What I Learned in Quarantine - Lies I've Told Myself
Because Hindsight is 2020
One thing that has been pretty consistent through my life is that I’ve always felt like I never had enough time to get to do the things I wanted to. Thanks to 2020 being the weirdest year in my living memory I have had a lot more free time than I’d ever thought possible. With that comes lots of time for self-reflection, and I’ve been able to call myself out on some of the many lies I had told myself over the years.
“I Love Breakfast, if I had time in the morning I would cook myself breakfast every day.” - Lying my lazy ass off
So the first part isn’t a lie; I really do absolutely love breakfast. It’s the meal which I am almost always guaranteed to be happy eating. I mean, bacon, waffles, pancakes, poached eggs, even cereal. You can’t go wrong with breakfast foods. Unfortunately, I have had nothing but time for 4 months and a very flexible schedule as far as working from home has gone. I had every opportunity to get up, start my day right with fresh cooked eggs. I think I did like a half dozen times. Turns out, my main problem is just wanting to milk as much morning sleep time as possible, and I really don’t like making effort first thing in the morning, especially for something as trivial as feeding myself. In short, I’m incredibly morning-lazy. So how to fix that? I don’t know, maybe try pre-cooking myself breakfast sandwiches or something so I can be lazy in the morning. It’s a work in progress.
“I wish I could make my own schedule, I’d get so much more done.” - So Delusional
Turns out, scheduling not entirely the problem. The problem is that I set out a weekly routine with the best of intentions and then NEVER get past week two of it. Some elements of the schedule might survive and get worked into the next attempt at a schedule, but it rarely lasts long. I don’t think it’s so much a self-discipline thing as it is an attention span issue. My personal priorities have been constantly shifting for as long as I can remember. One week I want to work on my physical fitness and will set out a whole workout regimen, the next week that’s mostly abandoned so that I can focus on my writing, then I’ll take a hiatus while I finally sort out the basement, before setting up a hobby painting station, and 4 weeks in I remember that I’m overdue for a run. The cycle continues.
I think if any lesson is to be learned from that it’s to relax and ride that interest wave. I cause myself the most anxiety when I’m stressing about not doing what I feel like I should be doing, which is often self-imposed goals and restrictions, which then causes me to spiral inward, self-medicate with food, and procrastinate. Focus on what’s important to me at the moment and put my whole self into it without thinking about what other things I feel like I should be doing based on an arbitrary schedule I made for myself. I shouldn’t be writing an article while thinking I should be out for a run, and then on the run stressing about the fact that the lawn isn’t mowed, only to mow the lawn and internally complain about how I should be writing. It’s self-defeating and if I can just focus on the task at hand I’ll both accomplish more and stress myself out less.
One thing that has helped me recently is a productivity app called Do It Now that I have been customizing to fit my needs. When I first got it I thought I’d load it up with tasks on a timer, fill that calendar up and I’ll breeze through my to-do list. Nope. All I did was ignore the timers and then feel guilty about it. So instead I made a bunch of termless tasks that gave me an in-app currency, and I use that currency to buy rewards for myself. So writing 500 words is worth 50 coins, going for a run is worth 100, doing a french lesson is 100, reading 25 pages of a book is 25, etc. Then I have rewards like $5 towards a video game, which costs 500 coins. So I can work my butt off and when I save up enough to get myself the new Mortal Kombat DLC I’ll feel like I actually truly earned it. It’s actually been working fantastically. Much less stress and when I get something ticked off I really do feel good about it.
“Some day I’ll have enough time to get caught up on all my shows.” - Innocent, Naive, and Dumb
There is SO MUCH good entertainment out there right now. SO MUCH. I’ve been at home for FOUR MONTHS and I’m only 20% of the way through Dimension 20. We finished Mythic Quest and Space Force, but haven’t even scratched the surface of all the anime that we’re behind on. I find anime the hardest to stay current on both because there’s so much of it, and because a lot of it isn’t english dubbed. I don’t mind reading subtitles at all, but I multitask a lot and sitting back to watch a show with my undivided attention is a pretty hard ask lately. I don’t know how many books are on my to-read list either but I can guarantee right now that I won’t make it through in my lifetime. Unfortunately one thing that I have noticed about myself is that I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what it is that I’m in the mood to get into. So, in ultimate nerd fashion, I tried solving it with a spreadsheet and dice rolls. Yup, I put a list of shows/movies into a spreadsheet by genre and then I roll a d20 to determine which one wins. When I get through one I delete it and throw the next one on the list in the slot. Putting my faith in the dice has weirdly taken a bit of the anxiety off of my own decision making process and let me just settle in to what I’m watching easier.
