“This title sounds insane”. That’s the first thought that went through my head upon rereading it.
I know it does. How can being restricted to your house, completely physically disconnected from people, places, and experiences, feel like travel? Travel is literally the opposite of all that.
Travel is about roaming freely around the world, meeting new friends, exploring places, drinking and eating and laughing and socializing, discovering new things every day, breaking out of the familiar. Quarantine is….well, a lot of staring at your apartment (or house, you lucky suburban folks with gardens) while dressed in some horrible half-work/half-pajama outfit you wouldn’t have been caught dead in two months ago.
But there’s something strikingly familiar about the mental states I, as well as many of my friends, are going through at the moment. I couldn’t place my finger on it until recently, when the thought came up in a journaling session. In a strange way, being in quarantine reminds me of being alone on the road.
A disclaimer about this post
Now, before I continue, I realize this may sound insensitive to some. I want to talk about how I’m processing the weird mental experience of being in lockdown while being safe and healthy; I realize not everyone finds themselves in that situation.
I personally know people who have been infected with the virus and who have been hospitalized with the virus. A few acquaintances’ family members have died from it. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be sick at the moment or be very close to someone who is severely sick at the moment.
People going through this hardship are obviously in a very different mental state, and would likely not relate to this post at all.
Here, I just want to explore the weird amalgamation of emotions many of us are going through while being stuck at home, physically isolated from our friends and communities, and thrust into an unfamiliar routine and an uncertain new world. The only way I know how to do that, is to write it all out on this blog.
So what in the world does quarantine have to do with travel at all?
If you’ve read my post about why you should try solo travel, you have an idea of why I personally enjoy traveling alone and encourage people to take that leap and explore solo. Because a lot of the self-reflection I’m going through right now is what I go through on my trips.
Who are we when many of our daily habits, routines, social circles, obligations, and even work have been stripped away? Who are we without all the things that we rely on for our identity? Our jobs, our hobbies, our social circles, our communities, have either been taken away from us to a certain extent, or we have radically transformed the way we upkeep them.
Being in quarantine, we are forced to confront who we are without everything we use in this world to give us our sense of belonging.
That is exactly why this experience reminds me of travel. Disconnected. Alone. Experiencing something new. The strange process of discovering who you are in radically altered, unfamiliar circumstances, without your normal support pillars to keep you grounded (or trapped, depending on how you perceive it) in your usual persona.
How many times have I been on a long train ride in another country, staring out the window and thinking these same contemplative thoughts that cross my mind in quarantine? How many days on the road, as in quarantine, have been a strange but fascinating amalgamation of frustration, bliss, excitement, contemplation, contentment, anxiety, and a whole lot more?
What are you experiencing?
This emotional confusion and difficulty of a quarantine will register differently for everyone.
Who are you when you’re not the class clown or office comedian anymore? When your looks don’t validate you because no one is around to see them? When it’s not a given that you’ll be connected with your religious group, trivia night partners, gym buddies, coworkers every week, and those bonds suddenly require effort to maintain? When you’re extroverted with no one to meet, protective with no one to take care of, a performer with no audience, in need of some affirmation or validation as a human being with no physical access to those who can give it to you?
So much of who we are is defined by our work, the roles we play in our community and social circles, our hobbies and habits. Whether we like to stay up until 4 AM on a Saturday night, or wake up early on a Sunday to go to church, we tend to surround ourselves with people who follow these same lifestyles as well. This further reinforces our habits and identity, keeping us firmly enmeshed in who we believe we are.
When our routine and community simultaneously disappear – what happens to that identity? That’s what a lot of us are contemplating. I’m going to emphasize that this post isn’t about giving answers. That’s our personal shit to figure out. We are slowly realizing what we are personally drawn to without social pressures, without the ease of continuing a routine, with a lot of outside influences removed.
Realizations in a lockdown
I feel like I’m experiencing the normal cycles of ups and downs five times faster than usual. Many of my friends I’ve spoken to also seem to have their emotions on a permanent fast forward in quarantine, hitting highs and lows within a matter of hours every day.
