Opinion

Coronavirus-induced fear focuses the mind, and that's mostly a good thing

Self-isolation gives you chance to reflect on life, find out who you really are — and who you want to be once this pandemic is over, writes Mark Barnes

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By Mark Barnes
Life's rubble blurs as priorities come into sharp focus during a pandemic.
Life's rubble blurs as priorities come into sharp focus during a pandemic.
Image: 123RF/Niwan Nuntasukkasame

Since it began there's been nothing else. You can't switch on a TV or check up on Twitter without catching the Covid-19 virus, at least digitally. Your favourite sports escape channel is filled only with news of cancelled events. Everything's been captured, overtaken by the threat of the virus.

The uncertainty, the angst will surely kill you, even if the virus doesn't. 

Almost no-one will escape the virus's tidal wave, but relatively few will die from it - among the ones that can afford adequate medical care, of course.

Beyond all of the jokes (fear's escape valve), the panic buying of toilet rolls (Buttcoin!), the kids home from school for a month, and the weird selection of handshakes, we have a real crisis on our hands. It's a mess. It's a global pandemic, and yet it's very personal. When you self-anything, particularly when you self-isolate, you get time to think. More time than you want.

There are no work deadlines to meet, there's no tunnel-vision, problem-solving concentration required, no endless, boring (but day-filling) meetings, no queues, no traffic. Nothing.

You're home alone, really.

Your first fixation is whether or not you're going to get it. Stop worrying about that. You probably are going to get it, but you're most likely to survive. No matter the facts, or whether you're old or health-compromised or young, fit and strong, you will now be facing up to your mortality.

Once you realise that you're gonna die, for sure, you start wondering about what you're doing with your life. Fear focuses the mind, and that's mostly good.

Life's rubble blurs as priorities come into sharp focus. There's no time for the lesser things in life - like money, status, authority, influence, good looks or fast cars. You're alone, it's about you.

Is life really about waking up at midnight to see the Asian stock exchanges start trading or the US's S&P Futures Index open, transfixed by your screen for hours to anticipate (helplessly) the impact of those moves on your position on the JSE? I don't think so. You can't do anything about it until after breakfast, so why worry now?

Was it really worth borrowing more than you can easily afford to live in a fancy house above your means, you'll wonder? No, it was not. Is it worth comparing yourself to others? No, it isn't.

You need to start figuring out what you'd do, what you'd change, and what you'd stop doing, if your time was limited. It may be

You need to start figuring out what you'd do, what you'd change, and what you'd stop doing, if your time was limited. It may be.

There is nobody else there when you're self-isolating, so you may as well tell the truth. What and who do you really like, or dislike? How much of your life has been spent measuring up to the standards of others? Do you even like the you they seem to like? If you were your true self, how many of them would stay, how many would scurry away?

Isn't it about time you found out? No better time than just as you face a pandemic.

What happens if you're, say, a high-flying property developer, making lots of money, but you'd really much rather teach young children to read, just to see the look in their eyes when they get it?

Does it take a threat to world health and economic order to make us reflect on these things?

Submit to this re-think. Embrace it. It's not an intrusion, it's an invitation. It might just restart your life, it might just set you on the path you were too scared to take before.

If it means selling up everything to repay all your debts, do it. Settle the past. If it means uprooting from someone else's firmly held view about where home is, go. If you've always wanted to sign up for that arachnology course, there's no better time. If either the peace of the Karoo or the bustle of the city is your thing, make sure that's where you find yourself.

We have a real crisis facing us, a national disaster, a pandemic. Don't, for goodness sake, waste its force by hiding until it passes. Confront yourself

At first it's all a bit depressing, this self-reckoning, this honest scoring of your life. But that doesn't last for long, because that's about your past. Soon enough, you'll be free from worshipping at those temples of society you've now found to be so much smaller than you thought they were.

We have a real crisis facing us, a national disaster, a pandemic. Don't, for goodness sake, waste its force by hiding until it passes. Confront yourself, have a fight with yourself if that's what it takes. One of you will win. If it's a fair and honest fight, the better person will win.

It'll clear your mind, like the virus threat has cleared the skies above the factories in China, and brought fish back to the now clear canals of Venice.

Start being the real you now, whether the virus gets you or not.