Over the last few months, the world has radically changed. It’s a situation unprecedented, never before have I — or most people, I imagine — experienced something quite like this. A mass pandemic rages across the world, entire nations are put on lockdown. Rules about social distancing are enforced, the interpersonal world is shut down. There are no places to go, nowhere to have fun, no one to meet.
At times, the lockdown situation feels as though I’ve been transported back to my early teens, when I was a serious introvert and socially anxious. I spent most of my free-time indoors, on the computer, listening to music. The world, to me, seemed a threatening place back then. Now it seems to have genuinely become one, with dangerous consequences for many if the virus remains uncontained. Isolation is a necessity. And as I isolate I realise I have more time to think about things, more time to ponder things, more time to work on things. It’s a time of inspiration, a time to get much done on projects unfinished or untouched.
…And yet, I find myself procrastinating more. I find myself staying up later than I intend, watching pointless Youtube videos or browsing social media. As the days trod on, and insolation continues, time itself seems to become blurry. I can seldom tell how many days have passed. I look at my phone and it’s Thursday evening. Isolation has brought about a lack of discipline, with no way to keep track of time, no important dates to work towards, nowhere I’m needed to be, everything has blurred. I want to write more, promise myself that I will, and then I take break that ends up lasting two or three days. Days spent browsing Twitter or YouTube.
Process is difficult when one is confined to the same place, seeing the exact same things every day. When it comes to creativity, I often find travelling for a bit would rejuvenate me. Sitting on a bus, mulling over writing, fresh ideas would pop into my mind, a tricky plot detail might have resolved itself by journey’s end. Now there is nowhere really to travel, now there are no places to have a drink, look out the window, watching and thinking.
When faced with a problem, a new solution needs to be found. Travelling has become a process for me, but it wasn’t always so. As I search my memory, I recall very introverted me had no issues coming up with ideas whilst spending time indoors. Back then it was an escape, somewhere for me to fly to, when the world appeared a scary and invalidating place, when I could spend hours writing all sorts from stories to internet arguments. Back them my fount of inspiration was something entirely different.
In quarantine my struggles have become about remaining disciplined, upending the problematic lifestyle I’ve been falling into, and finding a new means of creating inspiration when I feel motivation lacking. Even if, when it comes to writing, it’s as simple as one line at a time, each after another.
Yet there’s another peculiar element to quarantine: the limited movement and the pandemic circumstances have a profound effect on one’s mind. I find myself watching news reports, anxious at the death tolls, the economic impact this will have and what future difficulties await us once this has passed; and I wonder how mental health will suffer from this necessary isolation. People are alone, or stuck with the same people day after day, family members are dying, and there are few real ways to entertain ourselves, to distract ourselves, to indulge ourselves.
For me my mind has wandered back to older days, contemplating things past. Old insecurities have come back, regrets have to the fore. In isolation, there’s no way to fix or change most things; it’s like being trapped with a negative record within your mind, repeating over and over again. Focus has become essential. The mind needs purpose and most have lost their daily routines, daily regularities and their sense of everyday purpose. Boredom and frustration set in, and motivation seems to fade into procrastination and aimless distraction. At times like these, we often require increased social contact, support and emotional fulfilment — unfortunately the circumstances make that an impossibility. More vulnerable people — those with physical or mental health conditions for example, those struggling financially— are at greater risk and so a higher strain will be on them.
These realities take their toll and the longer it goes on, the greater their impact will be. For me, it’s important to find ways to remain active intellectually (as well as physically) to use this time to produce things, to use the free time and limited travel to the greatest advantages that I can. I’ve tried to build a routine around simple activities. I try to listen to an album in the morning, walk the dog, read a chapter or two from a book, get a few hours of writing done, and round it off with a film. So far my application of this strategy as been hit-and-miss: it’s so easy to fall into a slump of skimming through reaction videos or browsing slap-fights on Twitter. In such a period, where time itself seems suspended, every day eerily similar and all social or professional accountability on hold, it’s easy to waste away on trivialities, however unrewarding.
It’s hard to be productive when there’s no one expecting anything, when the world is — by law — separate from us, and there’s limited places we can go to refuel ourselves when in a creative deadend. Still, routine is important now, to continue to remain active and engaged, not to fall into the trappings of wasting time, fiddling away, become increasingly invalid, unproductive, bored and depressed. These emotions, when they fester for too long,become a kind of spirit-rot, and recovering from them can seem a momentous task.
Step by step. Every great climb begins with a first step. Finding normalcy in these unconventional times is a task of its own, remaining strong-minded, productive, whole during these times is its own mountain to struggle up. We, for our own sakes, must find ways to fend off the swamp of complacency, uncertainty and depression. This situation will come to its end, with many lost, leaving us to enter a changed world. For now it’s important to remain well-minded. To find what normality we can in such peculiar realities. We need to rework our routine, re-imagine our abilities, find focus is unfocused times.
Step by step, one hand after the other. Climbing this mountain of strange circumstance as best we can. Day by day. Until this all finally passes.