Isolation, Mental Health, and Managing Your Time

Here I am, in Melbourne, living life in iso times. People are building home breweries, renovating bedrooms, cleaning out junk, building sculptures from macrame and eggshells. All I want to do is write. Not just a little bit each day. I want to write like I mean it, fill myself with my novel, its possibilities, and the endless stream of adventure I know is waiting for me. But I just can’t. I have no time. And it seems ridiculous to me that with such a clear schedule I could actually have no time. There are no after school activities for the kids, I have no appointments to leave the house for. No one to catch up with, I do not need to be at university. But everything seems to be so much more draining and so much more time-consuming. Home-schooling the children is not the least of these things. By the time that is done, and I have cooked, cleaned the kitchen, performed other household duties and come back to where I want to be, where I need to be, I am exhausted and the love I have, the passion I have for my medium, is gone.

Tackling the frustration of this time vortex is no mean feat.

I come to my desk, in my allotted free time and I lay down words. Any words, I strive and reach and stretch for words. I do not actively work on my novel; I punch out mediocre short stories that fill the void left by this lockdown. And I feel guilty about it: every, single, day. I feel guilty for not keeping up with the extraordinary efforts of others, who are seemingly taking over the world single-handedly while saving puppies from fires, and rescuing kittens from treetops. To put it simply, I can’t be like them, because I am not them. I do not know their struggles, or what their life looks like behind closed doors; all I know is that on the outside they look they are achieving everything that I cannot. And that is ok. My novel will be there when my mind is capable, and in the meantime, I am ticking over on the coattails of little stories about human experiences. I am practising, and that is enough for me at the moment.

What matters right now is living and loving.

Living life to the extent that you are currently capable, and loving those close to you (or dare I say stuck in a house with day, after day, after day…) as fiercely as you can. This time is unprecedented, but it is also a drop in an infinitesimal pool of life. This time will pass us by and become memory (history) before long. Which brings me to my next point, we have this time—whatever shall we do with it? The simple answer, whatever you like, or not. There will be days when you can take the bull by the horns and tackle your to-do list head-on, and days when you cannot. There may be more days when you cannot. In these times of inescapable stress, it is vital to allow yourself the space to do what is necessary for you to cope. Everyone is in a situation they have never been in before, and everyone is experiencing stress the likes of which they have never experienced before. We are all mentally fatigued, from worry, from workload, from home school, from virtual university classes; and we are all allowed to be.

When I feel everything beginning to slip, sucked into the time vortex that is isolation, I will quite often start to shut down. I like to be organised and in control of my environment. Efficiency is my coping mechanism, and it is how I get things done on the daily. Sometimes you physically and mentally cannot bring yourself to do even the simplest of tasks. When I am in this space, I treat the simple things as huge victories. Brushed my teeth, yes! What a legend! Planned and cooked a meal, kicking goals! Brushed my hair, how awesome?! Eventually, I can pat myself on the back enough to become somewhat human again. It is about doing what you can, with the tools that you have. There is no point measuring you’re achievements, life, stress, happiness, or anything else against those around you.

This crushing weight of emotion and uncertainty will end,
we will get through this.

When we do, we may have a greater appreciation for the time that is given to us. I know I plan to hit the ground running; nothing is going to hold me back from doing everything that I long to do. In the same breath, I am also keenly aware that it could be a long road back for the mental health of many of us, myself included; but there is a road back.

© Sarah Arber 2020