I’ve seen something recently online which has begun to bother me. With all of us heading into our homes to wait out the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is inevitable that we will turn to social media to see how others are handling the crisis and receive some support. I’ve also been in this social space for the past few days, a mix between struggling to manage losing the life I was building and boredom with the life I am now living. Yesterday, a post flew across my screen in peppy colours and a neat font, saying this;
In quarantine from the Plague, Issac Newton invented calculus and discovered gravity. William Shakespeare wrote King Lear. What are you doing with your time?
At first, I laughed. Then I started seeing more posts like it. Workout challenges started popping up all over the place, and posts about how to learn a new skill or study a course followed. As I kept seeing post after post after post, I began to take pause. The pressure to be productive doesn’t seem to have slowed with a pandemic, in fact it’s the opposite. There appears to be an expectation to do more, achieve more and work on more projects than ever before.
I haven’t been productive during quarantine. I’ve cried a lot, for a lot of reasons. I’ve avoided projects that I would ordinarily be working on, like essays and embroidery. I’ve slept much longer than I usually do. I spend time walking aimlessly around my house doing menial tasks and worrying about my income. I have a house full of housemates and I still feel incredibly alone. I have not felt good about how I’ve been spending my time.
This has been made worse by looking at all these social posts. At least once a day I am reminded that Issac Newton discovered gravity in quarantine. That’s a stark difference from what I am doing, which is making my bed, doing laundry and burning my toasted sandwiches. I feel, quite simply, like a fraud when I read those posts. For a few days, I thought about what revolutionary thing I was going to create in quarantine. Could it be a novel, or a new social theory, or a completely new social network? Whatever it is, I hope that it that doesn’t rely on this endless ‘inspiration porn’ culture. Those ideas began to subside when I realised that I struggled to even organise my desk space. How can I do something spectacular when I cannot even achieve the mundane?
In an effort to get myself out of this spiral, I decided to make a list of all the good things I have done in quarantine so far:
- I have washed my towels
- I facetimed with my family
- I watched The Office with my partner
- I caught up (online) with my friend who is a nurse and is one of the bravest people I know
- I moved the art in my house around into different places
As I started to write more, I began to realise that what I am doing is not insignificant, rather these are essential parts of living that I cannot put to the side. My embroidery project still sits unfinished and my essay collection remains unedited, but I did some things that benefited me. I upheld interpersonal relationships and did some housework. Those things are important.
Be cautious about your expectations in such a turbulent time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking after yourself and doing nothing else beyond that. The notion that under social isolation, which is an incredibly tough time without the pressure to perform, we have to achieve some astronomical sense of productivity is toxic. Your worth is not linked to productivity. You don’t have to be the next Shakespeare or Newton. Trust me, you don’t.
There should not be an expectation for you to use more energy than you have just so you can say that you did something with your time. You don’t have to read a book a day or start a business or invent a product that changes the world. You can just read a couple of pages, or cook banana bread, or do the dishwasher. How you spend your time under quarantine is valid, no matter how you spend it. I will be proud of myself if I complete my coursework, call my friends and avoid checking the news at every waking moment. That is all I expect myself to do under the circumstances. I, as you all are, are living through something incredibly disruptive and scary. It is terrifying, and it is okay to admit that you are scared and that your mental health is being affected. I am not okay right now, and that is an aspect of my life that I feel important to share with you.
I could publicise a false version of my life online. I could say I am being incredibly productive under the circumstances, acting as if I have everything together and encouraging you to be achieving the same level of productivity. However, I want to portray my most authentic self, and my most authentic self is a woman who is struggling. What has helped with that struggle is realising that I do not have to discover gravity to feel okay within myself during a pandemic. I would ask you to try your best to detach your worth from what you are getting done and celebrate your small wins.
Celebrate when you go to your zoom class. Celebrate when you get to spend some time online with your friends. Celebrate when you level up in the video game you play. Celebrate when you make soup.
Stop worrying about inventing gravity, and just think about getting through each day one at a time.