The Myth of Plague Productivity


You don’t have to sort your entire life out during this lockdown

If I see another article telling me what Isaac Newton got up to when he was quarantined, I’m gonna lose it. All of these articles forget to mention that Newton lived on his family’s estate in a manor; he had slightly more space than a student boxed into a 4-bedroom flat with 3 acquaintances from first year. He didn’t have to worry about wages, paying rent or keeping track of which exams were cancelled. No wonder he came up with calculus – whatever that is.

He’s not the only example that keeps getting shoved down my throat. Do you think Shakespeare would have written King Lear if he had access to his parents’ Netflix or YouTube? It’s a ridiculous comparison. Life is complicated now; the structure provided by classes and office hours is all but essential for maintaining any level of sanity. With that gone, and absolutely no obligation to even keep to a decent sleep schedule, things get pretty hazy.

Building a new routine from scratch is hard, especially when you can barely leave the house or see your friends and family. Our lives revolve around people and the time we spend with them, even “alone time” is ruined; you can’t have alone time if you’re always alone. Human beings are pack animals. It’s natural to be struggling when you’re not only separated from people you care about but also riddled with all kinds of health anxiety.

That’s why people need to lay off themselves – and each-other – about using this ‘free time’ to get things done. The only thing I have any obligation to do outside of eating and sleeping is doing my coursework, and even that’s a struggle. I have no library, no dedicated study space, no in-person office hours with my tutors. These aren’t exactly optimal working conditions.

What’s more, exams being cancelled means that my grade for the whole year will be decided by 19,000 words, spread over four essays that are due in the next month. Like I wasn’t already anxious enough for someone with an existing health condition in the middle of a pandemic, whose grandmother is currently on a cruise ship somewhere off the coast of Thailand.

And that’s the big issue. The anxiety. It’s ever-present, and hard to navigate. When my anxiety gets bad I like to go for walks. Now Boris Johnson has told me I can only go on one walk a day, it’s hard to feel comfortable doing even that, when all I see in the media is reports of people not self-isolating, or even going out of their way to spread germs.

There are a million things to be understandably worried about. Some people are still without homes, NHS staff don’t have the equipment they need, testing levels are behind those of other developed countries. No one knows how long this is going to last, or what the world is going to do when it’s all over.

Don’t take this the wrong way – nobody should be running around panicking, but we shouldn’t be burying our concerns either, and we definitely shouldn’t be having even higher standards of productivity than before.

So no, I’m probably not going to end up writing a lot of music, or prose, or poetry. It’s taking all my willpower just to drag this article out of myself, and my hands are shaking the whole time. I’m not doing so good right now, and it’s normal if you feel the same. I’m not gonna write my magnum opus when I’m functioning at about 12%, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to, either.

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