I’m not a stranger to social distancing. I spend weeks at home in the summer, too relaxed to go out, too tired to mingle. A lot of the time I’d rather read another book or watch another movie than get dressed and put on a smiling face. Being with family is easier—you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.
But whenever I spend a lot of time at home, I back myself into a weird place. I start shrinking away from my friends; I never really check the group chat anymore. I convince myself that no one is reaching out to me, when really I’m the one doing the avoiding. I isolate myself in my room, and I hardly ever change out of what I slept in the night before. I put up four walls around me, and I’m happy there. Well, I think I’m happy. I think I’m more just numb—forgetting what it’s like to laugh with other people, to experience things outside of the house in which I’ve cooped myself up.
This COVID-19 isolation thing is much worse than my usual antisocial tendencies. In the beginning, my introversion was happy. I wasn’t dying to get out of the house like everyone else. I’m still not. I’m actually reluctant to get out of the house, which is kind of what’s worrying me. Because I can’t pull myself out of this situation like usual—no one can. I can’t ask a friend to lunch and remind myself that being outside of the house isn’t so bad. I can’t plan a nice dinner to get myself out of my pajamas. I can’t take down the walls around me because this time, the government put them up.
The first few weeks of this new normal, I was perfectly fine. I was productive, I was happy, I had hope. For some reason, I never worried about when this would end. I just figured it would...end. But as it went on, I began to lose something each day. First was productivity—I slept in later, I stared at TikTok longer. Next was energy, now it’s hope. I lost hope for senior prom, I’m losing hope for graduation, I’m losing hope for my first semester of college. I missed my last greasy birthday dinner at the hibachi restaurant we always go to. Next year, I’ll have to FaceTime my grandparents from college. That may be the part that breaks my heart the most.
I started to really sink into that horrible, numbing boredom. I needed something to do. I found myself working out to pass the time—which in my book, is rare. I started exercising for hours a day. I ran (never done that before), did multiple yoga classes, and would drop down for crunches every free second I got. I found myself looking at my body more, seeing if I had developed abs yet, enjoying my “morning skinny” a little too much. My Instagram feed was full of sponsored posts from Kayla Itsines and other fitness people. I didn’t even notice how bizarre all of this was until one night when it all hit me. I was scared because I realized how unlike me this all is. I started Googling “How much exercise is too much?” and was diagnosing myself with conditions that, for all I know, don’t exist.
It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t exercising so much because I had “overtraining syndrome” (???)—I was exercising because it was the only thing I could control. I can’t control my school life. I can’t control the outside world. I can’t control how I feel. I definitely can’t control this virus. So I found control in how many crunches I can do. I found control in how much I could make my muscles hurt. I found control in how many miles I could run. I found control in how far I could push my body past its limits.
When I came to realize this freaky, self-deprecating thing I was doing, I quit. I stopped working out. I didn’t move from the couch for a week. I started to work on Uniquely Aligned more than usual—making decisions, checking our Instagram too much, creating TikToks at 2 AM, texting the team three new messages every five minutes. It overwhelmed me quickly, and I hardly noticed at first. I couldn’t sleep because I was constantly thinking about what I could do better, what needed more. I started dreaming about it, thinking about it in the shower, on the couch, during dinner, right when I woke up. I was literally pleading at night, think about something else, think about something else, think about something else.
It was my new exercise. Instead of pushing my body to its limits, I was pushing my mind. I hit my breaking point when I sat in my chair working for five hours straight without moving a muscle. I was sweating through my t-shirt, trying to hold back tears, texting the team like a maniac. I overworked myself so much, I literally crumbled. I sat down in the shower, let the water pound down on my head, and tried to think about something else—anything else. I’m taking the day off now.
This situation has turned me into someone I don’t know. I usually spend every second in conversation with myself—picking apart my feelings, stitching them into something that makes sense in words. But now, my mind is outrunning me because my energy has nowhere to go. I can’t keep up with these thoughts, and no matter how fast I run, no matter how far I push myself, no matter how much I sweat, no matter how much I kill myself over this, I can’t catch up. I’m still so far behind, but my mind is still running—trying to reach this finish line that I don’t even think exists.
I’ve always known that isolation is dangerous. But I never thought it could hurt me. I’m an introvert—I’ve always been fine on my own. During the school year, I get excited when I’m sick because I can lay in bed by myself for a few days straight. I never thought isolation could hurt me because I was too comfortable in it. Maybe that’s the problem.
I need to reach out to my friends. I need to turn my phone off sometimes. I need to shut the computer. I need to relax my body. I need to go on more walks. I need to FaceTime people. I need to take bigger breaths. I need to draw more. I need to stop running. I need to sleep again. I need to read more. I need to watch a movie—I worried myself into believing I didn’t have time for that anymore. I need to remember that there’s time.
Maybe I’m writing all of this to just say, be careful. Text someone. Your thoughts need somewhere to go. Let them go. I’m trying to let them go too.
Illustration by Morgan Johnson for Self
Sarah Mae Dizon