You’re not lazy, you’re in a pandemic

The world is going through a crisis. Many of us are being forced to stay at home for weeks indefinitely, with no idea what the future will hold, except that it will be different.

Image by @Gabimulder for RUSSH

When our world becomes smaller, repetitive, and a little bit more scary, we try to focus on the things we can control: ourselves. In our productivity-obsessed, Instagram-filtered society this can look like punishing and comparing ourselves to others, especially for having the below feelings:

Our brains don’t know what news to brace for next, or what the next month will hold. We have all been through such a life-changing experience, that has affected every single aspect of our lives, that we are constantly trying to prepare ourselves for whatever is coming next. Except we have no idea. No one does.

The world shutting down and tens of thousands of people dying from a virus that a couple of months ago, most people shunned off as being the ‘flu’, has disrupted our beliefs and assumptions about the world. Two months ago it would be unthinkable that Governments all around the world would be shutting down their economies, or that Trump would be suggesting injecting yourself with disinfectant. We have no idea what tomorrow will hold, and with such dramatic, rapid changes, we are effectively still in shock. Our sense of our ability to control our lives is shattered, leaving us questioning our life and our life choices.

This global pandemic thing is pretty exhausting. Our brain is burning energy 10x faster than usual on it’s fight or flight response. We equate energy with our physical state, but our minds account for 20% of the body’s energy use (despite being just 2% of a person’s total body weight). During a typical (non-pandemic) day, we use about 320 calories just to think.

It is mentally exhausting adapting to the lockdown. Trying to figure out all of the new, un-clear rules — figuring out who should step into the road to pass the other on the street, how much shame to attribute to a run around the park, how to avoid any video-calls, whether we should wear a mask or not, how often to check in on people we love, whether we’re allowed to meet a friend for a socially distanced walk — it’s exhausting. Our brains have so much to figure out, and it’s made worse by the fact that our Government have not given us the clearest rules of all time (which is probably a good thing, as they have taken the removal of individual liberty very seriously) and we can constantly compare our ‘rules’ to those of other countries. Oh, and the daily number of deaths around the world. This apocalypse-like existence is enough to keep anyone up at night, or provide for some odd dreams.

If you’re tired, sleep. If you want to spend all day on the sofa watching tv, do it. If you feel exhausted but ‘haven’t done anything today’, remember that you’ve actually done a lot — you’ve survived.

If you are one of the lucky ones with a job, remember that you are in a pandemic trying to work from home, not working from home during a pandemic. Your brain has temporarily shut down some functionality in your prefrontal cortex — the part that deals with complex tasks and planning, due to the stress response. The hippocampus (which deals with learning and memory) is literally altered by stress, which makes you less able to learn new things, and more forgetful, so it’s harder to remember them.

A lot of us may have never experienced any particular trauma. Being repeatedly informed that thousands of people are dying everyday is a traumatic experience — welcome to the club. The state of being in high alert, perceiving constant threats and worrying about seemingly nothing and everything at the same time, that’s anxiety.

It is literally no wonder that we can’t concentrate. Everybody responds to stress differently, but none of us have been through this before. We are still figuring out what the parameters of our new lives are, before we can fully start living them.

The question of which book to write or photograph to take has been overshadowed somewhat by the fact that the world is a pretty depressing place right now. The mental energy of trying to see the beauty in a deserted Times Square is exhausting (and may require you to go outside, also exhausting) and it can be hard when we’re used to being constantly inspired. Not to mention, our society’s messaging of needing to always be ‘busy’, as creative directors of our own Instagram highlight’s reel, is a lot of pressure.

Social media allows us to compare our Netflix and Deliveroo barrell-scraping (come on, please bring back Nando’s) fuelled existence with ‘influencer’s. With their painting classes, new coaching business and meditation classes that was all set up in the last week, to the delight of their millions of followers. We can recognise the absurdity of celebrities posting about loneliness from the shackles of their swimming pool adorned mansions, but comparing ourselves to others, especially those we know, doesn’t go away that easily.

Guess what: your brain has diverted all of its creativity (ability to solve novel problems) to the question of “HOW DO I AVOID DYING?”, whilst in a narrowed, slow burn, fight-or-flight state. You may not be crafting Shakespearean prose every day, but you are doing a pretty good job of STAYING ALIVE.

If you are a ‘Type-A’ sort of person, this lockdown has probably hit you hard. Not being able to rush around to smash different goals, tick projects off your list and hustle for your dreams is quite annoying. When you’re used to being a ‘human doing’, it’s hard to adjust to being a ‘human being’. Slowing down feels unnatural. I used to literally not be able to watch a Netflix show without scrolling through my phone at the same time — I am notoriously terrible at relaxing.

