Everything is terrible right now. There seems little point in pretending otherwise. If you watch the news, you’re immediately sent into a spiral of existential fear and dread. If you don’t watch the news, you feel as if you’re neglecting a civic duty. Despite the inappropriately good weather, the national mood has never felt darker, with no end date to the government-announced lockdown in clear sight.
In Point Break, one of the many films I’ve watched since the arrival of COVID-19 with powerful undercurrents of gay subtext, Patrick Swayze delivers a line which truly resonates in these self-isolated times: “Fear causes hesitation. And hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.” Swayze is right. We cannot allow fear to paralyse us into an unhappy state of continual inaction.
Hence the posts we’ve seen circulating on social media which suggest ways to avoid descending into madness of George III proportions. ‘Exercise once a day’, ‘Learn a new skill, ‘Start reading Proust’, etc. No doubt the sentiments behind these lists are well-intended, but often they can aggravate the sense of anxiety which they are designed to combat. You’re left with a nasty feeling that lockdown is something you can succeed or fail at – that you’re not doing it well unless you’re using this free time to learn Portuguese or master the oboe.
As an antidote to these guilt-inducing posts, here’s an alternative list – one consisting only of things NOT to do, activities which must be avoided at all costs. Because as we all know, it’s easier not to do something than it is to be proactive. I may not be a qualified psychologist, but if you follow these guidelines, I can guarantee with near certainty that you will quickly see results.
Tip 1: DON’T go on a health kick
I should qualify this. Obviously, your immune system is kind of important right now and exercise is to be encouraged. But equally, if there was ever a time to let yourself go a bit, it’s surely now. For example, I’m currently experimenting with alcoholism. Obviously, under normal circumstances I’d never entertain such a thing, but the three-week lockdown timeline outlined by the Prime Minister also functions as a controlled framework in which to try it out. Don’t be bullied by social media #inspo here: going for a run every day might make sense on one level, but isn’t it also obvious and unoriginal? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Tip 2: DON’T start getting on with your family
Again, qualification is required here, as this won’t apply to everyone. For people quarantined alone and away from their families, my heart goes out to you. For people quarantined with their romantic partners, you have my unreserved bitterness. But if, like me, you’re stuck at home with family members, this advice is for you specifically. I cannot stress this enough – don’t allow yourself to establish positive relationships with ANY of your family members. Especially parents. Sure, it’s tempting to find ways of getting on with them for the sake of keeping the peace, but at university you’ve established a sense of independence and personhood. Don’t throw that away like it’s nothing. I’m not saying you can’t speak to them but do throw out the occasional vicious remark to let them know not to get too close.
Tip 3: DON’T get back in touch with an ex
Possibly the hardest one to achieve on this list. You’re bored. You’re lonely. Unless you’re lucky enough to be quarantined with a partner, you’re probably undersexed. In the haze of self-isolation, you stop thinking rationally, and so you start to rewrite history. Did he really cheat on me? Or was there just an unfortunate misunderstanding? No, he did cheat on you. However appealing they may suddenly appear, don’t let a global pandemic gaslight you into forgetting that it ended for a reason. No decisions you make in the next three weeks are likely to be good ones, so delete their number and avoid the temptation. If you’re looking for an alternative, go full-Betty Draper and find the nearest washing machine.
Tip 4: DON’T take up an eccentric hobby and let people know about it
To take a random example, if for some reason you come to the conclusion that you want to start making puppets, I’m not going to stop you. But if you then start a YouTube channel where you upload videos of the puppet shows you’ve directed using these puppets, that’s when a problem arises. Sometimes, the best kinds of hobbies are the ones you keep to yourself. This is especially true at times of crisis such as these. People have too much going on right now to support your clay making journey Karen. Don’t take it personally.
Tip 5: DON’T start making career moves
This last guideline is for the Oxford Careers Service. One horrifically tone-deaf email read: “Some of you may be using this time of reflection to think about your career development, and we are here to support you.” If you’re thinking about your “career development” at a time like this, you might want to take a long hard look in the nearest mirror. What kind of psychopath reacts to a global health crisis by thinking ‘Great, a much-needed chance to advance my employment prospects’? Although having said that, Oxford is a natural home to exactly this kind of dead-behind-the-eyes careerist drone. If you don’t know someone like this, it’s probably you.
Stay safe everyone!