June 26, 2020
Let me ask you this: How did you deal with the quarantine?
For me, I initially pushed my thoughts and feelings away.
I knew things were going to change once we were told to stay at home. Thoughts started racing at the back of my mind, but I pushed them aside. “You have to focus on the bigger thing—a global pandemic is happening,” I told myself. We were experiencing the unprecedented: The world was closed. Everyone had to stay inside. The number of cases climbed relentlessly. What was going on in the world mattered more than my dark thoughts and negative emotions. I had to focus on what was more important.
Home became a workspace, school, office, church, and place to rest rolled into one. That relieved feeling you used to get when you arrived home wasn’t there anymore. I had to shift my mindset when my room became all of these things. My mind was confused most of the time and it took a while for me to get into the right headspace.
I relied on social media for human connection.
Since the outside world was off-limits, I turned to the “next best thing”: the world of social media. It was the only means to interact with people. Though it helped me connect with others, since social media was my bridge to the rest of the world, I was highly influenced by what everyone else was doing. I told myself repeatedly, “This is what I need to do,” because others were doing it.
I tried to become productive by keeping myself busy and rushed.
Quarantine was pushing many people to be productive, including myself. After all, who didn’t want to come out of the quarantine a “better person”? I did the same. I rushed at the opportunity to serve, to work, to write, to create, to plan, to reach out, and to grow. I thought that the busier I was, the more it meant I was on track. But as time passed, it was all about the things I was doing, and less about the purpose behind them.
I didn’t allow myself to slow down, pause, or stop. I had to be productive like everyone else, but then I started to lose purpose. I was draining myself, until I couldn’t do anything anymore. I felt there was no point in what I was doing anyway, because I was clouded by the thought that “I am not productive enough.”
All the pent-up thoughts and emotions finally caught up to me. You could say that I was actually avoiding them. Trying to be productive pulled me away from dealing with my internal problems. I was insecure watching my other friends do their own thing; I was upset with the cancellations and changes; I didn’t want to be alone, because it meant dealing with the negative thoughts that came with it. This time, I couldn’t go back to the outside world, be busy with work, or hang out with friends to avoid it. I was stuck with me.
Slowly, loneliness crept in.
I saw everything from a screen: My friends, my family, my work, and the rest of the world. It felt like nothing was real anymore. The feeling of loneliness grew stronger when I started to realize what I lost.
I missed what home felt like.
I missed seeing my friends.
I missed going outside.
I missed having a normal day.
Feeling lonely was magnified by the drastic changes around me.
It felt like no one could understand what I was going through or how I felt. Or if they did, I felt like they had enough to worry about, dealing with their own struggles.
When I embraced isolation and changed my perspective of it into a time of solitude and rest, things started to turn around for me. I remember that it began when I admitted that I wasn’t okay. I was just at home, but I was so exhausted–emotionally, physically, mentallly, and even spiritually.
I asked myself, “Why was I so exhausted?”
I needed to take a break. I needed to spend time by myself, and learn what it meant to rest with God and in God. So I took a break from everything I was doing, and focused on being present—with God and with my family. Things got better, because I was taking time to rest. I was learning what it meant to slow down.
For me, “slowing down” was taking in every aspect of the day without any distractions. It was letting in my thoughts, and feeling my emotions. I was learning how to understand myself, instead of avoiding, judging, or condemning myself. It was a gradual process. In the past, I couldn’t bring myself to any of that. I was scared to navigate through my dark thoughts and negative emotions. But like Job in the Bible, we can lament to God. Job faced his pain, and faced it with God. And so I let the pain gradually sink in. I realized that if I didn’t feel, I wouldn’t heal, either. Over time, things got lighter after I learned to face the things I was avoiding.
It was a new experience with God. Instead of a huge wave of emotions hitting me, it was subtle. God was subtle. He was personal with my vulnerability. He was slow. It felt like I was receiving God’s company. It was learning about God’s love again, and what it really means.
He was breaking the notion that I created in my mind about how I should be as a follower. Instead, I had to embrace that I was His child first. I didn’t need to push myself in my relationship with Him. I just had to be available. In the stillness, I realized that God’s love never changed. It had always been consistent. He showed it in the biggest events and in the smallest moments.
I realized God doesn’t condemn me for testing my faith. When you test the foundation of a building, you let it go through challenges so that you can see the cracks here and there, before you can solidify it even more. And that’s what I was doing.
I realized that God knew me like no one else does, even myself (Jeremiah 1:5). He knew my darkest thoughts and didn’t cringe away from them. Instead, He chose to love me despite the ugliness within.
I realized God’s love came first (1 John 4:10). I could never compete. I could only embrace it and reciprocate it. I only needed to be available to Him and enjoy His presence.
I realized He would never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:8), regardless of the circumstances around me or my thoughts within me. His presence didn’t have to be obvious or dramatic; it could be felt in a simple tugging of my heart. I didn’t have to cry or bow down on my knees. There are moments for that. But there are also simple moments of silence.
I know I may not see a physical change just yet. Maybe things won’t go back to normal just yet. But I’m not in a rush. I’m not in a rush to change. I’m not in a rush to come out of this quarantine as a productive person. Instead, I’m starting to do things differently. When I do something, I try to dig deep into what motivates me. I try not to avoid my thoughts and emotions, but to process them with God. I try not to look to social media to compare myself with others anymore, but simply to keep the connection going. And when it gets too much, I try to take time away from all the noise and center myself around God.
I was no longer afraid of being alone, because I realized that in my aloneness, I’m not truly lonely. Being alone was not a bad thing anymore, because I learned through the process of experiencing loneliness during the quarantine, hitting rock bottom, questioning who I was and what I was doing, that I got to learn more about who God was. And it was all worth it.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Hebrews 12:2a (NLT)
(Photo by: Toni Belo)