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Why can’t I cheer up during this pandemic?

Photo credit: Thierry Raimbault

To my dear friend Chloé Guinaudie. Her wisdom and heart-warming advise enlightened many of our discussions and inspired me to write this blog article. She is such an amazing friend and will always be a source of joy in my life. Thank you for being a great listener and for helping me help others in the process. You can also check out her podcast episode here.

During my whole life, I’ve been taught to be hard-working, productive and ambitious. I set up a successful routine involving work, gym and online teaching. My goals were turned towards success and accomplishing milestones. I was proud to be “busy” and fill my time with social interactions. It meant that I did the right thing.

When the pandemic hit, 4 of my vacation travels got cancelled this year and I had to come to terms that we couldn’t go anywhere for a while. It was a nightmare getting a reimbursement, but I understood the understaffed airline companies. Events, such as weddings, graduation ceremonies or birthday parties kept getting cancelled or postponed. It became impossible to plan for a getaway.

I also got laid off from my day job and couldn’t go to the gym anymore because of the strict confinement. Two of my main daily activities were removed from my life, so I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I instinctively tried to fill up this time with job searches, volunteer teaching and impulsively cleaning my home.

According to Zadie Smith, author of Intimation: Six Essays, we are so used to being productive, working intensely and fulfilling goals. It became engrained in our daily mode of functioning from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. Feelings of guilt and shame often surface when we stay inactive for too long. We are addicted to working and solving issues all day because working hard meant that we would get a financial reward or work on increasing our social status. However, during this pandemic when we need to stay home, the high achievers suffer the most.

Back in the days, survival was every species’ goal. Individuals who crave sugar and fat were rewarded the most because they could store calories, live better and get a better chance to reproduce. The sugar and fat addiction was a sought-after trait because it promoted the survival of the species. Nowadays, in our Western society, people who crave sugar and fat become obese and diabetic and are not so healthy. What once gave them survival points, now penalizes them.

It is the same for high achievers who are used to be clapped for their hard work. They are now suffering from not being able to handle “being lazy” and chill. It actually drives them insane. It’s much easier to fill up our time with work rather than being confronted to ourselves at home when life isn’t so good. However, the pandemic did not give us a choice, we had to learn to spend time with ourselves and we had to learn to love it.

A lot of my friends have shared similar feelings. People did not know how to deal with the frustration of being home alone and not being able to take a vacation abroad. We tried comforting each other, hoping that the pandemic would soon be over and that we would be able to get our lives back. However, months went by and my friends started losing family members to the coronavirus. The sad news made us more aware of the importance of staying confined.

I like to think that the pandemic brought up people’s true colors. We can see people’s good and ugly sides during a crisis. Some people rushed to buy toilet paper thinking it would be the end of the world, some people selfishly continued to organize and go to parties, some people were indifferent and other people were simply relieved to not have to commute to work anymore, enjoying the comfort of their own home.

Before I was laid off, we had few research projects on COVID-19 so I read a lot on the topic, which increased my concerns on the psycho-sociological levels. People are living this unprecedented historical moment, and no one is prepared to fully understand the consequences on our mental health. When the pandemic hit, I was left with only two toilet paper rolls, and I knew I had to do something to adapt to the upcoming changes.

I was in dire need of change. I felt a little uneasy with the configuration of my living room, so I moved furniture around so my couch would face the window and I can have a direct view outside. Then, I decided that my plants needed bigger pots, so I repotted them all in an attempt to make them (and me in the process) more comfortable. I thought I was trying to figure out how improve my living space, but it was actually a huge sign of me wanting to regain control over the life I was slowly losing.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned from my parents who survived the civil war is to remain as flexible as possible. No one is planning on live through the war and no one is planning on living with a pandemic. It is important to remain optimistic even if life sucks at its fullest. It takes a lot of courage to focus on the positive when the world is falling apart. Life sucks but now what can you do to make it better without being too hopeful of a reality that doesn’t exist? What can you do today to make yourself feel better on something you can control?

