It is already the fourth week of quarantine. I look out the window, past a cactus to an empty street. Ironically, I’m writing this when I would be on my way to Alaska to do a bicycle journey.
It is a somewhat awkward situation. Work, the weekly salsa class, eating out with friends, an appointment here and there. Everything is different and most of it isn’t there. Fortunately, I’m a person who doesn’t really miss things that quick. I don’t allow myself to be emotional about it. It’s not there and that’s ok. I will adjust to that.
But actually it’s not ok. We will be at home for months in what our prime minister believes to be an intelligent lockdown here in the Netherlands. I had a clear goal that suddenly disappeared. A clear goal gives direction and meaning. Now what? What am I going to do in the near future? Staring at an empty street while I crumble away all my savings?
When I first became aware of this lockdown and its length, I felt a shock reaction. Like, okay, but what am I going to do in the next 3-6 months? Then I thought of all the frustration I am likely going to have. And all the frustration that others are likely going to have. From a partner. From children. From no social and physical contact. Of simply not being able to do what lets us flourish. Of the deaths of people in our surroundings. We are entering a time where we will be more vulnerable to sad feelings and depression. Uncertainty. Stress. Frustration. Grief. It will be a complete mental challenge. And yes, if that is our destiny, then we better prepare ourselves for it.
But how do you prepare for a crisis for which grandma and grandpa even don’t have any specific advice on?
I tried to consider some questions myself. What makes me happy? How? How do I get recognition? How do I give meaning to my existence? And what does that mean in this period?
I’m a slightly introverted person on the spectrum of introvert and extravert. In general, I have a greater need for autonomy than for being together with other people. Is that perhaps my luck in this time? Well, also for me, I’m convinced that a balance is needed. Being completely alone is not healthy, nor is it healthy to be entirely dependent on contact and recognition from others. We sometimes lean towards these extremes because then we have had too much of one and our primary need then screams for the other. Channeling, monitoring a balance and communicating this well with our fellow quarantine members is first and foremost very important.
My strong need for autonomy comes from my inability to maintain a good balance. In daily life, in work, in relationships, it’s difficult for me to guard my limits. I tend to please others at my own expense. I then avoid conflicts, confrontation, because I cannot articulate my boundaries well at a communicative level. Or others don’t allow it to happen. When I can’t get this under control, a strong sense of autonomy comes from deep within me. My helplessness makes me want only one thing and that is away from this frustration. A great solution then is to go cycling, camping, to be completely dependent on myself. That then fulfills my need to be alone for a while and then I’m completely ok again.
The balance between this more autonomous spectrum and the symbiotic spectrum is different for everyone. At its core, I think we should keep asking ourselves what we need every day. So that we either don’t overreact completely on our fellow quarantine members, or want to run away because we cannot express our frustration.
At first I thought, quarantine is my comfort space, I adapt and also I’ve become really good friends with my inner self. The hard truth is that it’s not going to be easy for anyone of us to be locked down at home for months.
Now that we are entering the fourth week of quarantine, I already notice some change. I get more lazy, it seems that it’s getting harder to get out of bed. I think the reason for this is the lack of social pressure to perform. That is very important in setting and achieving goals. Social pressure is now largely gone, especially with working from home. I think that is why it’s going to be all the more important to pin ourselves down to a stable routine and be committed to that routine. Seeking direction and meaning in small victories. To prevent us from going crazy from all coming uncertainty, stress and frustration.
The thing is that you cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
Everyday I try to wake up at 7 AM. I start the day with yoga and breath exercises. At 8 AM I go out for a run or a bike ride. When I come back I take a cold shower. I make breakfast at 9 AM and start working at 9:30 AM. Or read. Or write. Or something else productive. I start cooking at 5:30 PM. In the evening I usually relax, watch an episode of a satirical TV show, or a speech by our prime minister Mark Rutte, or an episode of First Dates, or calling someone. I stopped as much as possible with watching all news and social media and try to focus more on inner peace during this time. And closing off from all hectic helps me very well with that.
With today’s world leaders and sustainability issues, I feared things would go wrong somewhere in the future. That it would become a pandemic may not be a bad outcome after all. In the near future, we will focus more on ourselves. Our family. Our society. You know, I believe this is going to bring us closer together in ways we don’t even knew. We have been growing apart in western societies for decades with a great focus on consuming and individual freedom. We will really need each other again in this times of crisis. For moral support. Because this is probably the new normal for a long period of time.
To me it feels as if a greater power has just pulled the handbrake. A wake up call. Like, hey, look around you instead of only ahead. Just reflect a little bit on what really matters to you.
This article is inspired by the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. An interesting book for this time, it’s about hope in times of surviving Auschwitz during the Holocaust.