If you do not belong to the high-risk population and you are in quarantine, that probably means that you are looking after other people. Congratulations! You are a model citizen. Now, what happens with self-preservation, with taking care of ourselves under strange circumstances for which we are not entirely prepared or not prepared at all?
The main difference I observe when comparing both isolation incidents is responsibility. At the age of 25, while resting, my partner in solitude was my computer and all the films and series that the internet could provide. My sleep patterns changed and so did my eating habits, but it did not matter: my sole responsibility was to be in bed recovering from surgery.
Today, I have to work from home, be the infant’s school teacher of my 5-year-old daughter, cook 3 daily meals and wash all the dishes used during my trips to the kitchen. This is the closest thing to a routine that I have to maintain while I stay at home all day; it does not sound like much, but it is a lot.
I started my third day in isolation with a fit of rage that had little to do with the broken dishes on the floor; it was an outburst I had never had before. It’s only been three days of quarantine!
What scares me the most is the feeling of not knowing where the outburst came from. Taking a good look at myself is something I do quite frequently, it is one of my strengths: Gardner calls it Intrapersonal Intelligence. I identify my moods and their causes, but I am now sailing into uncharted waters. I am sure that many of us feel this way!
On Friday, while we were being told about the implementation of home office (even before the announcement of the government’s measures in that direction), I had the kind of feeling you have on a strange day. This day felt like a combination of punishment, uncertainty and a few nervous giggles. I recognise this feeling, which I definitely cannot explain, from other moments which now come to my mind: The fall of the Twin Towers; April 11th, 2002: the people of Caracas being slaughtered on national television; or every time there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world.
The thing is that taking care of the most vulnerable is not only the responsibility of the State or of public institutions, it is everyone’s responsibility, it is each person’s duty. So, to our daily household chores, which have increased greatly because our children are also at home (at least for those of us who have children), we must also add the distress that we feel whilst trapped within four walls, the count of infected people on the news and the uncertainty about the measures that will be adopted in the country. Moreover, our children do not and should not really understand what is happening, and they must continue with their usual lives.
While I am writing this, I realise that the thing that overwhelmed me this morning is that sense of responsibility towards my job, my daughter, the health of my country and my own health. So I take a deep breath, I walk away from the situation (that is to say, I get into the bathroom, my sanctuary) and I think. The key is to ask for help and organise myself. If you have someone to share responsibilities with, sit down and review the new tasks and the way to distribute the responsibilities. If you are alone, then you have to roll up your sleeves and accelerate the organisation process.
In either case, the most important thing is to take the time to reset, to isolate from isolation, to rethink what you are doing and why, and to design a plan to try to maintain the idea of normality in these times of crisis. This was not just my idea, it was a piece of advice my leader gave me through Whatsapp (digital leadership) during my existential crisis.
I say this from my own experience (and I am sure that Marie Kondo would agree): there are no foolproof formulas to deal with challenges in the 2.0 era or with pandemics in the globalised world, but there is something I can always trust: listening to myself and identifying how I feel in the face of new stimuli. Self-awareness is an endless journey which evolves with us. Knowing what we have and understanding where our reactions come from allow us to anticipate them and to design plans to reduce their effects.
My advice is that you listen to yourself more in these times of confinement, where the hours are three times longer and the week does not seem to finish. You should connect with and relate to the extreme emotions you may be feeling and, above all, you should look for help whenever you need it. Luckily, we are just a click away from human contact.