It’s day 25 of quarantine, for me at least. Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared the Luzon enhanced community quarantine to be made effective on Mar. 16 but my workplace already had us on a work-from-home arrangement the week before. During the first few days, I had to admit that I daydreamed about all the things on the back burner that I could squeeze in my schedule and how well I could do at my new job. But like a dopey protagonist of an ’80s movie, fast forward to a week and a voiceover would say that I was about to be proved wrong. Like many who were quickly disillusioned, I realized that I wasn’t suddenly going to have superhuman productivity to write my own “King Lear” or contribute to something big like modern astrophysics. Instead, I am riddled with work-from-home guilt and watching the Duterte administration’s response to the pandemic in horror. Remind me why we convinced ourselves that a global disruption meant that we would have more time and energy at our disposal?
Incredible achievements while under quarantine:
Shakespeare: wrote King Lear
Isaac Newton: discovered the laws of gravity, optics, and invented calculus.
me: tried to make froth for dalgona coffee#COVID19
Stuck in a dark and cramped apartment with the rest of my family while trying to work on my deliverables for the day, I just don’t feel the spirit of rise and grind inhabiting my body. Instead of doing the hustling, I am getting hustled by the vagaries of life as we knew it. It bothers me that my personal concerns are so trivial compared to what many others are going through and yet I feel like I’m also on the brink of a Smeagol to Gollum transformation if I’m not going to able to get a sense of normalcy from something as simple as walking under the sun. Never mind how a part of me is reprimanding myself for not feeling grateful enough to be working while under quarantine and not looking at a foreseeable lay-off. Never mind how wretched I feel for not having a cent to my name to make a donation for the less fortunate. Just lower middle class things, I suppose.
In an article for The New York Times, productivity consultant and the author of “Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction” Chris Bailey says, “It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times let alone when we’re in a global crisis. The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much.”
If you're feeling overwhelmed seeing people who seem to be living their best quarantine lives, whipping up an Alison Roman recipe between Zoom yoga and virtual Happy Hour with 15 of their closest friends, let me assure you that some of us can barely even shower or do our dishes.
It’s business not as usual but our standards are raised, if not the same. Nick Martin writes about the mentality that has beset our personal and professional lives for The New Republic, “Yes, this pandemic is bad, but how can you improve yourself with all this solitude? And more to the point, how can you continue to prove your worth as a hard worker?” Trying to live as normally as I could feels like a non-acknowledgement that further disconnects me from the rest of the world.
On Mar. 18 and 19, The American Psychiatric Association conducted a national survey and found that half of adults reported high levels of anxiety. More than one in three survey respondents reported that COVID-19 is seriously affecting their mental health while one in four reported difficulty focusing on things other than the pandemic. Considering these numbers were from a few weeks ago, it’s possible that they have since risen. So how should we take this in?
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis and people are coping with it in different ways. In an article written for the American Psychological Association, psychologist Sherry Cormier, who specializes in grief counseling, says, “It’s important that we start recognizing that we’re in the middle of this collective grief. We are all losing something now. There is a communal grief as we watch our work, health-care, education and economic systems — all of these systems we depend on — destabilize.” It’s valid to grieve for things beyond the already devastating loss of life. It’s high time you practice being kind to yourself and processing your emotions.
Productivity might look different right now—but so do a lot of things. I’m trying to accept this and I hope you are too.