3 Lessons Self-Isolation Has Taught Me

Claire Lee, c2022

Most of us have never experienced anything like the pandemic the world has been hit with. Scientists made it a habit to warn us that another pandemic was to inevitably occur in the next decade, but most took these warnings as prophecies of a distant future that we could not be bothered with in the present. Now it’s here, and interestingly enough society has seemed to go through the five stages of grief, having completed the first two (denial, anger) and now on the third (bargaining).

I was four years old when the SARS outbreak of 2002–2003 occurred. The Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 is just a foggy memory with flashes of frequent hand-washing and not being allowed to eat pork-belly for months. Nothing in life prepared me for COVID-19 and the drastic, but undoubtedly needed, safety precautions that are being taken.

I always considered myself an introvert– a “homebody” as Koreans like to say. I enjoy eating alone, studying alone, exercising alone, and going out alone. However, this label I had always identified with has been challenged by social-distancing. I realize that despite enjoying my own company, I always sought out and flourished when amongst the energy of other people. I loved to be alone in public places where I could indulge in the livelihood of others surrounding me, and this was how I connected to the rest of the world outside of my own. With all of this gone, I found myself feeling isolated and tired. The next few months looked as if they would stretch on endlessly, through all of which I would spend looking out my window gloomily. Fortunately, it’s Day 15 since I left Hamilton to social-distance, and I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve adjusted to this new life as we know it, and sure there are times when I miss my friends and going out, but I’ve regained some of my energy.

I’m not sure when this sudden switch in my outlook happened, but the 3 following key lessons have definitely played a part:

  1. Self-pressure is the worst kind of pressure – be forgiving of your limitations:

Self-pressure is a hell of a drug. It helps you peak if taken with caution and in small doses, but if you become dependent on it, you’re bound to crash. I’m sure most, if not all, of the readers of this piece will have felt stress from self-pressure during the current pandemic. The stress of feeling like I wasn’t being productive with all this newly found free time was gnawing at me for the first week. The first few days were rough, and they consisted of me spending most of my day in bed on social media with my mind absolutely blank. My mind was calling me every synonym I knew for a slob, but I could not find the energy or the motivation to get up and do work. Looking back on those days, I wish I had been more forgiving of myself. I had just been told that the daily rhythm which had been a part of my working environment for the last four years would be gone for the next few months. OF COURSE, I was going to feel lost, and to be honest, in denial. I was understanding of the world’s response to the shock of the pandemic, but I could not find that same sympathy for myself.

A PANDEMIC does not have to be the most productive time of your life. Let yourself grieve and adjust to the new rhythm. Taking on this approach helped me become more productive, but without the stress and the self-degradation that excessive self-pressure brought upon me.

  1. Misfortune is not a competition – let yourself grieve over your own situation:

This is a thought I have had even before shit hit the fan. It drives me nuts when people dismiss a person’s misfortune because others have it worse. Feeling upset about your current situation does not necessarily mean that you are self-absorbed. The popular phrase, “Kim, there are people that are dying” by the one and only Kourtney Kardashian is one of my favourites. I never thought much of it, but now after being constantly bombarded by news of people passing away from COVID-19, it seems like the perfect dismissal to anyone who complains of things on a smaller scale.

It’s okay to let yourself sulk about your current situation even if there are others who have it much worse. The important part is that you ACKNOWLEDGE that such people exist, and do your part to help them. This can be done in the form of simply adhering to the rules of social distancing. You can feel sad that a party that you were looking forward to was cancelled, but don’t go ahead and attend because you let your own misfortunes blind you of the patients being ventilated and suffering from the virus.

It’s possible for someone to be in a slump but still do good to help those in worse situations. I decided to practice this by volunteering to cook for the homeless population in downtown Toronto. Am I happy about my own life while helping out? Definitely not. But I can still do my part in helping the community while letting myself grieve.

Misfortune is not a competition. You can feel sad about your own life, and you should let others feel sad about their own. Just remember to be understanding of each other and help others whenever you can.

  1. Being realistic does not have to equal focusing on the negatives – try and spin the bad into good:

The morning it was announced that all of MF4 would be virtual, I spent the entire day in bed lamenting over being confined to my house for the next few months. All my attention was focused on not being able to go out, hang out with friends, or meet my new tutorial members. I dragged myself down the stairs to tell my mom that I would be staying until the end of June, and to my surprise she was happy. My mom saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our family to be in each other’s company and get even closer. We could now start and finish TV-shows together, cook together, and have “adult conversations” together. I had put my family on the back burner during the process of working towards medical school, and now the universe had, in a twisted way, given me the opportunity to re-express my love and gratitude for them. Approaching the current situation with the attitude of “I get to stay at home with my family” rather than “I have to stay at home”, allowed me to become excited about all the new opportunities I had. I’ve been taking the time to learn cooking from my mom, watch a TV-show with my dad, and slowly encourage my cat and mom to get along with each other. Seeing social-distancing as a positive has been such a breath of fresh air, and I really encourage everyone to try it.

Ps. If anyone is interested in cooking for the homeless population in downtown Toronto, please contact me at claire.lee@medportal.ca, and I will connect you with the appropriate contacts.


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