For example, letting go of my travel plans initially made me sad but at the end, I felt relief. It brought a lot of peace of mind to tell myself over and over that I will not be able to travel. It brought me closer to reality and that made me very humble. I cannot travel and go to parties, but I can take a bath with candles. I cannot eat at my favorite restaurants, but I will try making a new recipe with fresh ingredients from the market. There are always simple pleasure that you can discover to make you love being with yourself at home.

We also are insanely lucky to be confined with computers, Wifi, social media, not to mention hot water, electricity and lots of foods. Let’s remind ourselves that we are lucky to live in cities with hospitals nearby and we can be taken care of.

Although my friends agreed with the gratefulness and the level of comfort, they still did not share the enthusiasm of having so much time on their hand. I also found that friends who didn’t mind the confinement so much had higher levels of self-love and self-confidence compared to friends who constantly kept wanting to go out. No matter how many salt baths with candles or homemade cookies they went through, they still carried a heavy weight in their chest, urging them to escape their reality. Now, repeat this to yourself: I love my friends, but their mental health is not my mental charge.

You can help friends feel better by being there for them and listening, but you cannot carry their burdens. Free yourself from the guilt of wanting to help people at all cost. Guess what, you’re actually not doing them a favor. The more they complain, the more you feed them with your attention and the more they’ll complain. You became their enablers. You’ve enabled their depressed behavior although you had the purest and best intentions at heart. Know that you have the power to change it. You can consciously redirect a conversation towards something more joyful instead of constantly listening to their sad feelings of isolation. They’ll switch behavior once they won’t be rewarded by your attention.

I was once in their shoes, so I know it’s not easy to get out of our own head. The mind can perceive negativity and make it a reality. People don’t realize that they’re the only ones who can turn it off. Self-love also doesn’t come out of the blue. It takes patience and forgiveness. The more time you spend with yourself, the more you’ll learn to love and appreciate that time. In our productivity-craving society, having “me” time became such a luxury that people did not even consider it as a possibility. Self-love is also what gave me resilience to my friends’ depression so I can continue to support them.

After few weeks (or maybe months), my logical mind took over and I was able to appreciate the positive sides of this pandemic. We are environmentally doing better, we give a rest to the planet to heal, we also have time for self-reflection. I also saw my job loss as a blessing because it allowed me to explore other career options. I know the universe always have better plans for me.

It did not take long until my productive brain craved work again. I had to get my fix. I started my personal projects at the end of March (yup, this blog and this podcast) because I wasn’t so much under social pressure to go out. I used my extra time to remain productive so I could finally build something I dreamt of. I also fed my brain with new programming languages. As previously stated in my last article, I discovered SQL and would recommend it to anyone.

Although, it’s difficult to start new projects from home, few things have helped me. First, get cozy and genuinely feel comfortable at home. It’s where I spend 23h of my days, so I want to be happy here. Because you’re spending so much time inside and the cold is creeping out, we tend to close our windows and the air doesn’t circulate as much. I’d advise getting an air purifier for your home. You’ll breathe and sleep better.

You may continue to work out through online videos or get a skipping rope, it’s so cheap and easy to use during work breaks. You can easily elevate your heart rate without dressing up to go on a run.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of sleep and endorphins. This pandemic is stressful enough, so please take care of your body and make sure to get enough water throughout the day.

Here’s my take on this pandemic. Viruses and diseases are unpredictable, and they are part of life, so let’s accept them. We aIl cherish our freedom and love for travel but sometimes flexibility and accepting the current reality is a better solution. Do not hope for an impossible reality. Instead, create the best memories you can with what you have. Help your friends if they feel sad but do not drown with them. It’s important to separate your friendship from your mental charge. Keep focusing on self-love because it makes a huge difference in spending time with our own self. The more time you spend with yourself, the more you’ll love that precious moment and the more you’ll love yourself. It’s a beautiful cycle.

I was enormously grateful for the extra time. Sleeping longer made me incredibly happy and healthier. Losing my job allowed me to discover and focus on blogging, podcasting and programming, which I love. I am very excited for a new flexible remote career where I can make money while staying in my PJs. The universe throws life lessons at you, so embrace them because you’ll grow stronger and smarter than if you resist them.


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