Amanda Siebert:

Holy shit, everything is so hard right now (and that’s okay)

Photo credit: Aarón Blanco Tejedor via Unsplash

“Now’s the time to finish that project you’ve been sitting on.”
“Stay productive with this list of social isolation activities.”
“Quarantine is a great time for self-improvement!”

If I read one more suggestion on how to endure a pandemic from some eager 22-year-old with a counselling diploma (who has also never endured a pandemic), I might just claw my eyes out.

As people around the world adjust our daily schedules and habits to protect ourselves as best we can from coronavirus, it seems everyone is chock full of advice as to how we might “make the best” of our time cooped up alone in our apartments (or, at home with a house full of bored-as-hell children).

Among the well-intentioned but charmingly unaware “tips” I’ve read are such golden nuggets as: “Make your own bread!”, “Plant a balcony herb garden!”, “Teach your kids a new skill!”, “Take up knitting!”, and, my personal favourite, “Start writing that book you’ve been putting off for years!” (If you’ve ever committed to writing something sizable during a period of personal crisis, you’ll know that last one is especially laughable.)

Some are taking up the call: this past week, my Facebook feed has been flooded with iPhone snaps of freshly potted plants and loaves of sourdough. At first, I felt guilty, and perhaps a bit of FOMO for not feeling compelled to engage in this sort of performative escapism.

“No works in progress? No seedlings to tend to? You must be taking this well,” I thought to myself. Granted, I am (luckily) still working, and by the time I make it through the day, I find myself so exhausted by the constant deluge of hysteria-inducing headlines that the mere thought of taking on some new and unknown task is painful.

This, I’ve decided, is totally, 100 per cent okay.

Call me cynical, and perhaps I’m missing something here, but the idea that we should all go about our quarantined lives as though this time is some sort of grand opportunity to do things we’ve never done before borders on bat-shit crazy. The entire population is facing a major health threat, people are being infected at unprecedented rates, and you’re trying to tell me the solution to passing this time lies in filling my anxiety-riddled brain up with even more stuff?

Think of all of the changes you’ve made to your life in the last few weeks as a result of COVID-19. As we (reluctantly) become accustomed to spending significantly more time in our homes than we might be used to—not to mention hand-washing and sanitizing to the point of dry, cracked skin—we’re experiencing feelings of isolation from friends and family; of panic when we see empty grocery shelves, packed parks, and updated curves; and of complete and utter helplessness.

While phone calls, virtual meet-ups, and social media might help with feelings of loneliness, the other two are a little harder to manage. How do you quell panic when everyone around you, even that tough-as-nails friend of yours, is experiencing the same feeling? How do you move forward when advisories and warnings seem to be doing little to affect the way some people are going about their day-to-day lives? How do you turn off the voice in your head that won’t stop asking, “what will I do if my parents get it? Who will be the last person they see?”

Maybe doing more helps with feelings of helplessness—it does feel good to create, to use the mind, to build things—but if we’re being driven to do these things out of fear and as a way to turn reality off, is the end result really going to be self-improvement? The fact is, whether you’re being “productive” or not, enduring a pandemic and all the things that come with it is taxing. Rest is important too, and might go a little further than that handmade doily as far as self-improvement goes.

Add to the stress of layoffs, unpaid bills, pending rent cheques, and possible illness, the amount of pressure we’re all facing amid this pandemic may be at a boiling point for some of us—and as health officials have said, this is only the beginning. I commend those of you who are able to sit in the chaos and add to your plates, but I also see those of you who (like me) are struggling to keep up with all the things that were on our plates before this all started.

No matter what situation you’re in—whether you’re laid off, working from home, or returning to the job site everyday—this shit is hard. In the midst of a radically changing present and a largely unknown future, don’t beat yourself up for feeling weighed down, directionless, and just plain fucking exhausted. I am choosing to relish the moments of absolutely nothing.