This collection of my thoughts is really not for the millions of people who have lost work or been displaced by COVID-19 and its aftermath.
This is not for the medical workers fighting the disease on the front lines, nor the grocery store employees, delivery people, charity workers, and government employees who allow our society to continue to function.
This is for the people who are experiencing the discomfort of staying home all day and who really hate it.
I have a message from the introverts, the neurodiverse, the anxious, and the depressed:
A lot of us look at all the noise made on social media about how difficult it has been to cancel parties and stay home, how bored and pent up everyone is, how this is the hardest task ever… and we don’t really understand because, deep down, we’re so so relieved that daily life is finally quiet.
I suppose I don’t have the authority to speak for every single person who falls into those categories, so I will instead speak directly to my own experience.
These first two weeks of quarantine were quite possibly the best two mental health weeks of my adult life.
See, for me, the balance of my mental health has always been torn between two impossible choices:
Do I live the way I want to (and, let’s be honest, NEED to) live but be completely alone, or do I force myself into a way of life that is stressful but have that community I so desperately need?
I swing violently between the two, always feeling too tired or too lonely, and never satisfied.
But I didn’t realize just how much I was pushing and stretching myself to fit into a way of life that I’m not built for until the Coronavirus hit, and suddenly everyone was living just like me.
I could cancel plans guilt-free because I literally HAD to. I was praised for canceling them.
Everyone was working from home, so my situation as a remote worker wasn’t forgotten. Instead people asked me for advice on how to stay sane and productive.
Social interactions didn’t slow down, they just moved to the internet or the phone, allowing me to connect with all my loved ones and still have energy to spare. I’m no longer disappointing people by not being physically present, and instead they are excited to hear my voice.
I could remain in my home – a place where I feel comfortable, which I have designed to reduce stress and overstimulation – but still feel like I am wanted and needed as part of a collective. I can participate in dance classes and coffee dates and movie nights and meetings without putting myself in a draining, and potentially harmful, situation. I can follow my daily routine without appearing to neglect relationships.
I get to be in the same building as two of my favorite people in the world (my roommates) and also stay home.
I no longer have to choose.
Now, I spent a long time feeling guilty about this. I shouldn’t be so comfortable, so relieved, while lives and communities and countries are being torn apart by COVID-19. I definitely did a bunch of research into how to most effectively donate all the money I’m not spending.
So I can’t say that this pandemic has been a good thing for me. I won’t.
However, I think it does provide us an opportunity to reflect.
And my primary question is this: Why did it literally take a devastating global pandemic to get everyone to SLOW DOWN??
Why have we created a culture in which you are nothing if you are not constantly out and about, performing as a pent-up ball of stress and productivity?
Why do we look at the anxious, the quiet, the shy, the neuro-atypical, the depressed, the differently-abled, and say “you have no value to us unless you perform at the same frequency as the rest of us”?
Why did it take an order from the government to force people to stay home and be with their loved ones and find ways to stay connected and healthy? To make staying home a praiseworthy activity?
Why did it take a deadly disease for us to care about protecting the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and the people with little to no job security?
Please explain this to me because I don’t understand.
And if you find yourself truly uncomfortable with your way of life for possibly the first time: Welcome to my world! Take a seat! It’s going to take some getting used to, but don’t worry, you’re going to adjust!
Here are some pointers for living in a world you weren’t built for:
- Pay attention: Your body is constantly giving you messages about how you feel, what you need, and now more than ever it is essential that you listen to them. In order for me to survive in a large group setting, I have to continuously check in: Am I tired? Let’s go to the bathroom for a break from people, or maybe grab a snack for energy. Am I awkward or lonely? Let’s find a friendly face to cheer us up and help us get through another conversation. Am I stressed? Let’s find a painting on the wall we like, or a beautiful view through a window, or text a fellow introverted friend about how stressful people are. Am I actually surprisingly happy? Let’s remember exactly who I’m talking to and what I’m doing so we can replicate this situation in the future.
- Small victories: Everything about your way of life is contrary to what you want to be doing, so to keep running the marathon, you have to celebrate every single difficult thing you accomplish. Did you put on clothes that are not sweatpants? Throw a dance party! Did you go for a walk to help calm your thoughts? That deserves a cookie! Did you get a healthy amount of sleep when all you wanted to do was throw a rager in the backyard with your dog? Give yourself (and your dog) a hug! This kind of celebration and pride will help you keep going even when you don’t think you can.
- CO-MUN-I-CATE: I cannot stress how important it is to communicate how you feel, and how those feelings change under different circumstances, to yourself and the people in your life. If you skip this step, you’ll end up berating yourself and eventually explode, and then all the shrapnel from the explosion will hit people you love. Gotta let the air out of the balloon regularly or it pops. I tell literally everyone – my roommates, my boss, my friends, my family – how I may respond to certain circumstances and what I’m going to need to do in order to get through those feelings. Then, when I’m dissolving into a puddle on the kitchen floor because of a stressful phone call or screaming at the top of my lungs and punching pillows because the smoke alarm is going off (both true stories), they know how to react. I survive, they survive, we all survive.
And now with all this in mind, I will just say this: I hope that, through this process, as the world comes together to fight off a pandemic, we will all remember what this felt like. When we see a person who just can’t quite cope with the pace of life, we will remember the time we were going mad in the midst of our social isolation, and we will give them space to be themselves.
And maybe, even more than that, we will join them in THEIR space instead of forcing them to be in ours.
Be safe everyone. Much love.
Julia Clausen is one of the hosts of the podcast Bookclub with Julia and Victoria. She is a Californian transplanted to Chicago. After spending the first 23 years of her life reading, she loves every chance she can get to talk at length about her areas of expertise.