Reclaiming my Mental Space from the Grips of the Quarantine Hell Zone
The sinister side to lock-down
I recently read a story by Dan Sheehan that resonated with me precisely because it captured ‘the hell-zone of quarantine’ that I hadn’t quite seen articulated so succinctly before but recognized as soon as I started reading this. Afterwards I got to thinking about how much life has changed and how emotionally exhausting this change has been and it dawned on me that the lock-down has not just been physical but also has a darker and more sinister psychological manifestation with the capacity, if left unchecked, to change the way we think.
All out of ideas
I too tried in earnest to keep things ‘normal’ and to continue with my life B.C. as much as possible. Sleep was nevertheless disrupted and at the beginning I used some of those sleepless hours to write on the topic until something happened in April. I sat down at my desk with the intention of writing but could not exceed twelve words, twelve measly words. I simply could not think what to write or to say. I was shamefully all out of ideas and so I stopped writing.
It’s out of my hands
Around that time I also gave up on following news reports detailing the path of the virus and the devastation it ravaged; doing so was emotionally draining and offered little consolation (this search for meaning appropriately referred to as the hell zone). It was all out of my hands anyway and so I relinquished control and heeded the public health advice as it was presented by those who knew more than I.
Each day has since become a solitary unit unmarked by plans or events as I follow the directions about what I can and can not now do. This way of living could be described as purely mechanical but it is manageable and surely a survival tactic in times of crisis.
What is there to think about anyway? Signs (standardized in yellow and black designed to be instantly recognizably) tell me what I need to do to stay safe and to protect others, and this is reiterated with almost no variation but mostly involves staying at home and staying apart. Essential trips, for instance, to the grocery store are accompanied by precise steps to take to stay safe. To deviate from these is unthinkable.
Blinded by the light
Unthinkable at least until a need arises; in my home this need was for curtains to block the blinding sunlight from scorching whoever happens to have the afternoon shift on any given day in the new ‘office’. The banality of this not lost on me, I plotted a subversive mission to get what was needed. Feeling like I was testing the boundaries of the new regime and giving birth to a new breed of rebel, I furtively veered off the plotted path into the home-ware section of a large supermarket. No sooner had I located the goods than an announcement came on over the PA system instructing customers to avoid browsing, to only shop for essential items and to work together to stay safe.
Burn! Feeling like a defector, red-faced and paranoid, not to mention a little thrilled, but not wishing to have to justify the necessity for curtains or to be further chastised I hurried along with my trolley for items that are more universally considered essential like milk and bread and eggs. Curtains be damned!
How now, brown cow?
Wary of my rebel streak and wanting to play my part I take no chances when it comes to getting out for exercise. Instead of using the paths and walkways within the permitted 5 kilometres of my home I have adopted a more conservative approach and taken to the fields where the only chance encounters likely to happen are with bunnies or cows, my 2 meter personal space safe.
The advice clear and unavoidable, the need to follow it so great that if an official published a bedtime it is very possible that I too would heed this advice without questioning the rhyme or reason. The only thing to do during a pandemic seems to be to do exactly what we are told but there are unintended consequences of lock-down that exceed the physical barriers and restrictions we accept as necessary.
Freedom of the mind
In living life according to a narrowly-prescribed set of rules we risk losing the capacity to think and dream and question for ourselves. For me this manifested in my inability to write, to come up with ideas, to construct an argument by myself and defend it with a sense of my own voice and autonomy. I have been so busy balancing a tightrope between a purely mechanical approach to the day and the emotional hell zone of quarantine that I lost something of myself that was never included in any restrictions: the freedom of my mind.
Life that demands compliance and adherence to rules and restrictions in a rigid world dominated by fear is difficult psychologically. We each do what we have to in order to survive, no judgment. Giving in to a new rhythm of following rules and adopting an attitude of ‘just get on with it’ is understandable and preferable to inhabiting the hell zone. But what if there is a way to exit lock-down without needing to break any barriers or having to wait for the lifting of restrictions or the finding of a cure?
How incredibly inspiring and life-affirming it is to know that people like Viktor Frankl and Anne Frank and other prisoners of war retained control of their minds amidst the tyranny of the times in which they lived. In articulating their profound experiences and exercising their personal power to tell their stories, they have given life and soul to the true meaning of freedom, freedom of the mind.
Lock-down may be a temporary measure intended to create physical distances to curb a threat to life of epic proportions. It is also though being felt and experienced emotionally and psychologically. If left unchecked the deeper psychological lock-down, devoid of a clear path, unrecorded, unmeasured, may be harder to exit.
Refusing to give this virus more power than it possesses, while continuing to follow the rules, I am reclaiming my mental space and taking back some control.
This is my prerogative.
This is my emergence.
This is my lock-down exit strategy: to exercise the freedom of the mind.