In Isolation: Lessons From Self-Quarantine
A story about the lessons I learned from this precarious time.
This patience grows weary from all the pandemic updates that light up on the digital screens I own, the news app installed on my phone, and the social media platforms I’m on. Anxiety slowly seeps in, and frustration climbs on its nails that I shouldn’t take my eyes off the screens. Until I decided to abruptly close the tabs on the progress of the vaccine, the nation-wide numbers, the usual nonsense rooted in ignorance that keeps breaking the records in appalling me. But this article isn’t about that at all, and I will not pile any more onto your anxiety if you do feel the same way.
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work from home and I’d go out of my way to express gratitude for being able to stay in quite a good shape during this tough time. Months spent in quarantine have gone by, and sure enough, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly in isolation. The noise beyond the screens screams the bad and the ugly in isolation, especially for someone who runs on structure and routine. But the good beyond all have pulled my feet out of the mud and made me drag them to where I need to go in what seems to be a self-discovery journey at the end and from this point forward.
1. Reflection in Isolation
The nature of isolation is nothing beyond human perception. We are most certainly social creatures and in a huge, colorful spectrum at that. You might be familiar with the idea of extraversion and introversion. The labels might give you a sense of familiarity and belonging, but above all of that, you and I, no matter on which end or shade of the spectrum, are still the same species and the human mind is great at putting things under scrutiny.
To those who aren’t used to working from home, having fewer real-life interactions with the world, and adapting to a new set of routines, environments, ways of communication can feel startling. Behind the walls of your abode, where you feel a sense of familiarity until the space of getting your work done integrates, where the space of work and life fuses. From the Zoom calls to none at all, there’s a sense of invisible trap that was present constantly. Interactions become limited going as far as digital interactions, but within this limitation, things appear to be put underneath a microscope in sight and mind.
Upon realizations in isolation, I recognized the things I’ve taken for granted in many aspects and most importantly being social interactions. The moments of being engaged in random conversations with friends, colleagues, and even strangers. The physical presence of others in silence and noise. The feeling of stone pavement underneath your shoes. The busy streets during rush hour. The clinks of cutleries. The slight confusion drawn on the faces of your students. The reassuring tone in your teachers’ voice with no lag and echo. The knock on your door when your parents are visiting. The thoughts became mirrors of the present-day upon looking at one of them, but none of the reflections were distorted. There’s no scratch of pity. They were clear as day. In the hall of mirrors, I harkened to the little things that were the live wire. The live wire I thank for and now will not take for granted.
2. Reconciliation in Isolation
The restlessness looming over from not being able to differentiate the space of living and work is one thing, but that fuse of spatial sense grew into something new I hadn’t been familiar with when I was only on my own for the majority of time in silence. I read the books that I’d been meaning to read in between the mini-breaks that I allocated, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse being one and Harold and the Purple Crayon that I kept re-reading (bear in mind that I have no kids, I just love collecting good children’s books).
I was born and raised in an Islamic household, but I knew that I’ve been keen on exposing myself to other beliefs and taking in what I think aligns with what I believe in. Being on a meditation journey starting from last Spring has always been for my own well-being and prior to that, I was a nonbeliever in meditation, though it was only for the fact that I had no clue about doing it properly. The early mornings that were spent on storming around the room in a hurry to get ready have now become quiet and still, balancing on a ledge between tranquility and dead air. From what usually lasts for 5–10 minutes has become 20–30 minutes every day. In-between the thoughts and breaths I’d thank whatever space I’m dealing with, sending prayers to the ones I love the most for the pain they’ve gone through, and wishing them to be well, in physique and mind. The morning prayers manifest into what I hadn’t provided for myself — kindness.
The journey going through pain and accepting it is laborious. In any means of pain and any form of it, while I can’t speak for everyone else, I know for a fact that it is a lonely course, but it’s not impossible to go through. I looked back and read one of the letters I wrote when I sensed a substantial matter for me to hold onto and time to reconcile,
I barely knew suffering but for that percentage, I walked through it with an open heart and I gave in to lose every single knowledge of it. But that didn’t mean to perpetually drown in sorrow, because somehow you have to breathe. Mindfulness of the breathing was one tough of a route. Then it pried me open, along with that sense of vulnerability that emerged I let loose. The kind of control I allowed to bleed out. But throughout, there was only solitude. I’ve found that to lose in solitude means to coexist with suffering. But being aware that solitude exists has put me on a ground that’s concrete-solid while barefoot. It’s an odd feeling. I’m far from knowing & far from recovery, but I think I’ve found pieces of my redemption. These feet on this rocky road are the only control I have.”
Safe to say, the power of acceptance is immense, and in a way, immaculate.
3. Creativity in Isolation
I’ve seen the rising numbers of home bakers, farmers, and plant parents in the span of worldwide lockdown (except in a few countries that have gone past the self-quarantine period because of excellent nationwide teamwork). The extraordinary percentage increase in sourdough starters and homegrown produce, new inventions in reaction to the global pandemic, and online events that you can join in while you’re on the other side of the globe. The creative conversations going on in these occurrences, they’re far from being an accident. They could very well be a product of solidarity in a distance. It could be that the natural instinct in us being social creatures called it off, added with the existence of the internet, making it more convenient for it to happen in an even-larger scale, at an incredible pace.
Making events digital creates great accessibility which results in information and ideas being shared better. However, I’m hesitant to call the pandemic a lawful-evil enabler of creativity as the other side of this coin because, at times, that creative wick can run out if not handled carefully. One thing that differentiates the kind of creativity that is a product of this precarious time is how it’s derived from layers of contextualization upon countless conversations — the conversations that give a spotlight to issues that need more attention. In fact, the same conversations also open up a pandora box of matters regarding the need for constant productivity, often forced and does no good in the long run, shamed and invalidated otherwise. But there’s no need for shame and invalidation when the world is already full of it.
This time in isolation has allowed me to pay more attention to the creative side projects I’ve been meaning to make a progress in, and initiate other that has only been in a form of a thought. I had anticipated that without being in my working space, I wouldn’t have been able to generate and execute ideas, but I was, by surprise and in great delight, proven wrong. Through the little self-allocated breaks I watch more stuff I’ve piled up in my bookmark folder, as well as the books and articles I’ve saved. Through isolation, I’ve been able to digitally reach out to people who are on the other parts of the world, rediscovered the communities I hadn’t been in touch with. Through sitting in silence I maneuvered through newfound ideas and engaged in unexpected collaborations. If it wasn’t for re-reading Harold and the Purple Crayon, I wouldn’t have remembered 9-year old Sas wanting to place her mark on the world (but that’s a farfetched, bedtime story version of it). But most importantly, it’s the growing-creativity that is rooted from strata of contextualization with an incredible perception of understanding at the core that is a huge shift in the definition of creativity under this perilous time.
An Ongoing Lesson
There is not one solid conclusion I can give you in this story. Truth be told, I’m already spending about an hour, thinking about a good conclusion to this story, because I don’t think there is one. Perhaps there is, and that is the solitude found in isolation. In solitude is where everything is put under scrutiny, and the mind starts to emphasize what’s being overlooked. In solitude, where kindness for the most part has been a huge player in the good part of isolation, whether that’s to others or yourself. Kindness is also one luminescent light beaming brighter than the bad and the ugly of isolation. That applies to so many things, in many spaces. The reflection, reconciliation, and creativity picked up in this journey are evolving and it’s a matter of time before discovering more to what we already know now, up until this very point.
You’re not alone alone. We’re alone together.