I’m a devoted planner. I thrive in certainty and I like curating my whole life intentionally. Every habit is handpicked, I’m incredibly selective with my friends, and I’ve worked very hard to build a life that I’m proud of. I have yearly goals, charting monthly progress and trajectories and a weekly planner, broken down into bite-sized tasks for the everyday. I have blueprints stretching 5 years ahead, 10 years ahead. I find comfort and solace in certainty, I build palaces with my imagination and expectations and make my home there. So, on my 100th day of quarantine, when life is anything but certain, I sat down to think. I’ve been escaping to my terrace and watching a sunset a day. I usually take my journal along, I’ve been writing about some hard-hitting matters of the heart, spooling all my insecurities from my rib-cage, and etching them on paper. My plans for the year are extremely hazy. I am at the precipice of a major life changing event, something I have been excited about and worked hard for years now. But the fruits of my labour don't taste so sweet because they come with a heavy after-taste of uncertainty. I am supposed to start a new chapter of my life come September, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. What is comforting yet heart-wrenching is that we’re all in the same boat. All our lives are on pause, and it’s a privilege indeed if the pause is all it is. Day 100 is no joke and I initially was looking at this period as a buffer zone, a limbo, a no-man’s land where everything goes. But this is our normal now, it really is, and while it is difficult indeed, we cannot reduce ourselves into a smudge of who we used to be and wrap ourselves into a burrito waiting for it to end. So, I’ve been indulging in a thought experiment. “How can I be the best version of myself, even through these unprecedented circumstances?” “How can I derive happiness when I have nothing but myself?” Here I am, I have no idea where my life will take me in the next few months, and I’m grappling at a sense of meaning and structure that can only come from within, from a sincere exploration of the self. I’ve tried the following with great results. 1. Deriving joy from simple things One miraculous thing to happen this quarantine was that my entire family decided to get along extremely well. There have been no shouting matches, no tantrums, no door slamming. Somehow we have all collectively agreed to become the kind of family in stock photos, cooking for each other, taking turns to clean the house, cutting fruits for the other when they seem to be getting into a mood. Flatmates are getting along now more than ever as well. Making cute videos with each other, even if it’s a TikTok dance (wow, this article did not age well), funny skits, or dusting an old board game and declaring their dominance in Monopoly. Cut mangoes seem juicier this year, pets are cuddled more, and grocery runs are seen as adventure quests. There is joy yearning to be squeezed like nectar from the simplest of things, and if you’re one of the lucky ones with good quarantine company, you are truly blessed. May you find joy in your own version of simple things, when you write a poem, or try a homemade face mask, or get to taste sunshine again. 2. Occupying myself with stimulating at-home activities. There was a time when I used to mindlessly binge-watch something entirely irrelevant after I returned from work. Why did I indulge in such a mind-numbing activity? I realize it was because of the freedom and privilege I didn’t know I had. Nothing was taken away from me, so I melted into my most comfortable, lazy self. But now that freedom was taken away, I became hyper-aware of how I was spending my time. When you see no end in sight, how many days can you spend watching some TV show or scrolling through Instagram? I started spending every hour more intentionally. I rationed my time for all the tasks I could do even in the comfort of my own home. I created art, I cooked different recipes, I worked on projects with additional zest and enthusiasm. How did this happen? All stimulating things were taken away from us. We could no longer get our dopamine fix from restaurants, banter with colleagues, drinks with friends, or just some really good coffee. How much could we depend on filler and unproductive activities to fulfill us? The quality of dopamine released for frivolous activities deteriorated as the days of quarantine grew. How much joy can re-watching some episode of Seinfeld provide anyway? Baking a cake to perfection can give you way more joy, I guarantee it. Indulging in productive activities started fulfilling me way more. So, it pushed me to do more things I’ve always wanted to do. Ironically, it took having all the time in the world on my hands to understand how precious and fleeting it all really was.
3. Tailoring my goals to quarantine constraints. How do I usually figure out what goals are worth having? I sit with my insecurities. I turn on some ambient lighting in my bedroom, play some sad music on a Saturday evening, and really let it tug at my heartstrings. Sometimes, our insecurities carry secrets of what we really want from life. I had deep, aching conversations with my insecurities and I truly tried to listen to them. They told me that when something hurts it’s an indication of some desire of mine going unfulfilled. They also told me to make sure this was coming from my handcrafted expectations for my own life, and not expectations imposed by someone else upon me. If it hurt when I saw someone fit on Instagram, it meant I cared about my fitness and I needed to pay more attention to it. If it pains when I get a bad grade, it means I care about my grades and need to put more effort there. I listened to them, I cried with them, and we comforted each other. With all this new information, I designed a new set of goals and plan for myself that I can focus on. And I’m able to work on them despite the isolation. I’m more regular with my home workouts, I study more efficiently by finding a quiet space for myself at home, I take up side projects online. I reiterate my goals every so often and find ways to stick to them even during isolation. There’s always something worth working on. Just because we’re stuck at home doesn’t mean we put our goals, our desires on hold. Before quarantine, running a marathon or going on that popular and challenging trek could have been goals worth having. Now I’ve tailored my goals to fit the constraints of quarantine life.. Now, working on learning a handstand within the next 6 months is important to me and I show up every day for it. My goals have evolved, and I choose them wisely by listening carefully to who I really want to be. I promise you, you’re a human vessel of infinite dreams, you will find at least a handful of them you could work on, even in quarantine. And this fuel of staying true to yourself, and working on yourself, will keep you powered through these times. The best we can do is to colour inside these lines instead of throwing away the whole picture, right? 4. Staying sane with structure Human beings thrive with some form of structure. And the best way to do that is with autonomy. You build your own structure, in the canvas that is your life. I tried various challenges to retain structure in my life as a whole. While a major chunk of my day is reserved for work, I utilize my down time for pieces of my identity I consider worth preserving, quarantine or not. I’ve been breaking up the weeks ahead into sprints, each assigned a certain challenge that will give me a reason to jump out of bed that day. In my quest, I’ve tried a poetry challenge for 30 days, cooking consistently for the next 30, and setting a goal for hitting a certain respectable number of push ups by a set date. I make my goals quantifiable and they give me structure for the next few weeks. Once that’s done, I will pick something else up, and let that challenge sustain me and keep me sane for the next sprint. For example, I’m looking at an Indoor Photography challenge next. For this, I am going to structure my prompts beforehand and plan each of my shots carefully. I need to get creative when the only exotic location is my house and the only props available are things my mom has hoarded. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do. The important thing is to set challenges and goals that excite you and for which you can fully show up as yourself. We don’t have a lot of structure during these days, and it’s possible for our sleep schedules and routines to go haywire. But putting in the extra effort will help you retain the core meaning and value of my life by filling it with things I love. I’m staying committed to who I am by making space for them even in my quarantine life.
The effort and work put in to secure one’s identity even during a crisis to the best of their abilities while adhering to social responsibility exposes the beautiful spirit of humans to endure and grow. And we need to do this for ourselves, to protect the very essence of life.
It’s very tempting to think that our life is on pause. But we can still stay true to who we are, as much as our privilege allows it, in whatever way we can.
This time is also precious and the wheels of life continue to turn, crisis or not. And the unfortunate thing is, we won’t really know when things will return to normal. So, we must start by being grateful for our privilege that allows for such pursuits, the highest level of the Maslow’s hierarchy, the intimate quest of self actualization. My purpose during these times has just been to preserve and nourish who I am when I have nothing but myself. And this has made all the difference.