Brussels: Taking care of yourself in quarantine

There is a calmness that has been washing over Lien since she has been self-quarantined. While she observes how people are telling each other that this period is the time to be the hyper-achieving superhuman we are all taught to be, Lien believes this not feasible when all ties have been cut loose. "Everything is on pause now and the only thing you can really learn is how to be alone and to find peace with yourself."


I am in lockdown and I am content. There is a calmness that has been washing over me since I am self-quarantined. Before my government took the necessary measures concerning the virus, I was incredibly anxious about the looming isolation that was waiting for me all alone in a big house. Now that it is actually here, I am finally realising what is good for me.


The last couple of months have been a chaotic mess. Last summer there came an end to my three year relationship and I graduated university. Ever since, I had to fend for myself and my wellbeing non-stop. Especially the job hunt was taking its toll: getting into final rounds and receiving constant rejection were detrimental for my physical and mental health. I was afraid of not being good enough, not being a fun person to hang out with, and first and foremost not being the kind of person that would actually be able to deal with adult life in any way. Last week there finally came an end to the rollercoaster my life had been: I got a job that I was actually looking forward to and I was supposed to start on Monday. And then came the lockdown.


Brussels. Photo by Job Zomerplaag


That leaves me with three weeks until I can start working from home. For now there are zero expectations of me. Usually I write a weekly movie review, that’s done. Usually I go to bars to hang out with friends, that’s done. I would try to be an achiever in social situations, in occupational situations, in creative situations, that’s done. A virus pushed me out of the rat race that I was forced into years ago and it has been a surprisingly good thing.


'A virus pushed me out of the rat race that I was forced into years ago and it has been a surprisingly good thing'

Don’t get me wrong: I do know this all sounds a bit problematic. For any healthy person, isolation should not be the ideal state. But I have not been healthy since puberty. I have been dealing with anxiety and depression on and off, rooted in a fear of not being able to meet the bar that was set for me. And I am aware that the main reason I am well is because I am forced into my usual comfort zone: avoidance. I do not have to face my fears, because I literally can’t.


Over time I have often written about meritocracy and the self-made-men we’re all supposed to be. Work hard and live your best life. Unemployed? Depressed? Impoverished? Work harder. You’ll get there. Now that no one is ‘living their best life’, the meritocracy seems temporarily deconstructed. We have all been collectively looking for what is important to us outside of jobs, shopping and travel. To stay afloat by our own rules. And now that seeing friends regularly is off the table, it is all about what you do to only make yourself feel good.


For me it has been my new embroidery hobby, reading, skyping with my close friends that I had not seen in a while, editing videos that have no purpose except for entertaining myself with dumb jokes, writing in my diary, watching movies, taking long baths and drinking less alcohol. I am alone so there is no one to impress except for myself. And I have been impressed by my ability to navigate in this situation while finding self-worth in things that I do instead of waiting for other people to judge whether I am good enough.


'I am alone so there is no one to impress except for myself'

Sure, there are still people who even in this situation try to transcend mediocrity, proclaiming on Twitter that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine while the pest was making thousands of victims outside. They are telling you it is now your time to peak, to be the hyper-achieving superhuman we are all taught to be. But that is not feasible when all ties are cut loose. No one is at their peak when they are worried about their aunt, sister, grandmother, father or colleague getting sick. And especially not when it is unclear when things are going to go back to normal.


So no, I am not going to write my long overdue novel. I am not going to leave my quarantine with songs I wrote, art pieces I made or a deep intellectual understanding of what my place is in this world. Everything is on pause now and the only thing you can really learn is how to be alone and to find peace with yourself.


'Everything is on pause now and the only thing you can really learn is how to be alone and to find peace with yourself'

I know I am in a privileged situation: I am not worried about my lack of income yet, I have become more resilient in stressful situations after years of therapy, I am an introvert, I am not at the frontline fighting the disease, I have a home, friends and family. With the world being such a scary place right now, it even feels ignorant to say I have been doing well.


At the same time, I do believe there are many things to learn from having to live with yourself. Every single person will probably meet their shortcomings and the sabotages they set up for themselves. And that might be valuable in the end. Maybe we will not leave quarantine with a brilliant craft to impress your bosses and loved ones with, but we might come out of this with a lot of knowledge of who we are without outward judgement and with an awareness of what is good for ourselves. And that I do believe is more valuable than your own version of King Lear.


This story was shared by Lien, a journalist living in Brussels.


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