Confronting My Bad Habits in Quarantine

Op-ed

Everyone around me believed that it would never affect the United States.

I felt a pity for China, but nothing more. Even when my school announced that we would not return to school after spring break, I was still not phased. Class in bed, eating whenever I wanted, hanging out with friends, wearing sweatpants every day- what more could a teenager want?

However, as soon as that first weekend hit, I quickly realized life in quarantine was not going to be as exciting as I thought.

That weekend, my family and I went to Costco to stock up on food, planning to hunker down for two weeks. Little did we know, months later, we are still mostly stuck inside our houses, faced with endless time.

The Fantasy Of Infinite Time

Throughout my whole life, adults and teens around me constantly claimed that their lives were too busy, that they never had enough time.

People had fantasies of decluttering their entire house or taking a break from their hectic lives. When most people found out that they were going to be faced with endless time, many believed that they were going to be extremely productive and finally complete the tasks they claimed they never had time for in the past.

Many were initially very motivated: cleaning their closet, organizing their cabinets, reading books. However, this was extremely temporary. Everyone believed that quarantining would be short term and would allow them to put their life together before resuming with their previous routines.

After a few weeks, everyone realized this was not the case.

People became fatigued and lost motivation to continue with their productive ways. People resorted to relaxing on the couch, eating snacks, watching TV, completely neglecting the tasks they claimed they always wanted to do. People were faced with an inordinate amount of time and had to figure out how they were actually going to use it, which did not always match up with their idealized plans.

In my typical pre-quarantine life, I spent every minute of my time productively. I was constantly looking for new tasks to complete.

Quarantine seemed like a chance for me to take a break. I was so excited to spend hours upon hours on TikTok and YouTube, finally given the opportunity to take the break I had always craved.

However, after one week, I realized that endless entertainment was not what I wanted at all. I thought that I always yearned for free time and nothing to do for hours but go on my phone, but this didn’t satisfy me at all. I was constantly stressed about the efficient ways I should have been spending my time, and I felt like my life had no purpose.

I decided that the only way to maintain my sanity was to return to my old habits, but this disturbed me.

Why was it that something I and others had always pined for-- a complete break with routine, a chance to declutter space, read more books, learn to cook, learn a language, etc.--no longer seemed desirable when we finally had the time?

Is Time Really The Issue?

The answer: once people’s excuse for more time disappeared, people were faced with their true intentions. They realized that their past plans were not actually their desired reality.

Once I had this insight, it provided me no joy. I realized that I never genuinely wanted what more time could offer at all but, was merely claiming I did for the sake of my family. My parents always told me to slow down and take breaks, and I always claimed that I had no time.

But, in quarantine, I realized I was using my belief that there was “no time” as an excuse not to take a much needed slow-down. Without a readily available excuse, I realized that time was not the real issue: it was me.

Now people are beginning to return to some version of their normal routines, and are once again faced with a lack of time. I am one of those people, returning to some version of life that will fill my days with school duties and expectations. But I now know that my complaints for more time may have been unnecessary all along.

During quarantine, everyone dreaded free time. They were longing for work or school.

When school was only a few weeks away, I found people around me wishing that summer was a little bit longer and that they had a little more free time, despite the months of agonizing free time they already had. Until we all realize that our plans for more time did not actually satisfy us, people will continue feeling discontent with their lives and remain unaware of why.

In truth, balance takes an incredible amount of awareness.

Although I realized that I am my own problem, not time, I do not believe that my life will change that quickly. My whole life has been extremely busy and lacked balance. I am now aware that balance is something I need to bring each day to my consciousness, but it will take time to break out of the patterns and mindsets about productivity and rest that I have had my whole life.

Making the realization that we are the problem, not time itself, will leave us aware and content with ourselves and our lives--it simply takes time to make the change in our everyday lives.

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Sammy Kelner

Sammy Kelner is a high school sophomore who is very passionate about politics and social justice issues. She is the founder and president of her school’s Key Club and has a podcast called Politically Blonde. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.