"They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose, to choose one's own way." - Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Here in California, stay at home orders were issued nearly a month ago, and for Los Angeles County it’s been extended to May 15. I had started out quarantine pretty well, but this past week I think it finally hit me.
To put some context on my situation, which I’m sure is reflective of many out there, I am currently jobless. I had a serving job that I had already put my two weeks notice in for at the beginning of March. My restaurant let go of roughly 50 of its servers when restaurants moved to delivery only, which was the same week I was supposed to have my last day there. I felt fortunate to be starting a new job the following week, but because of everything that has been going on, my start date has been pushed back three times. I am now scheduled to start May 18.
Not having school or work, I’ve been keeping myself as busy as possible. I workout every other day, write, practice Spanish on the Duolingo app, cook a lot more, sent out my first query letter to an agent, etc. I’m doing things.
And yet, last Tuesday, I got up at a reasonable time for myself, spent three hours on social media with my cousin who now lives with me, and by the end of the day realized I had only done one significantly productive thing all day. I then realized I literally have nothing important to do with my life right now.
Which led to me sleeping the most I have slept while in quarantine. When I woke up the next day (to my dad’s phone call, so I could help him with something), I thought to myself that I have no reason to get out of bed. No significant reason. If I didn’t get out of bed all day, it wouldn’t matter. So I fell back to sleep. When I woke up three hours later, the thought still occurred to me, “Why get out of bed? What’s the point?” So, I slept for another hour until I finally made myself get out of bed to do something, anything.
Since then, my sleeping schedule has been worse than ever, my insomnia worse than ever, and the struggle to continue do things every day is harder. I’m no stranger to depression, so though I haven’t felt depressed, the symptoms are there.
This past Monday when I thought I would be babysitting my sister (I did not), I also got the call that the start date to work got pushed back again. It was the first day in quarantine I cried. One more month of this?
What’s been most familiar about depression this past week is the struggle to keep moving forward. I remember what it was like to have what it known as “walking depression,” or low grade depression. It’s when you are a completely functional human being, but every day is like trudging through mud waste deep. You keep moving along, but it takes so much more energy. It’s a terrible feeling.
The strange thing about possibly being depressed in quarantine is that it’s a completely imposed upon situation with a remedy when we get to be free again. My biggest struggle for the upcoming month (or however longer this lasts) is to find a reason to get out of bed at a reasonable time every single day. I need to find the “why” or else it will continue to feel like trudging through mud.
In my search for the “why,” I’ve come across three things that I think will help everyone struggling through depression during quarantine: Purpose, Connection, and Self-Care.
Something I have definitely learned about depression is how important it is to take care of yourself. This ranges from basic hygiene to bubble baths to exercise and eating healthy. It’s easier to feel good about ourselves when we feel good about our bodies. As I write this I am wearing a face mask, something I stocked up on for quarantine.
A lot of research sites exercise as a great way to combat depression, and though the gyms are closed, there are still plenty of creative ways to workout or just get moving. Though I get made fun of for it, my favorite go-to workout is Zumba, because I can follow Youtube videos and I really love dancing. I had just started a dance class before everything got shut down, so I miss dancing, and Zumba is a way I can continue to stay active and do something I enjoy.
Though we probably all spend our days in sweat pants now, it’s important to keep showering. It sounds like such a strange suggestion to make. But I remember while traveling, I would sometimes feel so exhausted and drained and dirty. Then I would take a shower and feel like a whole new person, fully revitalized. Showers are known to be therapeutic. So take a shower.
And though no one may see you, this is also a good time to paint your nails, dress up, practice good skin care, etc. What we look like on the outside has an impact on what we feel like on the inside. Also, maintain a clean living space, because that also has an effect on your mental and emotional well-being. It’s not like you don’t have the time to clean.
However, I think the most important part of self-care is to find ways to “fill your cup.” I’ve written on this topic before, but basically everyone has a cup. It’s full when we feel loved and happy, and low or empty when we feel unloved, neglected, and depressed. You can feel your own cup with positive self-affirmations, but it’s always better to find someone who can help pour into you.
This could mean reaching out to someone who is a good listener, finding that person who’s really good at giving compliments, or even snuggling the heck out of your pets. Whatever it is that makes you feel full, happy, and loved, find a way to keep doing that. Likewise, another great way to fill your cup is to fill someone else’s. Trust me, I think everyone could use some pouring into right now.
Self-care is both a physical and spiritual need. It involves taking care of your body and your emotional well-being. During these times, we need self-care more than ever, so continue to practice it.
I remember the first week of quarantine when my church group met through video chat for the first time. It hadn’t even been that long since I hadn’t seen them, but it felt so good to talk to them face to face, even if it was faces on a screen. Afterward, I felt a sense of connection with them, almost as if we had met in person.
In one of my favorite Ted Talks, “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons on The Longest Study on Happiness,” Robert Waldinger says, “The clearest message that we get from this seventy-five year study is this: good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.”
