Delhi-based Ami Unnikrishnan has self-isolated for long periods and has only emerged stronger from the experience. She writes about how to best handle self-isolation.
A lockdown, self-quarantine, house arrest. Call it what you may, but isolation is one of the highest forms of human punishment, a reason why it is used in the penitentiary system. Of course, it’s hyperbole to compare our present situation to solitary confinement, but it is also no wonder that many are anxiety-ridden at the prospect of self-isolation. While most around me are still grappling with this new normal, it has left me feeling empathetically empowered.
How and why
I live alone and don’t have the usual retinue of household help. I work out of my house as a consultant, and thus have the option of choosing timelines and projects. I don’t come from a typical big, fat Indian family, and while I can be an incredibly social and affable 30-something, my immediate circle of friends is small and spread across the city. Which means weeks go by without me seeing someone.
Having lived in England in the mid-2000s for nearly a decade, it was there that I started getting used to living like this – I didn’t see my flatmates for weeks, though there was always the two-second chat with your regular bus driver or your Waitrose checkout assistant. Back in India, and now having been here almost a decade, one might think the situation is different. But it’s not. The only difference is that those conversations are now with an Uber driver or the domestic help. And of course with my friends over a call. And while almost everyone I know today is digitally connected, I am more disengaged. I am not on Facebook or Twitter, and a dormant ‘gram account exists for work purposes or when the mood strikes.
As an only child and one that was homeschooled in Delhi in the 90s, I learned how to handle self-isolation in a very different way as a teen. But isolation in your 30s — some might say that’s scary. But here’s the thing — it’s not when you look at the larger picture. That’s why I feel so empowered today. Been there, done that.
I’ve self-imposed lockdowns as a spiritual, reflective practice. I’ve gone months without speaking to a human let alone seeing one, six months being the longest when I didn’t even have domestic staff. Of course, it was scary, for me, for my family and friends. Each day would bring its own challenges, but each phase taught me something new.
A typical day
Like, I found that a routine works best for me. Often people asked me why was I waking up at the crack of dawn if I wasn’t working. The answer: It was a pattern that worked for me since I’m an early riser. The routine was nothing grand but little things, like waking up and putting on lipstick. Even though I was going nowhere, it made me feel ready for the day. I’d make my bed — a small thing with a big impact. US Navy Admiral, William H. McRaven once said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed… It will give you a small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another… Making your bed will also reinforce that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”
These little things structured my day. I’d try and avoid Netflix till at least midday, listening to music instead and obsessing about perfect playlists — this took up its own time. Eventually, I had my day broken up into blocks of work. Each block had specific chores, so time kept moving, even if it looked like it was standing still.
I am somewhat OCD, so organising and cleaning are incredibly therapeutic for me. Added bonus: The time it can take up. I often treated myself to flowers — looking at them when I woke up made me smile. When I needed to fill the silence, I watched and rewatched my favourite shows. I read, I partied with myself, I held myself when it was dark, yelled at myself to snap out when I felt out of sorts and laughed with and at myself. But, as cliched as it sounds, one of my biggest takeaways was to not fight it. There will be good days and bad. Take each as it comes, because, like my grandmother said, “Tomorrow is a new day”.
What I realised
My times of isolation also made me aware of my priorities – keeping my core relationships and building new ones. My friend, the Cristina Yang of my life is an early riser, and our daily morning phone call ritual of years made and continue to make, my day. That was my priority, my routine evolved around it. This communication was vital to me.
As humans, we work in packs, communities, hence isolation is seen as punishment (the spiritually evolved not included). Human relationships drive us, nurture us, even break us. My experience taught me that I was no longer afraid of being single, that I didn’t need someone to make me feel whole again. Yes, like the next person I’d like an intimate relationship, but as I write this, I know my happiness is not dependent on it.
I feel that as a community we have for a long time been focusing on the external, thanks to social media and Capitalism. Perhaps this pandemic is a sign for us to focus on ourselves, our immediate relationships, or even potential ones. The current situation is demanding that we reflect, to work on what’s important, to address whatever is hiding in closets or under carpets.
Today, in this 21-day lockdown, I’m not afraid or stressed for myself (for others, yes). That’s how I know I have learnt to be at peace with my own company. This lockdown has not taken your power away. If anything, it gives you power.
All images: Courtesy Getty Images