Miserable and Magical: Now’s the time to just be you

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If you thought maybe this would be the one piece of writing you’d read this week that has nothing to do with coronavirus, sorry to break it to you, but this is not it.

I strive to be as honest as I can with this column and writing about anything other than the pandemic would feel disingenuous right now. I tried thinking of lighter topics, but this is what’s on my mind and I don’t want to force fake positivity.

Speaking of forcing things, something that’s really been bothering me (aside from the lack of competence and compassion shown by some federal leaders) is how people on social media are trying to dictate the right and wrong ways to self-isolate.

I’m not talking about social distancing (which I’m calling right now will be Merriam-Webster’s word of the year), staying indoors, or washing your hands. I’m talking about how everywhere I go online, half the people are saying we should be super productive during this time and the other half are saying we should be lying down or doing meditation.

As someone who took approximately five psychology classes in college, I’m confident in saying that these people appear to be suffering from cognitive dissonance. This is obviously a concept I’m highly familiar with and didn’t have to Google. I mean, this column is called Miserable AND Magical, not Miserable OR Magical. I don’t think people realize you don’t have to spend your time doing just one or the other.

Some people are really bothered by all the posts saying that this is the time to get a lot of work done or get in amazing shape or write the great American novel. The people who are bothered by this counter by saying a global pandemic isn’t the time to push yourself and that instead, people should sit in stillness and just breathe. And while I get what both groups are saying, I’m dumbfounded as to why they think we have to choose. 

For instance, last week I spent one day doing a lot of writing and editing and was feeling so incredibly productive and creative. The very next day, I laid on a pile of blankets on the floor and finished reading the “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” series, which yes, I know, I’m about 12 years too old to read. And one day I sobbed lots of tears and snot and then curled up in bed with Netflix at 2 in the afternoon. Some days I stayed PJ’d up all day and on others I – gasp – have put on jeans. 

I usually hate the word “productive” because it feels like assigning value to how you spend your time, but sometimes that’s the structure I need. Everything is so out of my control right now so if I can use productivity as a form of control and use it to clean my whole apartment, that makes me feel better. It makes me feel like everything isn’t falling apart. I also hate the idea of laziness because for so long I thought I was a lazy person for resting or watching TV, but sometimes that’s what I need to distract my mind and take care of myself. 

But it’s not like my days are fully defined by productivity or laziness. My mood sometimes changes hour to hour during this craziness and I’m learning to let myself have that flexibility. I think we have to remove the pressure to behave in certain ways from both ourselves and others. We’ve never experienced anything like this before and there’s no roadmap for how we should be spending our time. Adding guilt and shame on top of this doesn’t help anyone. 

If someone tells you they’ve been binging “The Office” for two weeks straight, don’t tell them to do online workout videos instead. If someone else tells you they’ve come up with a new business idea and have been using this time to draft plans and budgets, don’t tell them to step back and relax. We’re all basically feeling the same way right now – panic, dread, boredom, sadness – and just responding to it differently. Instead of trying to make others or ourselves do what we think we’re supposed to be doing, we just need to talk to and be there for each other. 

Let’s not further distance ourselves from each other by creating arbitrary definitions of what’s good and bad. Whether you feel miserable, magical, or a little bit of both, cut yourself some slack and just do what feels right to you. 

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.