This has not made deciding which video game to play any easier though unfortunately. I love gaming, but there are so many damn good games to play right now, and unlike enjoying a book or movie, a game is an active form of entertainment. This means that I’ll only truly get the most out of it when I get halfway good at playing the game and put the time into it. There’s no skill bar to clear to see the ending to Lord of the Rings. You aren’t going to miss the ending because you didn’t learn Elvish, you just sit there and it happens eventually. Fallout’s endings take significantly more time and effort to get to, and I’ll let you know how they are whenever I actually knuckle down and get to them. Because of this I feel like I need to limit myself to a few games at a time so I actually get the most out of them, but I also totally don’t want to. It’s incredibly frustrating and I don’t really have a solution to this one yet.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever truly retire, Sara will get tired of me being home constantly anyway.” - Happy to be Wrong
I’m in the military, which means long hours, days, weeks, or even months where I’m not at home. I’ve been working since I was 14, full time career since 20. I didn’t know if I had it in me to actually slow down and be at home without the pressure of work keeping me going. Work is honestly the majority of my day, so what am I without it? Turns out, I’m perfectly okay with it. I know a lot of guys get out and struggle with the same question, sometimes with incredibly tragic results. It’s one reason why reintegration is such an integral part of the retirement process for veterans. Some of us just can’t adjust to civilian life, to not having a schedule, to not being around our co-workers and friends constantly.
I think I’m fortunate in that I have so many hobbies and interests, a close social circle, and a family which keeps me very busy and fulfilled. It’s something I talked to my troops about myself early on in the pandemic because I’ve seen a lot of my friends who didn’t deal with retirement well. So I suggested to them that now is the perfect opportunity to develop hobbies and interests for yourselves outside of work, figure out what you like spending your time actually doing when you’re not just chasing a paycheque to the grave. I’ve had 45 year old men at work watch me painting minis while I was duty and say “I wish I had a hobby.” Seriously? 25 years as an adult and you don’t know what to do with your free time? Figuring that out is just as important to your mental health as anything else in my opinion.
Now this statement was a two parter, and it’s the latter half that I’m most happy about. Again, as a military man we’re used to being away constantly. That’s also the lives our spouses accepted when they decided they wanted to be with us. My wife and I have been together over 6 years now and I’ve been away for some pretty hefty chunks of that. It’s a test that all military couples go through during their time together; however, one test that we don’t endure until much later is being home all the time. For a couple that is used to having their individual alone time and space, all of a sudden being in each others space 24/7 for months at a time really can be a challenge, and it’s one that can easily result in a break-up. This is especially true for some couples that I’ve seen who after spending 20 years together and suddenly then realize they didn’t actually know the other person anymore.
I’m not going to lie, there were some times when we really got on each others nerves and we just needed some kind of space from each other to breathe and work without being interrupted. There was a bit of an adjustment period at first for sure, but we settled into it. I think one thing that we’ll have to benefit from is when I do legitimately retire the kids will have moved out and I should have a study in the house where I can go to give us that bit of quiet separation on the occasion that we need it or when I really need to focus. I found it wasn’t even that Sara was actively distracting me but that I would constantly want to show her things that I found online, was working on, or that I thought she’d like because I enjoy spending time with her. We’ve been quite happy to spend the last 4 months together nearly constantly with the occasional night away. This “practice retirement” has been one test which I am very proud to say I think we passed with flying colours.
That in mind, I’m not sure I can say the same about the job I’m doing anymore. I was fairly happy and fulfilled at work until recently, but when the prospect of going physically back into work arose I started getting incredibly anxious. I think if that is my gut feeling that it might be about time for a fork in my career. Perhaps it’s time to move to something which is less physically and mentally stressful and instead more of an intellectual challenge. I had been thinking about it before now anyway, but this definitely hammered the point home for me to get that ball rolling.
“I’m wasting my time right now.” - Shockingly, I Don’t Think So
Overall, honestly this quarantine has been a positive experience for me, even with the challenges it presented. Sure I didn’t teach myself a full second language, or work on my degree, or build a new deck. At times I felt like because I wasn’t doing those obviously productive things I was wasting the time it gave me, which obviously caused a lot of guilt and anxiety. Now, as I look back, I see it was beneficial in other ways. It affirmed a lot of questions I had about myself and my life, where I wanted to go with it, and what made me happy. In my view that’s just as important as getting the front yard cleaned up or finally figuring out what french words are masculine or feminine.
Regular self reflection is good for the soul, and realigning your personal goals as you are presented with new challenges, information, and experiences is important for your personal growth. I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago, not by a long shot, so it’s only natural that my goals and priorities might also change over time. Taking the quiet and the time to figure out what those are was probably the single best thing I could have done for my mental health. Now it’s just on to the next important step; getting it done.