Kaitlyn McQuin knows that politeness is a distinctly female quality
Self-Isolation vs Self-Improvement
Charlotte Moore might (finally) be done with self-improvement
OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a self-improvement junkie.
I own, at least, six books that will make me a ‘better human’ and a growing pile on ‘how to be a better writer’. I’ve been to drama classes, pottery classes and even Russian in my attempt to better myself. At this point, I suppose, it’s something of a habit – to take stock and assume I’m not good enough. That I need to be better.
So, it’s unsurprising that when I heard the term self-isolation, my mind immediately went to self-improvement.
My inbox was full of online courses, bookshelf heaving with the sheer volume of books I’m yet to read. And, of course, there was the workout plan. Did someone say glow-up? Because my walls are littered with post-it notes reminding me to spend every spare second I have available working on my core.
This (a global pandemic) was – in my mind – the perfect time for me to get fitter, smarter and if, I’m being honest, more attractive. I’d emerge from my living-room prison with abs of steel, a successful self-published novel and at least twenty new books to update my GoodReads account with.
Which is why I was so surprised that, last week, I didn’t get dressed.
I sat paralysed with anxiety. Unable to fathom crawling out of bed, nevermind completing my two-hour workout. I wept for my cancelled jobs and Monday yoga classes. For my parents and sister, who I was so used to seeing. For the routine that I had lovingly carved out, snatched away in a matter of days.
Trying to read was pointless. My mind couldn’t focus – no matter how much I wanted it to. My lungs were full of something thicker than air, that even deep, heaving breathes couldn’t fill. I was terrified of the new uncertainty that now lay behind my front door. And, no matter how much I forced myself to be grateful, to consider that the loss of work is a small price to pay compared to some. But, the understanding that my career has taken a rather dramatic U-turn still hurts. From eleven clients to one in the space of a day, I wonder if, even after all of this, I’ll win them back.
Even writing – something I adore – was a struggle. My keyboard had turned to treacle, the internal monologue that helps me form sentences had shut down. So, I stopped trying. After two days, I put down my laptop and slept in. I stuck on audiobooks in place of reading, I deleted Twitter and Instagram, and at 9 pm every night, my phone was switched off.
I repotted broken plants outside our front-door, tunelessly humming to the radio. I baked quite possibly the worst-tasting banana bread you’ve ever eaten and didn’t weep that I’d wasted my time on something so awful. Instead, I laughed. At the absurdity of a 27-year-old woman standing barefoot in her kitchen close to tears over bloody banana bread.
I started following writing prompts – just ten minutes a day of writing for fun – something I haven’t done in a long time. Writing pointless and detailed conversations that I’ll never have. I put down my self-improvement books and started to talk to my partner. We played scrabble in the garden, leaving brief intervals to silently stare out at our quiet cul de sac.
And, as if by magic, my lungs started to clear. The now permanent nausea making way for hunger. Eating – an exercise that previously involved cramming down whatever I could find – simultaneously jogging between meetings, became an activity. A new structure to the day.
I miss my work. I crave the daily challenges – spending hours rewriting sentences like a puzzle.
Clients, coffee shops and just being part of a collective. I long for my friends, to pull them close – clutching onto their neatly painted fingernails, so different from my own.
And, while the anxiety of all of this hangs like a shadow. The threat of something unseen, altering almost everything we know. I panic about the rent, as I apply to every job I see. My fears for cherished relatives, for friends – so proud of their work, now unemployed. I worry for my partner’s mum, a frontline nurse – and for all the NHS staff, who may not cope with the tidal wave that we can see so clearly, creeping closer – just on the horizon.
And yet, this moment, right now, one of silence and burning sunshine in a tiny garden is one to treasure. Temporary? Of course. I know the panic will return. But, in the very here and now – I feel okay.
And, if that’s not growth, then, I’m not sure what is.