• Expert By Experience

Isolation Series : Reconnecting With Yourself During The Pandemic

Written by Taimour Fazlani

It’s day 60 of self-isolation as I write this article and if you were to ask me what day it is, I would have to double-check on a digital device nearby. Although time is an important feature during this pandemic, it’s the lack of regimented structure around it that makes the experience hazy.

As I approach 70 days of self-isolation this period has been one of the strangest experiences of my life - this is coming from someone who experienced something as disorientating as a military coup as a child in Pakistan. The past 50 days have been foggy, especially at the beginning. However, at the start, it was all made worse by panic and confusion.

When I decided I wanted to contribute to the ‘Desi Voices From Isolation’ series, I knew it wouldn’t be easy because I recognise I’m not at a stage where I can produce great meaning or provide hot takes on the present situation.

Generally speaking, I’m not a person who can process live information on the spot and feedback immediately - I’ve never been like that. I tend to process things slowly and in ways unique to me. Personally I need time, time to heal, time to step back and most importantly time to understand. This could be a reason as to why the majority of articles I write date back to experiences from 10+ years ago. Maybe in 10 years time, I’ll be able to give meaning to this pandemic through my eyes.

For now, though, I know what this pandemic has given me and it’s personal time - like it has for many of us. And although the vast amount of free time at the start did bring with it confusion and even minor depression due to the lack of routine, gradually it’s settled into something very different and ultimately positive. However, I should say that this positive re-framing exists because of my privilege in that I’ve been able to keep my job, a stable roof over my head and most importantly my health.

Having time to myself as a result of the pandemic has meant that I’ve been able to reconnect with my former self - the former younger self that came to an abrupt end the minute I finished university. The naive yet complicit younger self that dropped everything meaningful to him to join ‘the rat race’ by obsessively job hunting without understanding the consequences of what it will mean for his already fragile mental health. The younger self who naively didn’t know that racing towards what he thought of as ‘stability’ in capitalism came with a price.

The price being that his time will not belong to him anymore - instead the ownership will be transferred to the erratic boom-bust cycles of capitalism.

Looking back I always felt a sense of betrayal that no one warned me about what it would all mean - especially in relation to personal time. While it was visible on the tired faces of most adults around me, there wasn’t a clear-cut understanding that in order for me to gain relative ‘safety’ in an uncertain economic system I would have to sacrifice the majority of my personal time.

In a practical sense, this meant giving up life-enriching hobbies such as running to eventually recognising that 8-hour sleep on most weekdays is a myth - both of which I simply had no time for anymore. It was quite a surreal experience looking back, one day I had all these hobbies and a sense of who I was, the next day I was stuck in an office feeling alienated from the life I had cultivated.

What’s worse is that my experience is not unique. I, like many other young people, have had to be ‘initiated’ the long way on what it means to be an ‘adult’ - all of which has had a devastating impact on our mental health.

So when the pandemic ‘broke-out’ in the UK and social isolation was put-into half gear by the Tory government (albeit very late in comparison to other countries), it was an unexpected turn of events being given extra time in my day. The time which is usually spent commuting and getting ready for work, all of which totals 3 hours in my day could now be spent doing whatever I wanted. Even if it meant doing nothing.

Amongst all the uncertainty and anxiety during this pandemic, for me, it has been the ability to make use of personal time and reconnect with my former self that has created much-needed positivity in this strange and dark period.

Being able to make use of personal time has also meant that I’ve started to heal myself from earlier life traumas. This is very true for my early 20’s where I hold a lot of trauma as a result of this difficult period.

None of us knows what the future holds as uncertainty has slowly crept into all areas of life. My best guess is that we’ll have to reimagine a future that co-exists with managing the pandemic.

However, after having rediscovered a beautifully simple life that’s rest-orientated, I want to imagine a future that doesn’t lead to huge personal compromises. The type of compromises I was forced to make when I first started working as a naive 22-year-old. All of which led to a sharp mental breakdown.

This time around, when I re-enter ‘normalcy’ along with the rest of society I want to imagine a future where I am able to continue my hobbies and passions while getting enough restful sleep - all of which is so essential for our mental well being and life quality. I want to imagine a future where my time isn’t consumed by unnecessary rituals of capitalism such as commuting - which is not only expensive but also soul-draining. Especially when you consider that many office-based roles can function from home.

Yes, life, as we know it, has come to a standstill. However, this should not stop us from trying to re-imagine a new life after all this is over - regardless of how long it takes.

To imagine a new life that co-exists with nature and ourselves. A new full life that allows time for ourselves and our loved ones.

I recognise that all of this sounds like hopes and dreams and it may never even materialise - especially when you consider there’s a deep recession heading our way.

However, after having experienced severe mental ill-health the first time around and seeing how long it took me to recover, there’s no way I’m going down that abyss again. I don’t think I could survive a second time around.

This is why things have to be different this time around.

This time around I’ll put my mental health first. This time around I’ll make my wellness a priority. This time around my hobbies and passions will take centre stage. This time around I’ll be guided by my past.

This time around I won’t budge on what matters to me.