Quarantine fosters introspection and self-discovery for senior

October 28, 2020 — by Jun Lee

Graphic by Jun Lee

Quarantine was stressful, but it taught me ways to enjoy being alone and helped me revamp my lifestyle.

When I was in kindergarten in Korea, my teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up as classwork. I wrote down the answer on my paper: happy. When I got my paper back, my teacher told me I didn’t understand the point of assignment. I wondered, “How is wanting to be happy not a valid goal?”

The extent of happiness is directly related to mental health, and many recently reported to have a decreased satisfaction on their quality of life as the COVID-19 pandemic brought a wave of anxiety over the nation, where increasing stress due shelter-in-place and the fear of losing loved ones worsened mental health problems. 

According to a recent survey of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late March, the data indicated that 47 percent of people who were sheltering in place reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus compared to 37 percent of those not sheltering in place. 

For me, though, it’s been the opposite.

While others shared their experience in how quarantine has negatively affected their self-identity and mental health status, my life conditions in quarantine have improved my perception of myself as well as of the world.

I remember going into quarantine back in March. My days were filled with boredom and stress over AP testing and upcoming college applications. While there were countless tasks, I found no motivation to study and finish the assigned homework because I felt like there was no need to study — if all the academic testing got postponed and I could not leave the house until further notice, what was the point of having to endure and “grind” to prove that I was quantitatively intelligent and beneficial to society?

Additionally, as a self-defined extrovert, I felt like I couldn’t adjust to this new lifestyle: I had an urge to continuously keep in touch with people through social media because I was uncomfortable and anxious about being alone. 

With my increased use of social media, I realized that media forces people to create a new identity of their social life where people portray only the best sides of themselves; scrolling through my Instagram feed forced me to compare myself to the unrealistic, yet pleasant life others show on social media. 

Conscientiously managing my social life wasted my time and lowered my self-value. I realized there exists at least two versions of myself that I know of: the social me and the isolated me. While I knew so much about my social me, I had almost forgotten the introverted side, which had just reappeared since I was stuck at home. 

Isolation from society has pushed me to wonder who I really am, aside from all the social responsibilities such as being a student or being an athlete and working out to stay in shape. 

Observing the different behavior I display in terms of different social responsibilities, I realized that I change my identity to respond to different environments. For example, my identity as a student is vastly different from my identity when I'm around my friends. Or, my identity around friends is also completely different from my identity around my family. 

Then, I thought: “What’s my real identity when isolated from the outer environment?”

I couldn’t come up with a clear answer. I suddenly felt lost, and the positive qualities that used to make up my Extrovert identity disappeared — leaving me feeling empty inside.

Trying to find meaning in my life, I came across a novel called “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and I was intrigued by his theory of Ubermensch (German for Superman). The idea of Superman is closely tied to his claim of “God’s death,” meaning the worldly values that “God” represents are “dead.” Instead, we must strive to achieve the Superman versions of ourselves — by creating independent values to guide our own lives. 

Although we often equate happiness with material goods or wealth, we forget happiness is not a physical matter we can grasp, instilling “Chase the bag” mentality (a slang for hustling to get rich to become happy) in people; it’s an abstract quality that can be found in the moment — even in such little things like traveling. 

Society often creates standards through social media and other everyday interactions, often forcing people to fit into a societal norm.

Reading Nietzche made me realize that no absolute and permanent values exist, and I need to refine my ambitions and achieve the ideal version of myself. Inspired, I began to search for my own values to be the Superman version of myself — reflecting upon society’s values and prompting to question my own. 

In hopes of transforming into the ideal version of myself, I deleted my social media apps in an effort to quit comparing myself to my friends. Then, I started working out every other day and improved my nutrition. 

For instance, I fixed my nocturnal sleep schedule of going to bed around 3 a.m., instead sleeping before 1 a.m. and waking up early to go for a run. I also began doing yoga for 30 minutes in the morning and at night to calm my mind and body. 

Seeing the physical change I made over the two months of summer, I now could motivate myself to change my old habits: procrastination, rationalization and fear of exploring things I’ve never done. 

Outside of my house, exploring unknown places that I’ve never been to gave me a thrill of discovering hidden treasures. Once, I found an abandoned tunnel near a hollow in Almaden, and it looked like one of the tunnels I only saw from pictures in the 1800s — opening up my mind to be welcoming of new ideas and loving the outdoors.

A lot of the changes I made to my lifestyle shifted my mentality for the better, and here’s a list of the major things I did over quarantine:

  1. Quit comparing myself to my friends. Find what makes me happy and build my life unique from any others. 
  2. Do yoga for at least 30 minutes before sleeping to calm my mind and body.
  3. Wake up early and create a daily morning routine. My beginning-of-the-day mindset lasts throughout the day.
  4. Explore nature and discover new places. Nature heals my spirit.
  5. Work out regularly and get good nutrition to maintain my health.

There’s no definite answer to find a way out of the norm or the current life. However, once people stop looking for answers and learn to live and love with their present conditions by taking action to view reality in a refined perspective, regardless of the good or the bad, I believe that everyone can find peace in their inner self.


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