Even if you aren’t a mega-busy person, you might be feeling unmotivated for the future because we all have literally no idea what the future will look like. Will all of our events be online? Virtual offices? Apps that give us a rating based on our blood oxygen levels? It’s understandable that you are struggling to motivate yourself for a murky future — it feels safer in the cocoon of our homes, in the present. Our brains know that being short-sighted is a safer way to cope right now, to get through whatever we have to, on a day by day basis.

Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to look ahead right now. It’s normal.

Our new, socially distanced world is exhausting. I found it more socially exhausting than my old life, trying to make sure everybody in my life is coping. We are accessible 24/7 through our phones, and everybody knows it. I felt like I should be calling all of my family members and friends on a daily basis to check in, leaving me completely emotionally exhausted and resentful. We can’t control how healthy or happy other people are.

This virus has highlighted the divisions in our society, between the young and old, healthy and not, poor and rich, vulnerable and safe. It has suddenly entered us all into a virtual world, which can already leave us feeling pretty lonely. It has collectively dropped us all of at the ‘self-isolation’ station, where we are going through something together, but inherently, alone. If you’re not used to speaking about your feelings, this is all going to be quite overwhelming, as you try to figure out what to do with them all.

We are also not likely to be feeling our best, and so human interactions can become difficult when we feel like we should be presenting a happy, ‘fine’ version of ourselves to others. Conversation topics have become minefields, dodging prickly issues, the news, death, lockdown… to talk about what we’ve eaten that day.

Finally, being cooped up with other humans day in, day out, is going to cause you to all spontaneously combust at the volume of another’s breath, or the chocolate not being replaced when it ran out. We are having to reassess all of our relationships in this new world, and figure out new routines and boundaries for every single one of them.

It is completely normal to feel like this.

Guilt is often quite pointless. We feel guilty for all kinds of expectations that we set upon ourselves, such as not going for a 10k run in the rain, eating pizza, being healthy whilst others are sick — those feelings don’t help anyone. They don’t particularly motivate you to do the things next time, because it will be coming from a place of shame, and at some point or another you’ll always fall off that pedestal.

Right now, I imagine that many of us are scrutinising ourselves in an attempt to control our lives, and beating ourselves up in relation to our bodies. Not only are we limited in our exercise options throughout the day, we also (hopefully) have well stocked kitchens. Going to the supermarket is the new equivalent of ‘doing something’ at the weekend. Our three meals of the day have become the new barometers of our life. Snacks provide a comforting reminder that happiness still exists. Until we scrutinise our bodies in the mirror, berating ourselves for putting on weight and being lazy. Then feeling guilty for even caring about this, especially in a pandemic when people are dying. (Ending in possibly, eating more chocolate).

YOU ARE GOING THROUGH TRAUMA. You are in a world that is obsessed with being thin, ramming it down our throats every time it can. We have lost control over our daily lives, largely except for the food that we eat. It is completely normal to fixate on your body and to feel guilty for it, but please do remind yourself that it is all complete, utter bullshit, when you can. When we all emerge from our houses one day in the future, we will all probably look different to when we went in. Maybe the sample size of clothes will increase from a size 6!

Your weight does not define you. It does not have any correlation to how worthy of a human you are, how well liked, or how loveable you are. Your body is literally a jelly bag holding all of these bones and muscles, and the heaviness of this jelly bag means JACK SHIT. But it’s important to remember that it’s natural to feel this pressure, but not to give in to it. Eat whatever you want to eat right now. Try to do things that make you feel good. If you can go for a walk, do that. Don’t force yourself into fitting into some idealised, fit version of yourself. Just do what you need to do to get through — this goes for all kind of guilt.

We feel like we need to be extremely adaptive to whatever comes next. You may feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster of guilt, shame, hope, productivity, happiness, anger, exhaustion — this is not a bad thing. You are going through a global pandemic and every day is completely different, yet the same. There is literally no way to navigate this other than by taking it minute by minute and being patient with yourself.

You do not need to feel bad for being unproductive, unsocial, exhausted, healthy, or anything else. There is enough guilt and shame flying around right now without us all doing it to ourselves. Be kind to yourself.

This post was inspired by an Instagram post by @alexisrockley — check her out!

Author of the Model Manifesto and ADHD: an A to Z, writing about mental health, law, social justice, body image and the modelling industry.

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