A couple of weeks into the lockdown, I told myself, I am going to decorate my room. It had been around eight months since I moved into the house I am in, and beyond furniture and one framed photo, there isn’t much in it. Now that I’m home for who knows how long, let me finally put something on these bare walls, hang up the art my aunt had given me, clear out my messy table, and shake things up.
Three months later, not much has changed. The walls are still bare, though I managed to hang up the lights that I had been putting off for months. The day I did that – it took exactly five minutes – it felt like an achievement. But the next moment, I was chiding myself for not doing enough. What was my excuse? I was working from home, wasn’t tired from commuting, was no longer socialising outside my home, and had worn nothing but pyjamas in the last couple of weeks. My social media feed was full of peers learning new skills, baking bread, learning to dance, working out, starting new Instagram pages, setting up virtual ‘quarantine and chill’ routines with friends. So why wasn’t I making better use of my time?
Thankfully, I realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling like this. Many friends and acquaintances were also beating themselves up for their lack of drive and desire to be productive.
Let’s get some things clear – we are in the middle of a pandemic. We can’t step out of our homes, we can no longer see people smiling, sharing street food or walking hand in hand; can no longer freely go to our loved ones, or hug and kiss them when we meet them, if at all. We can no longer just walk into a movie theatre, our favourite bakery or even step out for a stroll. We’ve stopped seeing new faces, think twice before making human contact. All this, besides what’s happening beyond our personal lives – the collective trauma of witnessing disease, suffering, loss, death and chaos all around the world.
Sounds bleak, right? It is. Just for a moment, let’s not sugarcoat it.
So, the question really is – how are the people whose productivity is in beast mode right now getting themselves to do it? The possible answers are, but not limited to, that these could be coping mechanisms, distractions, facilitations of privilege, and in many cases, just sheer drive and will to make the best of the circumstances. And while that’s commendable, we need to be OK with not feeling OK.
Even for those of us who have roofs over our heads, jobs to keep us busy, and loved ones close by, the world isn’t what it was just a few months ago. With little to no warning, our workplaces, homes, recreational spaces have all become one and the same. Travel plans, weddings, get-togethers have all been cancelled or postponed. Routines have been disrupted, family dynamics have shifted, and worry has become a companion.
Just staying at home may not appear like too much of a change, but the adjustment required is no less. Most of all, there is a gnawing sense of uncertainty. Mental health issues like anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder have been spiking across the world. And it is normal to feel emotionally and mentally exhausted for no apparent reason.
Amid all this, if you are managing to maintain some semblance of a routine, feed yourself, bathe and clothe yourself, it may seem like you are doing the bare minimum. But it is enough.
You don’t need to go declutter your cupboard, reorganise your shelves, read four books a month, binge that hot new documentary series, log into every yoga webinar you come across, or start a YouTube channel. If you want to do these things and they help you or ease your stress, go ahead. But if they are the reason you are stressed out, that really isn’t the point.
Instead of looking to finish big projects (and ‘big’ is subjective here), it’s OK to pat yourself on the back for doing a small chore or task. If you’re struggling, set up a simple routine – even if it’s just bathing every day instead of every few days – if that helps you; and be kind to yourself when you slip up once in a while. Celebrate reaching out, and doing what helps you at this time instead of beating yourself up for not doing more.
A little over a week ago, I finally put away the bag I used to take to my office. It had gathered dust after being left untouched for months. As I emptied and dusted it before putting it inside the cupboard, I thought, maybe this is a sign that I am getting used to the new normal. I don’t like it, but it felt like a tiny little progress towards accepting where I am mentally and emotionally and what life is like right now.
Maybe this month, I will finally paint the glass bottles I have been hoarding. I bought the acrylic paints for that early last month. Two weeks ago, I also bought double-sided tape to hang up some posters that have been lying in storage. Even if I don’t do these things, I will have found a way to live through this fraught moment in history. That will have to be enough.
Views expressed are author's own.