Like many of you, my sense of normalcy has crumbled thanks to the covid-19 crisis. In the past weeks of social distancing and self-isolation, I’ve been scrambling to adapt to this strange new normal. Here’s what I’ve experienced and learned.
Instead of tired, anxiety and guilt have become my default state
At home, my life is no longer dictated by the “go-go-go” work mentality or the familiar pattern of my social routines. My daily rhythm eased to a slower tempo, but during the first few weeks, my brain kept playing my Anxiety Anthem on repeat.
As a freelancer and job seeker who worked remotely before the social distancing shutdown, my regular WFH routine feels oddly disrupted (for others who feel the same, check out this tweet). One day, I might have enough focus and energy to write, fill out job applications, up skill with online courses, go on virtual coffee dates, and work out in my living room. The next day, I might only do the bare minimum and feel super guilty about it.
My record of “unproductive” days definitely outweigh the “productive” ones. I spent days lying in bed, paralyzed by equal measures of anxiety, guilt, and depression. After a fair bit of introspection, I realized that hustle culture has conditioned my brain to focus on achieving as much and as efficiently as I can, even during a pandemic when I have more free time on my hands.
Why am I worried about the wrong things?
But the truth is, I’m guilty of more than just being unable to preserve my productivity level during a pandemic. Isolation has forced me to confront some ugly truths about myself.
It has taken being pushed into physical isolation for me to proactively deepen my connections: to reach out to friends and colleagues more frequently, have more authentic conversations, and answer honestly when someone asks how I am doing.
It has taken a global pandemic that threatens millions of lives for me to appreciate my health: to eat for nourishment and joy and to exercise for strength, movement, and discipline, as opposed to doing so to look good in a crop top.
It has taken the absence of a million cars on the road for me to appreciate the birdsong outside.
It took the absence of both the small and significant things in my life for me to see the scope of how much I was taking for granted–yet, somehow the guilt of being unproductive held the most space and was foremost in my thoughts. Time for a change in priorities? Yeah, I agree.
Breaking up with the old normal
On top of all this crushing anxiety and guilt, other emotions like anger, sadness, denial, gratitude, hope, fear, and joy all mix, separate, and dance through me at random times (how has my brain not exploded yet?). David Kessler, an expert on grief, would say these are all signs I am grieving the loss of normalcy and the security that normalcy offers.
I have been in the process of mentally separating myself with certain worldviews and habits I had before covid-19 without knowing it. It’s as Aisha S. Ahmad, an assistant professor at UofT, says, “…the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened.”
Most surprisingly, I feel a strange glimmer of something I didn’t expect to feel: relief. Like the satisfaction of a slow exhale, I feel relieved at finding myself more aligned with the person I want to be.
A return to our previous “normal” means we haven’t learned from this crisis
In the last few weeks, I’ve witnessed people commit heartfelt acts of generosity, courage, and optimism amidst the widespread uncertainty and fear. I’ve seen more exchanges of kindness between strangers during this crisis than I have in my entire 25 years of life combined; it’s not a stretch to think it’s entirely possible for us to start applying that kindness to ourselves too.
It’s not the end of the world if we don’t accomplish 8 hours of work today. However, it might be the end of the world if we don’t provide compassion to each other, the environment, and ourselves today and every single day that follows after.
“We need to remind people that we were in a crisis before this crisis. Normal is a crisis,” says Naomi Klein. Indeed, my recent challenges and reflections during self-isolation opened my eyes to the fact that there are certain aspects of “normal” life that just aren’t worth returning to.
The toxic hustle culture, addiction to consumption, exploitation of living resources, and instant gratification were killing people, the planet, our connections to each other, and our connections to ourselves. We have lived in this normal for so long that many of us were desensitized to how destructive it is.
Part of the grieving process is accepting what has changed and moving forward. So, I hope that when all this is over, humanity moves forward with the lessons we’ve learned individually and collectively, with better habits, values, and purpose. I hope that when we are able to safely go outside and hug our loved ones again, we do so without taking any of that sweetness for granted.