Walking the Tightrope: A Metaphor for Self-Isolation From the Mind of a 10-Year-Old

When I was about 10 years old, I occasionally played a very high-stakes game. I’m guessing you did too. It went like this. I woke up and decided I didn’t want to go to school that day. So I flipped through my mental Rolodex of illnesses and associated symptoms that I could reasonably feign, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could fool my mom into thinking I was sick.

I believe I only pulled this off once through a combination of complaining of stomach pain, creating enough friction on my forehead to pass the “you feel hot” test, and secretly running the thermometer under warm water to display a mild fever. For the record, I don’t advocate this, and if you’re 10 years old and reading this blog, why are you reading a blog? Go play Fortnite.

This game was essentially the equivalent of walking a tightrope. One one side was school. On the other side was the doctor’s office. Falling off of the tightrope and landing in either of those places (especially with the doctor, who probably wouldn’t fall for the running the thermometer under the faucet trick), was not the goal. In fact, I was so scared of being taken to the doctor and being called out for my bad acting job by a medical professional that I never attempted this ruse after successfully pulling it off once. But wow, that one day was glorious.

As the world has been upended by COVID-19, it’s easy to hearken back to these simpler times. Personally, that nostalgia has resulted in a productive realization. I want to suggest that in a world ravaged by the coronavirus, we are all kind of playing a higher-stakes version of the tightrope game.

Walking the Tightrope

In this version, your normal routine (work, social life, errands, travel, etc.) is the tightrope. On one side is the coronavirus. A big, writhing pit of the stuff. On the other side is a padded room with Netflix, snacks, hand sanitizer, 60 rolls of toilet paper (KIDDING), and a few windows to glance longingly through at the outside world. This is social distancing, or self-isolation.

In this version of the game, nothing is stopping you from trying to carefully proceed to the other end of the tightrope. Before deciding whether to take the first step, you glance left and right. You see a few people in the padded room, drinking hand sanitizer and sitting on a literal throne of canned vegetables. Seems a little extreme. So you look right and only see a few people in the virus pit. For as much as you’ve heard about the virus in the news, it doesn’t seem too bad over there. Ahead of you, most of your family and friends are successfully navigating the tightrope, so you decide you’ll follow their lead.

You look down at your feet. You take a few cautious steps. Surprisingly, it’s actually much less difficult than you imagined. So without looking up you take another step. Then another. Before you know it you’ve made some decent progress. You think, “I’ve done well! I’m sure I can see the end from here.” So you look up. And for the first time, the situation gets very real and very scary.

Shockingly, you can’t see the end of the tightrope anymore. You’re nearly positive you could see the end when you started, but now, as hard as you look, you have no idea where the tightrope stops. Worse still, more and more people have been bailing from the tightrope and filling up the spaces on either side of you, making it harder to balance.

You nervously glance right, and the situation looks pretty dire in the virus pit. Not everyone looks sick, but those who do are in bad shape. Some have even died over there. You realize that with one missed step you could easily slip into that side. So you look left.

The people in the padded room don’t exactly look like they’re having a blast. They’re sleeping a lot, re-downloading Words With Friends, posting “Check in on your extrovert friends, we’re NOT OKAY” on Facebook, and cooking some of the weirdest combinations of food you’ve ever seen. More tragically, some of them don’t have access to the medicine they need, some have lost jobs, and many have watched as their friends and family members fell off onto the other side of the tightrope.

Everywhere you look, nothing seems especially great. What do you do?

At this point, like the dream collapsing in Inception, I’m pulling the metaphor apart. I’m reaching down into this made up scenario and (lovingly) pushing you into the padded room labeled “self-isolation”. I’m sure that this is the decision you would have made anyway, but it’s my story so I get to drive the narrative. I also get to set the moral, which is this. Self-isolation is crucial. And it will change the way you live your life.

I am an American citizen living in Korea. In real life, I walked the tightrope for a while as the coronavirus slowly spread around me, but I quickly bailed to the padded room once the Korean government began asking people to practice social distancing. I’m on week five of self-isolation, with at least one more week to go. As the situation continues to escalate in the United States, I am aware that I have experienced a lifestyle that will likely mirror that of people in the United States for the foreseeable future.

Here is one piece of advice that has helped me keep it together during this difficult time.

Be productive.

If you find yourself with more free time on your hands than you know what to do with, whether that is because you are working from home, or not able to work, do your best to be productive with this time. It is easy to succumb to a lifestyle of bad habits, or at least habits that don’t leave you feeling fulfilled by the end of the day. If your normal routine of work, hobbies, and social activities has been disrupted, it’s important to establish a new normal.

Find some kind of routine that feels productive. For me that has been a daily combination of reading and yoga — two things that I was terrible at making time for before the coronavirus forced me into self-isolation. It’s not like I only do these two things. I probably spend more time playing board games online than I should. Money Heist season 4 comes out in a week which will totally take over my weekend. But any time spent engaging in productive activity results in feelings of personal fulfillment and the sense that I’m making the most of a bad situation. I think those feelings are very important these days.

At the risk of driving the point into the ground, it’s time to get off the tightrope if that is an option for you. If you’re concerned about spending an unknown amount of time in self-isolation, I understand. I hope some of these resources can help. Most importantly, if you’re self-isolating, you are keeping yourself and others healthy. That’s not only the best thing you can do for yourself, it’s the best thing you can do for a world living the throes of a global pandemic.

So take a moment to acknowledge that fact, put on your pajamas at 1 pm, pop some popcorn and take in the sights and sounds of this calming video. We can do this.

Helping you fill your free time with purpose | whatismynextthing.com

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