Staying connected during this time has been one of the most important messages that I see being spread, and that’s for good reason. My family, which has had a group text chat, recently added the children to the chat so that we can all feel involved. We share important information and updates once in a while, but mostly it’s a good space for laughs.
Like the way the younger ones roasted the older generation when someone suggested we do a family zoom meeting. I believe at some point someone accused my dad’s last pet of being a T-Rex. Funny enough, it took him and my stepmom (with my little sister’s help) 20 minutes to figure out how to join the zoom call.
I’ve heard somewhere that people are talking on the phone and video chatting more than ever before, moving away from just texting. We have a real need to belong and feel connected to others. Maintaining good close relationships during this time is critical, or else we can be left feeling lonely and isolated.
Waldinger explains that the long term effects of people who are more isolated than they want to be: “they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.” Luckily, a couple months in quarantine aren’t likely to produce all of this in the long run, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t being negatively affected right now.
People are not meant to be quarantined for long durations of time, or perhaps for any duration of time. The Lancelot did a review of “The psychological impact ofquarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence,” in which they examined studies of previous cases of people being quarantined, such as with SARS and Ebola.
In the studies they reviewed, people quarantined most commonly reported fear, nervousness, sadness, and guilt. Health-care workers were the ones who suffered the most from quarantine, and the review emphasized that they need extra care and attention. The review found, “Health-care workers also felt greater stigmatisation than the general public, exhibited more avoidance behaviours after quarantine, reported greater lost income, and were consistently more affected psychologically: they reported substantially more anger, annoyance, fear, frustration, guilt, helplessness, isolation, loneliness, nervousness, sadness, worry, and were less happy.”
Another study found, unsurprisingly, that longer durations of quarantine “were associated with poorer mental health specifically, post-traumatic stress symptoms, avoidance behaviours, and anger. Although the duration of the quarantine was not always clear, one study showed that those quarantined for more than 10 days showed significantly higher post-traumatic stress symptoms than those quarantined for less than 10 days.”
However there is hope if we strive to stay connected to others. In Emily Esfahani Smith’s Ted Talk, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” she says the way to live a more fulfilled life is through having meaning. She defines four pillars of meaning and the first is belonging. She says, “Belonging comes from being in relationships where you're valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well.” This sense of belong “springs from love,” and happens most among family and friends.
In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he explains, “Humor was another of the soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation.” He said this in the context of being in a concentration camp during the holocaust. Humor is a great way to find light in dark times and to survive.
Call friends and family. Video chat. Share funny memes. Stay meaningfully connected. But please, limit the time you spend on Tiktok. I'm not sure it's worth it.
In his book, Frankl also quoted Nietzche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” As someone who endured living through a concentration camp, Frankl said there was one key factor between those who survived and those who died. The ones who survived had a reason to live – they had purpose.
Purpose was the second pillar of meaning according to Smith. She says purpose is “something to live for, some why that drives you forward.” I think finding purpose in quarantine is a different struggle for people in different situations. There are parents who must now homeschool their children. Those who have essential jobs are still needed at work.
I fall into the category of jobless, single, without children, and I can’t even have a cat where I live. Since I do not have full blown depression, I know I have plenty of purpose. I have a little sister to mentor and annoy. I have a large family who loves me, many friends I’m closely attached to. I have my writing, and have even started sending out query letters to look for an agent. I have goals, large and small. I have a list of things I want to do once out of quarantine, like I’m sure many do.
Though I have purpose, I think what has weighed on me the most this past week is the thought, “If I don’t get out of bed today, or the next day, or the next, it wouldn’t matter to society.” I can stay in bed all of quarantine and it wouldn’t matter, because the other part of purpose is that it’s “less about what you want than what you give.”
My existential “why” every day I wake up is that I am offering nothing to society right now. I know I have things to offer eventually when I start my new job and even if my book ever gets published. But right now, I’m offering nothing, and that to me is the most depressing thing about being jobless during quarantine.
However, the reason I do eventually get out of bed every day is because I still want to live my life. I write. I post things on different platforms. I trudge through revisions on my novel. I read, inform myself about what's going on, watch Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel daily because they are hilarious. I work out and stretch because there are only two ways to come out of quarantine as told to me by a meme – buff Thor or fat Thor – and I’d rather be buff Thor. I practice Spanish daily because I’ve had a goal to be fluent by the time I’m thirty.
I keep going.
I keep going anticipating the day I can be useful to society again. The day I can go out dancing. Go to the beach and show all that hard work in quarantine paid off. Go to Disneyland. I miss Disneyland (and I had just got a new pass in January).
We all have things to look forward to. For many us, life is going to be different for a long time. However, the last piece of advice I can offer is that Smith says, “the key to purpose is using your strengths to serve others.” How can you serve others from where you’re at right now?
I’ve always felt that I’ve served people through my writing, so maybe I can try doing more of that. In writing this and sharing it with you, I hope I’ve helped you in at least some small way as we are all in this together.
p.s. Just for a little added helpful information, I thought this might be good to share: Mental Health and Coping During Covid-19
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl