I recently came back from Mexico with a sun-kissed nose, sand between my toes, and… a COVID infection. It’s not my first, and while I hope it’s my last, there’s really no telling. Three years into a pandemic that took the world by storm, much has changed:
- Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people primarily working from home tripled from 5.7% (roughly 9 million people) to 17.9% (27.6 million people,) according to a 2021 U.S. Census poll.
- Traditional classroom learning transformed to remote learning in the homes of students, teachers, and parents who strove to make the most of limited resources with little to no preparedness.
- Zoom went from a verb (move or travel very quickly,) to a noun (a collaborative telecommunications platform,) back to a verb (“Let’s Zoom!”) and continues to shape the way we connect with everyone from our doctors and colleagues to our nieces and nephews.
- And last but not least, more than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the height of the pandemic, according to a 2021 American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals survey.
Yet much has remained the same: the sun still rises and sets each day; our bodies still rely on nutrition and movement to function adequately; we still look at the stars, fold clothes, wash dishes, laugh with others, and wait in lines. We still seek a sense of community, perhaps never more so than when separations both challenged the relationships we so cherished as well as allowed us to form new ones, even if it was just with the man or woman sitting 6 feet away.
As I enter my second week of quarantine, I find myself thinking about what it’s like when we we’re forced to reconcile our longing for companionship with the greater imperative to keep our distance, however temporarily.
My bedroom has now also become my kitchen; my bathroom, turned into a sanctuary for when a hot shower is all that stands between me and the relief my body so desperately craves, the way only a body that for the time being does little more than sleep can. I sense that even my dog, who is no stranger to affection (and loads of it,) has started to wonder why we’re spending so much time inside the house and less time outside of it.
I miss the overlapping voices and morning banter that rises up the stairway each day as family members make their way to the kitchen table; I miss seeing my neighbors and witnessing how they care for each other. I miss driving my car sometimes and the freedom it brings.
But it’s passing, I remind myself, transient. And it is. So I think about my sentence of solitude and how I can grow from it; how perhaps spending this extra time alone with myself is an opening rather than a closing.
It’s funny how solo time can feel different when it’s imposed rather than freely chosen. The former can so often feel like boredom, the latter like reprieve. I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, I felt trapped by my unoccupied hours, worried that if I didn’t fill them with making sourdough starter kits or putting together 500-piece puzzles, I was doing it wrong.
It felt like I was in solitary confinement, locked in a prison of the world’s making. The sense of joy I derived from being around others, from seeing myself in another and allowing another to be seen, was suddenly in short supply. Without that reflection, it’s easy to lose sight of how we fit in with our surroundings, of our place in the world.
But despite feeling alone and being alone, in a larger sense, I wasn’t. I was one of the millions, billions perhaps, of people feeling the weight of their newfound captivity on their shoulders.
This time, I’m not picking up that weight. I’m reminding myself that being with myself is a practice as much as being with others is, and it needn’t feel heavy. “Spend 5 minutes in solitude each day,” I’ll often prescribe to clients. “Just be with yourself and see what emerges.”
I’m choosing to be deliberate about how I spend my remaining time in quarantine, to use this as an opportunity to get to know myself better. I’ve decided not to check email for the next several days because I know there’s nothing urgent. I’ve decided to sit down and type out this blog post after an unintended long absence. I’ve decided not to think about what friends are doing and what I’m missing out on because doing so would mean missing moments with myself.
I’ve decided to listen, really listen, to what I’m wanting and needing: sleep, a walk, a laugh, a cry, a snack, a stretch, music, silence, meditation, or a mixture. I’ve decided to reach out to loved ones thoughtfully rather than impulsively, and to let them reach out to me. I’ve decided not to be hard on myself but to be gentle, to show myself compassion rather than animosity.
I’ve decided that I’m worthy: of being cared for; of being witnessed; of being told it’s going to be ok; of extra blankets; of new shows and old favorites; of thoughtful gestures; of pints of ice cream; of all my feelings; of all my hopes; of all my plans for the future.
I’ve decided that there’s no better way to spend the next little while than to get on the floor and watch my pup as she methodically takes her toys out of their basket one by one and shakes them with a vigor reserved for only the most playful and present-minded among us.