2020 has been a year like no other. Not only has COVID-19 forced us indoors for more than five months, but the annual California fires and the Black Lives Matter movement have shifted what “normal” means in our lives. Isolation, alone in our homes, has made people look around and start to pay attention to the political climate in America, the injustices that we have normalized and how deep capitalism has been ingrained in us.
Before COVID-19, I had plans to get a summer internship and to save money for the fall semester by taking on hours at work. I was motivated, doing the best that I had in a long time and ready to have fun over the summer. But today, I am in bed, unemployed and not sure what my fall semester will look like, besides school and work.
Like many of my friends, I’ve desperately looked for ways to stay productive. I started with trying to get more hours at work, but when hours were cut, I moved on to focus more on myself, through reading, writing and doing yoga.
I began to, or more accurately, was forced to, slow down and show up for myself mentally and emotionally. I hadn’t been making sure that I was doing well or taking care of myself as much as I thought I was. I realized that we’re all so used to always being in a hurry, always working, always worrying about something, always having something to catch up on that we don’t know what to do when we have nothing to do and also forget to show up for ourselves when we need to.
Capitalism in America has infected us with a constant “go, go, go” mentality. If we aren’t working hard or aren’t stressed, we feel unproductive and even useless. A lot of people’s lives revolve around work, and some people don’t know who they are when they are not working.
Who are you when you are not working, when you’re not busy? When the world forces you to stop, to stay home and to isolate yourself from others, who are you? Who are you when you’re alone? These are the questions that have been running and crashing through my mind while quarantining.
Before the pandemic, my life was busy enough for me to feel productive and on my feet, but I could still see my friends and family over the weekend. I was new to The Daily Californian and was having a great time meeting new people, experiencing a new role at UC Berkeley and enjoying the sunny, warm weather in Berkeley. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was doing as well as I wanted to be doing at UC Berkeley.
But almost the next day, we were on lockdown. All of my commitments and activities were canceled. I was at home, in bed, spending time on my own (well, at least before school started). Spending time with myself allowed me to do a lot of self-analysis and thorough introspection.
I realized that if the universe is forcing me to take a break, I sure as heck needed to take one. The universe is working with me, not against me. Although I did feel like it was against me when the pandemic first began, through spending time alone, I learned to trust the process and not feel guilty while taking a break.
Sometimes breaks are necessary. They are also not part of the process that capitalism ingrains in us. It’s a huge part of the reason why I was feeling anxious about what I “needed” to do next.
Before COVID-19, I knew that breaks and self-care were necessary, and I always told myself that they were. But this quarantine put me to the test by making me put my money where my mouth is. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do any of the activities that I felt I needed to do, and I started feeling this pressure in my chest that just kept getting stronger and stronger as my unproductive days went by. I felt anxious and guilty for spending time alone and unproductively, but with time, I remembered that I’m living in a pandemic and I need to go easy on myself.
I started to take some time every day to make sure I and everyone around me were mentally and emotionally OK. We’re all pretty hard on ourselves and have continued to be hard on ourselves during this pandemic. But we need to remind ourselves that adjusting to the COVID-19 version of life is difficult — a lot of people are stressed, and we need to take time to check in with ourselves often.
This is a point in my life that I’ll never forget because I learned how to prioritize my feelings and myself above all. I’ve learned a new side to self-love that I’ll keep with me for a long time.