Quarantine sure gives you a hell of a lot of time to think.
I was quarantined in my apartment for two weeks with all of the symptoms of COVID-19 and absolutely no way to verify I had it. Waves of crushing loneliness and complete calm washed over me like the tides. I took to admiring and appreciating what sunlight I could in between fever dreams and coughing fits. Whatever it was, the illness was miserable, and I thought I was going to kiss my asthmatic, anxiety-filled life goodbye.
The keen observer will notice I’m still here. I got lucky. I learned two things in quarantine:
I love mid-70s Turkish soul music. I know. I didn’t expect that either.
I learned how to be alone with myself.
This might not seem like a big deal to some folks. So what? We all have to be alone at some point. But do we? I don’t know about you, but my first instinct when I feel lonely is to reach for my phone. Or open a bottle of wine. Or both. (My apologies to anyone who’s received a text from me at one in the morning about my own spiritual musings or worse – jazz.)
After about a day of attempted healing on my couch, I got tired of the constant updates from the New York Times, friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – I was just done. And I couldn’t drink because I knew it would impede my immune system from working whatever magic it could. So that left me sitting on my couch. Alone. With my thoughts.
Life hasn’t been too good for me the past few years. You don’t need the details, but it’s a fact. And I blame myself. Which means sitting alone means self deprecation, spiraling wildly downward until I can’t cope with it anymore and start looking for someone else to blame. It’s a fear response. I don’t want to look at my problems and start to evade them with worry and suspicion. It’s not healthy.
But I’ve been taught there’s two ways to look at the world. There’s fear – the old stand-by – and there’s curiosity.
So, when I stopped vomiting, I decided to give curiosity a try.
Sitting there, on my couch, in my studio apartment, I asked myself why. Why do I get so down on myself? On others? Why do I need to take myself so seriously? Why am I the way I am? Maybe these are the kinds of thoughts that happen when one’s got a fever for that long, I don’t know. The point is, it worked. I felt better. When I finally returned to work, it helped there, too.
My hours had been cut in half. I was furious. Until I took a breath, looked at my situation, and started asking why. The same goes for when a customer would blow up for small reasons, or when someone would get frustrated or be rude for no reason at all. Sit with that feeling. Move on. Things are tough.
Look, you don’t need someone like me to tell you these are uncertain, scary times. And a lot of people are realizing they don’t like to be alone with themselves. We’re social creatures by nature. Eastlake is a great example of that – there are more people out by the lake than I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve lived here long enough to know it’s not the weather.
But I’ve learned that solitude can be nourishment, like sunshine and honey.
Too much is definitely not a good thing, but we need to learn to have a little bit without being afraid or feeling guilty. It’s good for you.
Some people are calling the shutdown “The Great Pause,” but from what I’ve seen a lot of us are running harder and harder from the reality of the situation. We need to learn to take a breather. We need to learn how to ask ourselves the questions we’ve been putting off that we know have been making us miserable.
It’s long been my belief that looking at the world with curiosity instead of fear makes us kinder and more compassionate. I often forget that I’m part of the world. And so are you. And the world is in a rough spot.
You live with your partner? With roommates? That’s a different form of isolation, I know. It can be frustrating. As hippy-dippy as it sounds, knowing yourself better will help you get to know them better, too.
So, if you can, I suggest you spend some time with you. You’ve earned it. You’ve got time. And you’ll be better for it.