By Callie Albaugh, MA, LAMFT
We’ve probably all seen it at this point – the Facebook post that insists people in quarantine should being using all this ‘free time’ they had as a space to ‘improve themselves’ and to complete all the projects they had been putting off because they ‘didn’t have the time’ previously and now, apparently, they do. This perspective reinforces the idea that people use this time of surviving a quarantine amidst a global pandemic to also tack on self-improvement on the top of their to-do lists. I’ll admit at the beginning of all of this, I too was a person that told myself I would finally build a new skill and learn how to crochet. Six weeks into self-isolation and alas, my crochet needles have not been used nor have they been purchased in the first place. I’ve wondered to myself – What if this isn’t the time to use what is left of our energy towards this ideal of ‘self-improvement’?
A thought: We don’t have free time. This time isn’t wide-open with nothing to do. This time is managing how to work from home, how to help our kids learn from home, how to grocery shop and provide our household essentials, how to file for unemployment, how to take care of our mental health. Our time isn’t free, it’s costly; it’s being designated to care for a part of ourselves every second of the day, especially in a quarantine. We care for our physical health by staying out of harm’s way, by disinfecting every item that enters our house, and a seemingly endless amount of time washing our hands for at least twenty seconds. We care for our mental and emotional health by managing the endless slew of negative news and media that enters our conscience, by practicing mindfulness and deep breathing to de-escalate our anxieties, by connecting with our loved ones through a technological screen. We ensure that our financial means stay steady, that we can support ourselves and our family. We balance plugging into our work outlet, while also re-learning Algebra II so that we can help our kids finish their homework.
An Idea About Self-Improvement: Our culture is consistently forward-thinking, always moving to the next thing. What if improving ourselves was actually in the form of pausing? Of maintaining? Of stabilizing ourselves so that we can manage and mitigate the ongoing traumas and stressors of living in a pandemic-filled world. The art of pausing and finding stable ground each and every day is how we care for ourselves. Maybe this is in the form of learning a new skill or completing a project you had been putting off for months; it also can be in the form maintaining your daily life and not adding new things to the mix. The pressures of the world telling you to tack on more to your life and to keep moving upward can feel overwhelming and unattainable. In my opinion, now does not have to be the time to ‘shoot for the moon’ if you simply don’t have the means or energy to do so; it is okay. You are good enough just as you are! You need not do anything more to increase your value as a human being.
Surviving this period of time will look differently for all of us. The world is loud, and it yells at us every day to consume more information than we can tolerate. Listen to what your mind and body are telling you it needs. Lead and support your family in a way that fits your unique needs. Ironically enough, improving ourselves may just be to allow ourselves a time of pause, to maintain, and to just be