buttons” on our lives. However, for most of us, this has just made our working days more intense. The natural breaks that occur between meetings, the water-cooler chats, then taking five minutes to walk to another person’s office. They are all moments you are technically unavailable, or at least “unplugged”. Now, I sit behind my desk from 8 till too late and occasionally forget to heed the call of nature. My back aches by noon. My eyes ache by 5. So, I am forcing myself to instill some semblance of office life into my daily routine. I am taking bathroom breaks! I am getting up from my desk and walking around to the other side so that my notifications can’t see me! I am taking a lunch break. I am also being “walked” by the artist, who frequently reminds me that it isn’t just plants that need fresh air.
Lesson #6 – make an extra effort to be kind and compassionate
I’m not known for shying away from this topic. However, emails can be misinterpreted at the best of times. Not having realtime access to those nonverbal signals is very challenging. And frankly, the emoticon range is extremely limited. If I had a penny for every time I’ve had to say, ‘joke’, ‘I was teasing’, ‘stop mansplaining’, it would be me funding research into a cure for this damn virus.
Rolling eyes on Zoom just looks like you’re bored. I forgot my camera was on yesterday during a Board Meeting (imagine the rest).
I begin and end my meetings with a check-in. If someone launches into work I make a point of stopping and asking how they’re doing. The answer I get in the first instance is, ‘oh, fine, yeah, yeah’. Without being pushy, just hold that space. Offer a moment of silence at the very least in recognition of a ‘stock answer’ and empathize. I don’t have children. I have an artist and a cat. But it doesn’t take a huge cognitive leap to understand how difficult it must be to be cooped up at home with young children or elderly relatives or caring responsibilities that would usually be shared or assisted. And to add to that, some are homeschooling and taking responsibility for domestic work that perhaps they had a helping hand with prior to the brave new world.
Lesson #7 – kiss goodbye to the world as you knew it
I can’t sugarcoat this. The world will never be the same. I feel like a pendulum swinging between competent and optimistic, to wholly inadequate and pessimistic. Then I started my research and discovered psychologists drawing parallels with a grieving process. We’ve lost so many things in what was an incredibly fast and abrupt transition. I need to give myself permission to not be okay. At least not all of the time.
Furthermore, I need to channel my attention towards preparing for the what next? how about? why not try? Now is an unprecedented time for change. Governments, public institutions, retailers, service providers… no one will operate in the same way again. Can you imagine the scope for innovation and creativity that this crisis represents? Can you fathom how many people are sitting at home building enterprises and social organizations from their couch? The world just connected in the most incredible way. The same technological platforms that we blamed for distancing people from one another are the very same platforms now gluing us back together.
Lesson #8 – when I get out of here
I have read many articles about looking to the future. As a positive psychology practitioner, I value exercises like ‘Best Possible Self’ and goal-setting. However, I feel an immediacy that wasn’t there before. I haven’t felt like this for a long time. I feel like all the Women’s Marches and the Extinction Rebellion demos weren’t quite enough. I am overrun by a sensation that it is now or never.
I want to look back on my isolation as a period of self-discovery, self-development and a renewed commitment to a better future and a better world.