By an anonymous Resident Member
Self-isolation blurs day and night, and there isn’t much difference between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is like falling into a time loop. Knowing how to entertain one’s soul becomes extremely important.
Yet I feel reluctant to ‘lecture’ others on how to get along with self-isolation for I am well aware of the complexities of the human condition. We all have our own concerns, different commitments, and various plans for 2020. I think Westerners are naturally more averse to self-isolation, although it isn’t easy at all for Asians either, at least the Chinese people I know. I still remember how my parents always wanted to venture out and begged for a 30-minute walk but were always turned down by the three ‘jailers’ of the house: me and my brothers.
For me, social distancing isn’t that hard, as this is what I will have to practise for the next three to four years or even longer while studying in Australia. Sociality is important for all professions, but for most of the time, I need to put myself into solitude to be a deep thinker and an efficient writer. Compared with many other students, who cannot really work at home, I am fortunate to be doing literary studies and what I need most for my research is always books, books, and books. I might be forced to apply for a leave of absence to protect my candidature if I cannot carry out my overseas archival research by this year, but I have chosen to hold on to hope.
Having said that, good books, a sip of quality coffee, movies (not at the cinema, of course), plants awaiting care and love (I managed to resuscitate three dying plants belonging to my former officemates – I am so glad that I didn’t abandon them for they instantly transformed my room as if by magic!), and writing are all good ways to enrich a difficult, solitary day. Try to schedule your day as much as possible, but it’s ok if you don’t want to work. Don’t push yourself too hard. I managed to produce about 3,000 words at home when stuck in China, but now I realised they are a pile of worthlessness. I should not have ‘faked’ working when I wasn’t in the mood for work at all. Given another chance, I would idle those three weeks away in a much happier way, instead of squeezing my brain in front of the desk and producing nothing out of nothing. I would have written fiction, poetry, or letters, for instance.
We may never have a better opportunity than now to work on some long-dreamed ideas on which we didn’t have the time for in the pre-coronavirus days. Don’t give up on exercise, work-outs and eating healthily. Video call someone whenever you grow anxious and need people. Take a walk in the park for some fresh air, remembering to keep a safe distance from others of course, when you feel like you are about to burn out. Lastly, helping others is one of the best ways to overcome the sense of loneliness and even futility. But don’t get yourself too exposed to heart-wrenching coronavirus stories if you have already started to feel upset or experience self -blame for not being able to help enough. Be aware and cautious about compassion fatigue for we need to stay strong to win this battle and to sustain our humanity.
Being stuck in China wasn’t easy for me, especially with so much uncertainty ahead and so much work to be finished in Melbourne. Despair, self-doubt, and aspirated hope each and every Wednesday afternoon as the travel ban was extended, and manifested into insomnia. These thoughts dominate my memory of February, and they are still as fresh today.
But I finally learned to look at lockdown as an opportunity, despite all its drawbacks and sad complications. It is indeed a good opportunity to slow down, to be self-reflective, to be retrospective, and above all, to be the daughter of my parents, the sister for my brothers, and the loving companion for my partner. I am not saying I wasn’t able to fulfil my responsibilities as part of the family when far away from home, but I got so used to saying goodbye that I forgot that they might want me to stay a little longer.
I wish the coronavirus outbreak never happened. We tried our best to not allow it to close ourselves off by the care, optimism and fun we created together. The Chinese New Year was ruined by the virus, but the hours and minutes I spent with my family brought back to us some good old days. We tried one new recipe every day, with some turning out surprisingly delicious and the rest a total disaster. We played card games at night, with the open knowledge that my mum would finally lose all of her money. She was a terrible player but she never gave up the idea of winning, even just once. I finally see something in me that was inherited from her. We emptied one room to create a small gym with a table tennis table.
There were, of course, some discussions on the coronavirus and, as you might expect, some tears. Some fell from sorrow, some from anger, but some expressed our heartfelt gratitude for frontline doctors, nurses, and many others who risk their lives for the country. We knew they were scared deep inside, but they were empowered by a greater purpose and their love for others. We should all practise care and love for others, and we need this to see us through these dire and trying days and months. That is what Graduate House has been doing, and I am proud of being a resident here.