“Teacher, stay safe, and don’t go outside.”
I smiled, assuring my student that I would be okay, attempting to ease the fear I saw in his eyes.
I’ve been an ESL teacher for the last three years teaching English to students from Mainland China. Up until five weeks ago, COVID-19 was a distant threat reserved for small talk with my Chinese students. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would be wearing face masks, hoarding toilet paper, and self-isolating at home.
Apart from my adorable Maltese that I have affectionately named Daenerys (this is pre-season 8 GOT don’t @ me), I live alone. I’m a single woman living in a developing country—South Africa.
As news of our first coronavirus case surfaced, the realization that our inept healthcare system wouldn’t be able to handle the same number of cases seen in Spain or Italy quickly sent the country in a complete lockdown.
As a self-proclaimed introvert, like many of the memes that were making the rounds on social media, “I was made for this.” Unfortunately, this period of self-isolation has determined that this was a lie. Being a single woman during a pandemic isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it has been teaching me a lot.
Who doesn’t love pampering themselves? I’ve found that practicing self-care has been exceptionally grounding for me during this time.
I’ve always been a slacker when it comes to my mental, physical, and emotional health. Sometimes, sleep supersedes everything when you’ve been running around like a headless chicken all day. But since there’s nowhere to go, I’ve been able to savor a few quiet moments of yoga in the morning or enjoy the unusually warm weather while sipping some tea and observing life.
Similar to a tangled ball of string that you’re unable to loosen, days during this pandemic seem to have become one big messy blur of numbers. Is it day 15 or 115? Who knows, but I’ve had to remind myself to slow down either way.
There seems to be a consensus on social media that we should be the most productive we’ve ever been. This is simply not true, and not a standard I can hold myself to without having a mental breakdown.
It’s so easy to wake up each morning, put on a pair of sweatpants, and answer emails from your unmade bed, but creating structure throughout my day has been my saving grace. Putting on some makeup (even if it’s just a tinted moisturizer), doing my hair, and getting semi-dressed has enabled me to stick to my daily routine and allowed me to feel like myself even if I haven’t set foot outside since…wait, what day did we say it was again?
Try to slow down if you can help it. Create a shorter to-do list and take a few minutes to relax and breathe. You’ve got this!
As an introvert during self-isolation, there have been moments when I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store. But like a kid whose eyes are too big for her stomach, I’ve consumed way too much. I might soon find myself in a self-isolation coma.
The pros: There have been moments of pure bliss. I haven’t once needed to make an excuse as to why I need to leave a party early. I’ve also been able to re-watch New Girl for the 100th time without someone rolling their eyes at me.
The cons: I’ve had to confront two scary emotions: loneliness and fear. These emotions have always been lingering in the background, but up until this point, I’ve been able to soothe them through Netflix binges, galivanting with friends, and watching home decorating tips on YouTube. I’ve had to learn to sit with my emotions and embrace them alone without having the option to run away.
You may even feel these emotions while in a relationship, and that’s okay. Right now is the perfect time to sit with your emotions and embrace them like an old friend, instead of the enemy.
I’ve always felt shame in these feelings. After all, I’m an independent woman. Accepting these emotions would mean that I’d have to admit I may sometimes need to lean on someone other than myself.
I’ve been thinking about that quote from Kung Fu Panda a lot lately: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present.’”
It’s not always easy to look on the “bright side” during a pandemic, but my take away has been this: wash your hands frequently and focus on the present.
Being single in a society that’s built on the foundation of monogamy and finding “the one” can make you feel restless. It’s similar to those dreams everyone has about being late to work and occasionally waking up in a panic.
As everything slows down, I’m learning to let go and let things just “be.” Everything has its own time, including pandemics and marriage.
It’s easy to get caught up in your past and obsessively focus on your future. But the truth is, tomorrow can look a lot different from yesterday or two months ago. This we know very well.
Connecting with love:
I’ve always found myself checking up on friends or family from time to time, a mindless routine of “How are you?” These days, I’m making more of an effort to connect with my friends and family with intention.
If you’re keen on having a family game night, House Party is a great app to try. I had so much fun with a few family members on this app.
Despite being one of the world’s biggest introverts, I’ve come to realize just how essential human interaction is to me. Not having anyone to quickly bounce ideas off of or talk through anxiety has made me feel disconnected at times.
Journaling has helped me fill in the gaps. It’s allowed me to turn inward and write through those emotions that feel overwhelming at times.
I’m incredibly grateful for my support system. I realize that there are people who are not as lucky as I am: those who are going through this alone without any loved ones to reach out to and those who are in self-isolation with their abusers with nowhere to turn to. Sending a little prayer and contributing when I can is helping to ease the pang of guilt I feel when thinking of those less fortunate.
No matter what your relationship status is, I hope you will see the beauty in the silence. I hope you’ll hug your loved ones a little tighter when you can see them again and that you’ll lap up every ounce of compassion that’s shared—near and far.