It is both ironic and upsetting that it took a global pandemic for me to say “I love you” to the person who needed to hear it the most: me. Before the pandemic, I wanted to appear like someone who had everything together – someone with a good job, great friends, and fun experiences. I had all of these things, and yet still somehow felt alone. When I crawled into bed at night, none of what I had was ever enough. There was always something I thought I could have done better – perhaps be a better friend, a better employee, a stronger runner, a better cook, and so on.
The state of Florida began social distancing on March 17, 2020 – a date I will not soon forget. Although I did not know it at the time, it marked the beginning of the end of a long chapter of my life.
Just like everyone else, I felt panicked. I was concerned about protecting my health, losing my job, and being alone with my thoughts. Contact with the outside world would be limited, and I would be alone for the first time in a long time.
I did not think social distancing would last a full eight weeks. I thought it would end quickly, and thus my plan was haphazard at best. I tried looking on the bright side – I could finally work from home, I now had the opportunity to deep-clean my apartment, and I had plenty of time to work on my summer body. By the end of the first week, I found myself crying in the shower with a bottle of wine while blasting “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin. Ironic, yes. After all, this was not how I imagined getting through what felt like the end of the world. Social distancing felt more like quarantine to me.
In retrospect, pre-pandemic, I remained in a constant state of “busy” to avoid dealing with my feelings. Without the luxury to move about as I pleased, I found myself relegated to my living room couch, where I sat and thought – a lot. As the days dragged on, self-deprecating thoughts surged to the forefront of my mind, and I found myself entering a period of deep introspection.
Self-examination can be useful. What was I searching for in life? What was going to fulfill me? Good friends? Fun experiences? These things may have been fulfilling at one time, but they were unavailing while working from home with limited access to friends and zero “fun” as bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and entire states were closed.
I started thinking about how I became lost along the way. I realized that my path was the culmination of many experiences – some good, some bad. Driven by social media and lifestyle influencers, my life was about surface-level aspirations. I lacked a sense of purpose. Although I had a full life – a great job, great friends, a lot of fun – I did not have a fulfilling life, and I needed to start over.
Like many, I engaged in hobbies to fill the time. I found cooking and reading incredibly relaxing. I never thought of myself as much of a cook. I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction trying new recipes, successfully making a roux, and searing a medium-rare steak. I used to read all the time. As time passed, I read less and less, blaming it on not having time. I read more books in eight weeks than I had read in three years. I was reading multiple books at a time for once – something I never believed I could do. Finishing a book is the most rewarding experience in the world, and no one can convince me otherwise.
The hobbies were just one part of my self-love equation. I realized I had to dig deep to find a sense of purpose. Perhaps one could say I am now placating myself with new hobbies, but it was different this time. Something finally clicked. The satisfaction I felt cooking and reading was not the same satisfaction I felt with the more social aspects of my life. I was connecting with myself for a change and not with the outside world.
Cooking and reading left me with deep-seated happiness, something I had not felt in a long time. I felt creative, intelligent, confident, and capable. I sensed that these things were in me; I just never believed it. A sense of peace began permeating every aspect of my life. I started saying, “I love you” to myself more often and meaning it. To love yourself, you have to accept everything that you are and everything that you are not, know that there will be good days and bad days and that the person you need to be the most kind to is yourself.
I officially returned to the office on May 18, 2020. Returning to “normal” life scares me – I am nervous that it might threaten my newfound self-love, peace, and confidence. I take solace in knowing the time alone was good for me—all it took was a global tragedy for me to realize my potential.