Monday, April 12, 2021

‘I designed myself a syllabus of quarantine goals – then spent weeks eating cereal in bed’ | Life and style


Last week a friend jokingly asked to compare how many cliched quarantine activities we’d done, mentioning with excitement “I even pickled something!” After a brief pause, while flashbacks of stressfully eating cereal in my bed at 5pm played in my mind, I realised that instead of fully leaning into the goal-driven mindset, I’d fully leaned out.

Now that restrictions are easing across Australia, we’ll start to look back on the last two months (or approximately 80 Covid-years) and ask each other “what have you been up to?” Back in March when the World Health Organization and government leaders stressed the importance of social distancing, others stressed the importance of staying productive.

“Devise a home gym!” they shouted. “Teach children to grow vegetables…” they cooed. Businessmen on LinkedIn hooted and hollered about “using this time to develop powerful, enviable habits!” All my friends seemed to be suddenly horny for Adriene’s yoga and sourdough starter.

“Please, for the love of God,” I whimpered, “just let me have an existential crisis in peace.” That’s exactly what I did.

It’s an understandable urge to find a silver lining in chaos – it was indeed my first instinct. I began self-isolating in mid-March – my day job had closed its doors and freelance work had dried up; morning gym visits and evening pub drinks were banned.

#Quarantinegoals became a subset of the internet that fascinated me. With endless uncertainty ahead, I designed a syllabus for myself:

“We’ll set a 5am alarm like always, and exercise three times a day,” my mind instructed me. “Definitely limited Netflix – now’s the time to get through your summer reading stack from last year!” “Oh, and should we learn Spanish? Absolutamente!”

I, too, wanted to be like those perfect Instagram people who are adaptable, resilient, and can find purpose in the bleakest of times.

But what actually happened?

Anxiety-fuelled insomnia followed by daytime stress naps. Multiple Uber Eats deliveries of something called “peanut butter cookie dough”. The liquor cabinet – a fancy name for Aldi gin resting atop a dusty bookshelf – was quickly depleted. After spending time panicking about money, I bounced between playing The Sims and circling the room, flapping my arms like a frightened baby bird.

I didn’t develop any enviable habits, and I’m more than OK with that.

Traditional models of capitalist success and 9-5 productivity weren’t relevant. In fact, they’d been proven to be unreliable and broken systems. The very act of staying indoors and away from others was productive – and still is. Truly, it gave me great joy to only have “stay home” on my to-do list during the start of uncertainty and chaos.

It was not the time to be punishing ourselves for seeking comfort in cute animal videos or elastic-waist trousers.

Unless you are hoarding essential groceries or stealing hospital hand sanitiser, now is the time to relinquish judgment of ourselves. Many of us are perfectionists and high achievers and look where that got us? Making jokes on the internet for free while the world implodes.

During stress and suffering, our cortisol-fuelled brains whimper, “how can I find meaning in this?” But it has quickly become clear that this pandemic is so much bigger than any one of us, no matter how much we try to mould it into normalcy, like kneading dough. (I don’t know how bread is made.)

We are still grieving. Life is still not normal. Frankly, flapping your arms and shrieking into the sky is a perfectly appropriate response to what is happening.

So if, like me, you leaned into the chaos and spent the last few weeks eating cereal in bed or rewatching The Office for the 100th time – congratulations. It’s an achievement to have rejected the productivity mindset these last few weeks. You were focusing on survival.

We know this isn’t over yet, so let’s focus on looking after ourselves and looking out for each other, and for those who are left out when people state that we’re all in this together. Then throw out your goal-setting diary, roll yourself up in a red blanket and perform Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights for your cat. Whatever continues to get you through.

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