By Diana Testa
New York City, like almost everywhere else around the world, has been shut down for over a month with no clear date on when it will be safe to reopen. Penn Station is empty during rush hour on a Monday and Times Square is eerily vacant, with billboards flashing images to no one but the lone-masked person scurrying home.
I’ve been social-distancing like everyone else (who actually cares about humanity and listens to the experts) for weeks now, only leaving home to go on runs around the neighborhood and on anxious trips to the food store. My family and I occasionally venture out on early-morning drives to watch the waves crash against a desolate beach from the car. But for the most part, I’ve been pretty sedentary.
Like many others, I’ve been spending a significant amount of time monotonously scrolling through social media, not really knowing what else to do with myself. My little projects, like organizing my room and cleaning out closets are starting to become lackluster.
Most of us are now faced with a lot of unchartered time in our days– free time some people haven’t had since they were kids. My Instagram feed is filled with endless posts of people creating art, writing that book they’ve been putting off for years, baking an obscene amount of banana bread, exercising like they’re joining the military or reading and giving their homes extreme makeovers.
I have my own lists scattered in notebooks and the notes app on my phone, filled with writing ideas and fitness goals that always seemed too time-consuming to dive into. Now that I’m being ordered to isolate myself at home and have all this extra time, it’s the golden opportunity to finally get my life together. I mean, it’s kind of every writer’s dream!
Except, getting my life together is the opposite of what I’m doing…
I’m writing this from my bedroom at 4 p.m. on a Monday, feeling extremely frustrated with myself for not being more productive today. My hair is crying to be washed and my bedroom walls are begging for the blinds to be opened. I could very well have homework due soon but I haven’t checked my online agenda since last Friday. The truth is, I feel incredibly unmotivated to get anything done.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, what seems like the perfect opportunity to reorganize my life feels like a new obstacle. All this time to “focus on myself” has turned into overthinking. And all this overthinking has caused anxiety. I don’t feel creative or relaxed with all this unchartered time, but instead unmotivated and drained.
I didn’t recognize how much I thrive on my routines and organized social interactions, such as classes and team practices until they were gone; they kept my mental and physical health in order. Now, without anything forcing me out of bed, on a run or to talk with my friends– any kind of normalcy feels out of reach.
I started writing this with a lot of frustration and anger for not using this time to better myself, but I’m realizing that all the expectations I’ve placed on myself are unrealistic in such a strange and uncertain time. I’m readjusting what productivity looks like to me and letting go of all the unnecessary stress I’ve accumulated by comparing myself to others.
To anyone reading this also struggling with self-expectations right now, it’s okay if your best during this time looks like waking up and taking a shower; or making yourself something healthy to eat. Even getting yourself to move your body by doing some yoga or stretching is a marker of progress. You don’t have to come out of this pandemic with a new skill or with rock-hard abs. You don’t have to remake yourself into the perfect person. Take a deep breath and try to find peace with yourself. You’re doing the best you can given the circumstances. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay home!