All around, it seems like Austria is releasing a collective sigh of relief – we’re finally able to spend time with friends and family members that we haven’t seen in a while, we can be outdoors for extended periods of time (don’t forget your mask tho), and we can frequent restaurants, pubs, stores, etc. again.
For a lot of us, self-isolation was difficult, be it because we needed to navigate a whole new way of doing our work, or because loneliness and following the news took a toll on our mental health, especially for those who live alone.
But there is/was another side to these past few weeks indoors. An arguably more positive side that now seems to come to an end. That is what I am currently experiencing.
Pre-corona, my days consisted largely of studying, research, and writing my thesis – all things I could do on my laptop from home. Being so focused on finishing my studies, I also had little time (and little energy) to meet up with friends in Vienna or travel to see my family. Given that I live on my own, I often already felt alone and isolated, only able to contact people through my phone. I was (and still am) an unemployed, full-time student, though the fact that I have been working on my thesis for months now with barely an end in sight made me think it was only my laziness, lack of creativity, and failure to stick to a stricter schedule that made my life feel stagnant.
(To be fair, I do recognize such thoughts as my own warped self-perception enhanced by the societal ideal that we should be thriving in the career of our dreams by age 25, combined with my personal hang-ups about the rigorosity of needing to prioritize getting a degree above all other aspects of life
or otherwise my worth as a human being is basically non-existent. Though thus far I have managed to hide that anxiety with self-deprecating and ill-timed humor LOL AMIRITE FOLKS?)
Anyway, the outbreak of the pandamic here in Austria has shown me an option that I had previously thought impossible: to step out of the hamster-wheel that my life had become.
I moved back in with my parents for a few months, a place where I am lucky enough to have a back yard, people I love around me, and the opportunity to switch between several rooms if I needed to take a break from work (as opposed to my appartment where every aspect of daily life happens in one room). The sheer conundrum that I was no longer socially isolated despite social isolation felt more uplifting than I could have anticipated. There was actually somebody to talk to, whenever I wanted, face-to-face, that wasn’t just the cashier at the supermarket. Wild.
As for my university work, that too seemed so much less daunting than before. I’m sure, being less lonely made me gain a more realistic perspective on the task, but more so I believe it was the complete and unavoidable still-stand that the entire world found itself in. Everything was put on hold, life on pause. And the strange sensation of knowing that each of us was moving through this newly established efficiency-vacuum felt … calming.
For the first time in years I didn’t feel like I was playing catch-up with the world.
I was able to look at the work I did and actually feel accomplished instead of beating myself up for not crossing off just one more to-do item. I could truly enjoy my hobbies again without the nagging voice in the back of my mind, so familiar to me at this point, saying I should be doing work instead because there was no time, no time, no time for anything.
My mental health was able to recover so much from the depression/anxiety/burnout that had accompanied me for longer than I care to recall. In a completely contradictory development, the lack of forced productivity actually gave me the energy to pursue the things I enjoyed, like learning new things or writing, and even things that I enjoyed less, like cleaning or researching. I felt unburdened and as though my life could be more than just the pursuit of a degree, as cliché as that may sounds.
But, given that the current state of the world is obviously unsustainable, things have to change sooner or later. And there are certainly positive aspects to that. I’m sure everyone has their own unique reasons for wishing to break from the confines of their own four walls again. Part of me is looking forward to it too.
However, to me, it also means going back to an appartment in which I felt more isolated than I ever would at my parent’s place. It means facing a life without structure and, thus, a life controlled by the habit of burying myself under impossible mountains of work on the daily. It means simultaneously wanting, needing, and dreading to finish my degree only to then enter a job market that was wrecked and contorted by the corona crisis.
In my head I keep imagining some 1%-er, champagne flute in hand, crying “In this economy?!?!“
It’s nigh impossible for me not to worry about what my future might look like given the circumstances. And by future I do mean the next few months as well as years. I’m back to anxiously breaking out in cold sweats when I linger on these thoughts for too long, back to an inability to concentrate on one task because the promise of the next one is already looming. The world has kicked itself into gear again and I already feel like I don’t have time to take a deep breath anymore. The narrative these past weeks was that it’s okay to not be efficient, to take time for yourself, and to prioritize well-being over work. But what does that mean for when life resumes?
The angst and unease I’m feeling seems to be a rather rare experience these days. I hope most of you, dear readers, don’t feel this way. But if you do, I hope, at the very least, that you can find comfort in knowing that somebody else shares your worries. All we can do is wait and see how the next few weeks turn out and try our best not to place ridiculous expectations on ourselves.
Stay safe, guys ❤