How I Reclaimed My Joy During the Pandemic

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How I Reclaimed My Joy During the Pandemic

I was sitting in the living room of my small Manhattan apartment on March 11th when I got the New York Times notification that the NBA had postponed their 2020 season. I was eating wings from a bar down the street where I had originally planned to watch basketball in person, but last-minute opted for take-out as COVID-19 concerns slowly seeped into New York City.

Two days later, I no longer felt safe working from our office in midtown. A week later, I stopped taking the subway as Mayor DeBlasio threatened a shelter-in-place order. Two weeks later, my entire apartment was in storage, my parents were at my door and I was headed upstate to quarantine for two weeks.

Those four weeks (the two in my tiny two-bedroom before I left the city and the two in quarantine in my childhood home) were challenging to say the least. We all know now how hard isolation can be. And when I spoke to a close friend about my anxiety and feeling of helplessness, they urged me to approach this adversity in a new way – a way that does not come naturally for me: to do less.

I’ve always been very active. I’m a planner, a doer, a go-getter. I’m the friend who gets everyone off of the couch and to that karaoke bar, or on that bike ride, or to that comedy show. I thrived in New York City – where the activities were endless, and the people always new and exciting.

Then COVID-19 hit and my social media feeds were inundated with friends telling me I should learn how to be alone. I should take this time to slow down. I should appreciate doing nothing. I should make the couch my best friend (the couch and I had only been acquaintances up until this point).

I couldn’t wait around for the world to go back to “normal.” I would need to create a new reality, a new way of being me.

So I took this advice to heart. The result: I watched more TV in three months than I have in the past three years. I made an absurd amount of baked goods. I drained my bank account online shopping. I read multiple books. But these relatively low-key activities exhausted me, and I started to disconnect. Zoom hangouts became tiring and cumbersome and I dreaded them so much that I started making excuses not to attend. I was becoming withdrawn. And I was unhappy.

It took about four months for me to realize that this wasn’t just general quarantine unhappiness – the same unhappiness everyone around the world was feeling – and that I needed to do something about it. The world had changed drastically, but that didn’t mean I needed to change myself drastically as well. This virus didn’t mean I had to stop trying new things, meeting new people and living life to its fullest. It just meant that I had to learn how to do these things a little differently. The mandatory pause of COVID-19 reinforced that I thrive when doing. I couldn’t wait around for the world to go back to “normal.” I would need to create a new reality, a new way of being me.

So I’m slowly taking back control. I tried on my friends’ list of “shoulds” and decided they didn’t work for me. I’m now organizing Zoom happy hours with my sports teams that I’ve missed dearly. I’m dragging my roommates on long walks around a very different New York City. I’m meeting people for outdoor dinners now that it’s safe to do so. I’m getting back into photography and attending protests and demonstrations. I signed up for a free online course called “The Science of Well-Being” offered by Yale, and I’m looking into volunteer opportunities in animal shelters.

I’m owning my life. I’m recognizing and respecting what makes me happy, despite what others may think would be good for me. Accepting this has been a freeing and wonderful opportunity to discover my own “new normal” as the rest of the world figures out theirs. As this virus continues changing everything around me, I have thankfully found the strength to stop it from changing everything within me.

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