It seems like we go through every phase, from contemplative to overly energetic to distressed to blissful to frustrated to curious to calm, in hyper speed.
This happens partly because there’s nothing to numb or distract us from these emotional cycles. No popping out for a drink, no commute, no firm schedule for most of us, no endless obligatory work calls to interrupt our ruminations.
Personally, I am slowing down and taking time with myself and my thoughts, while keeping connections to the people I value most. I think a lot of us, during this experience, are realizing who we actually want to make the effort to stay connected with, versus the people we mindlessly make our way through the world with sometimes.
I’ve thought a lot about gratitude. My friends talk to me about how even in such a dire situation, they see silver linings here and there. How blessed we are for the small things and real bonds in our lives.
I think about how I will never again take for granted the fact that I have a comfortable place to call home, people I love that love me, an overactive imagination that always sees me through, a flexible job I can continue from home, a sense of play and the ability to entertain myself that only another only child can understand, and so on and so forth. I also realize how many people don’t have these guarantees and that thought motivates me, and should motivate all of us who can, to extend a helping hand even more.
Communities are often at their best when under the most pressure; moments like these seem to bring out the best in us and bring us all together. Although on the news we might see the worst and most selfish aspects of humanity, I’ve personally seen so many people helping each other out, financially, via services they can provide, providing emotional support, or even just taking the time to share their experience and specific knowledge to those who want it. Writers sharing their journey to aspiring writers, universities providing their knowledge for free, etc.
In the midst of a pandemic, how wonderful to realize I can share a laugh or a ridiculous story with friends and easily find my center again.
Quarantine forces us to reconcile with ourselves
When there’s nothing to keep us running distracted on a constant treadmill of routine, we have no choice but to sit with ourselves and our thoughts. That is an experience that can be equal parts wonderful and terrifying. But at the end of the process, the more we stick with it, the more clarity we gain, the more growth we can achieve.
Quarantine, like traveling alone, forces us to reconcile with ourselves. Life’s fears and anxieties are usually numbed by gatherings and routine and socialization and familiarity, but in a moment of forced disconnection from all that, your anxieties are unable to be passed on or pushed down. Everything you have thought or worried about yourself and your life will seep in and stay with you until, one day, you break through to the other side, strangely enlightened, accepting, and understanding about everything that nagged at the corners of your mind but was never really dealt with before
Navigating the low points
It’s an uncertain time. An anxious time. Our primarily goal is to stay safe, stay healthy, and make sure our loved ones are doing so as well, while all helping each other out as best we can.
But these emotional states we are experiencing. These beautiful moments of realization and connection that are infiltrating our daily lives. The things we are blessed with in life, whether there are few or many, that we are seeing in a whole new, more present, more undistracted way…there’s something to be said about taking note of that, and keeping it in mind even when we’re no longer stuck at home.
I hope everyone stays safe. Make sure to take care of yourself, but if you find yourself turning too far inward to the point where you disconnect, go back to giving. Give all you can. Whether that’s a phone call to a dear friend, financial help to someone who really needs it, or a birthday surprise sent to someone celebrating without friends or family around (ahem, I should mention my birthday is on May 6 here).
It’s a crazy time to process, but I’ve also never been so strongly reminded of the strength of our connections to other people, and the power we have as a community. I have these same thoughts when I experience the joy of being helped out by a surprising number of strangers on the road while alone, locals and other travelers like, who have no reason to give and assist but do so anyway.
Getting back to travel
I can’t wait to travel again. There are few things I love more in life. But the personal experience I am having in this strange temporary reality is not dissimilar to the inner experience I crave on the road.
For that reason, I am looking at these days of quarantine as another kind of journey. A real traveler will always find ways to explore; if they can’t do it outside in the world, they will go on another kind of sojourn instead. We are in this situation for the long haul. My advice: take this time to explore your life and yourself.
I remain optimistic that we can come out the other side of this situation with some new lessons learned, as individuals and societies. Let’s start now.
I would love to hear any of your personal thoughts or experiences during quarantine. Please comment and share below!