On the Privilege of Staying Positive in a Time of Crisis

Early morning. As I sit writing this, outside the window the fresh snowfall covers the usually grey and gloomy streets and naked trees with its shiny white flurry. My sister is still sleeping, my dad is out walking Freddy, my mom is sipping coffee in the living room, Home Alone playing in the background… It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, except it’s April 1, I’m under quarantine and the whole world right now is a big fat April’s fool. 

It’s hard to imagine how exactly we got here. Just a couple of months ago (which now feels like a distant déjà vu from a past life), I was walking around the beaches of Malta with my coworkers, salty wind in my hair, enjoying what promised to be a great start of an amazing year. Yeah, I know, we all had that “2020 is gonna be my year” meme moment and are sad-laughing about it now, but… I don’t know, I guess part of me really believed in the symbolism of it. 

2020 kick in the face meme gif

2020. New decade, new beginning. The year of the rat, my Chinese zodiac sign! It’s a leap year too, and I’ve always thought there’s something special about leap years. I had just had a lovely 2019, I had a job that I really like that was paying me to travel around the world, I had great friends old and new and was finally feeling like I’ve settled into my life in Paris, I had just spent a few weeks back in Bulgaria with my family recharging my batteries, and was ready for 2020 to be another wild ride…I guess whoever said “be careful what you wish for” was really on to something.

The Bliss of Millennial Denial

The truth is, though, that up until literally three weeks ago, I still felt like everything was relatively normal, good even. I was still living and breathing my best Parisian life, most days I was still waking up happy and motivated to go to work, I had recently gotten involved with the France for Bernie campaign and was excited to volunteer for a cause I believe in and socialize with new, like-minded people along the way. Unfazed by the earlier expressed concerns about the global threat of the coronavirus and the calls for caution (they were coming mostly from my relatives and a few of my coworkers, whom I had both foolishly dismissed as “paranoid”), I was still going to bars and social gatherings, walking around the streets, looking forward to doing even more of that in the upcoming spring… 

Looking back at my past behavior of only a few weeks ago, it all seems extremely foolish and ignorant, vulgar even, knowing that almost a million people now have the virus and tens of thousands have died. Just four Saturdays ago, I went to a full movie theater, then to a crowded bar, then to a packed club. Three Saturdays ago, I almost became one of those people who celebrated the last night before they closed all the bars in Paris. Ultimately the social distancing message finally got to me and I decided to #stayhome, but still, I was really tempted. The following Sunday, I was corona-woke enough to not take the metro, but I still took a bike, sanitized the shit out of it and became part of all those dumb people swamping the parks and the banks of the Seine. The next day, I took an Uber to my best friend’s house and we watched Macron announce a quasi-total lockdown. And before I knew it, I was scrambling to get last minute tickets to Bulgaria, leaving my Parisian studio with only my laptop and a few pairs of clothes in my bag, and for the first time in my life not knowing when I would return. 

A snapshot of some of my main activities in the weeks leading up to confinement général. Social distancing score: 2/10

I guess I must have been in denial for a while. I avoided coronavirus news as much as I could (what would knowing the number of new cases or victim help me or anyone, anyway), and whenever I was confronted with the topic, I kept telling all my worried relatives or coworkers “what can you do, life goes on” or “do you guys not have anything else to talk about”. Joke’s on me, I guess – you may send me all your socially distanced “I told you so’s” now. And even when things became evidently bad, part of me was still only registering the superficial, micro effects of the crisis: how will I work out now that my office gym is closed? What about my travel plans? I already wasn’t dating much anyway, but does this mean I’m officially single and can’t mingle? The slightly more macro existential worries like “how long will the entire world population’s public life be on pause”, “how will I get a full time job in this economy” or “will there even be an economy left” only came to me later, sometime during my 12-hour, multiple flight-switching and anxiety-induced trip from Paris to Sofia. 

Kalm…Panik…Kalm

Those few days before and during my flight back were objectively the worst. First, the anticipated aloneness following my initial decision to stay in Paris. Then, when I finally decided to go back, the temporary panic and regrets when I thought I had missed my chance and that there would be no more flights. After that, the guilt and fear that I’d get infected at the airport or in the plane and bring the virus into my family home. All along, the desperation and existential dread from the all-consuming 24/7 news cycle. And then finally, contrary to my own expectations…the calm acceptance.

But when I look at the things that actually matter in my life, I am extremely lucky and grateful to be able to say that so far, this dumpster fire of a year hasn’t been able to significantly impact them.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m “over” the COVID-19 crisis the way you’d get over a breakup or a missed career opportunity for instance, by ultimately coming to the realization that you were better off without it or that it was for the best. We would obviously all be better off without the coronavirus, and despite all the talk about how socially isolating would teach us to appreciate each other better etc., it’s hard to see a meaningful silver lining when thousands of people are dying every day, and millions are losing their jobs and livelihood. 

What I can do, however, much like when dealing with a breakup or another now utterly mundane-seeming frustration, is to focus on all the positive aspects of my life that haven’t been negatively impacted by said frustration, or rather – shouldn’t be impacted unless I let them. Yes, when I said to myself that “2020 is gonna be my year”, my immediate associations were superficial markers of success, such as posting Insta photos of travels to faraway destinations and sipping margaritas on fancy rooftop bars, or bragging about my work successes and my Saturday night dates at Sunday brunch, none of which seems likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

The privilege of sending #PositiveVibesOnly

But when I look at the things that actually matter in my life, I am extremely lucky and grateful to be able to say that so far, this dumpster fire of a year hasn’t been able to significantly impact them. I’m once again spending tons of quality time with my family and talking to all my friends all over the world even more often than before. Most days, I’m still waking up motivated to go to work – after all, it was never just about the fancy work trips and the free breakfast, it’s about being able to do something you enjoy, to be fairly compensated and appreciated, and to do it in the company of nice people, even if you have to take the coffee break talk over to Zoom. 

Between family Belote nights, Zoom cocktail hour and lying to myself that I’ll finally have time to read books, quarantine life could’ve been worse.

Last but not least, I still recognize the immense privilege of having all of this, and the even greater privilege of getting to keep it in a time of crisis, under our cruel and unfair global political and economic system, under which millions of people live and die in poverty, fear and lack of access to basic necessities even under “normal” circumstances, not due to global scarcity, but due to the unprecedented greed of the ruling class. The current crisis we live in exposes the faults of the system even more blatantly, but let’s not forget that before the coronavirus, we were already living in a massive inequality and climate crisis.

I’m saying all of this not to bum y’all fellow privileged woke kids out, but on the contrary – to remind us that, as hard as it is to have all our exciting plans for the year fall through, to feel lonely and scared and not know when we’ll be able to see our friends again, most of us still have it good. And while I can (and will) talk about all the different ways we could get involved and fight against these global injustices even while self-isolating, in the coming few weeks I’d like to focus on making the most of my privilege in order to keep sane, avoid catastrophizing and focus on healthy and positive personal habits and attitudes. 

Some of you are probably already following Krisi’s quarantine self-care journey, and while I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to post daily (being a busy white collar tech worker and all), you’ll likely be hearing from me even more than when I actually had exciting travels and stories to write about. I guess we’re focusing on the “almost” part of “almost adventures” these days, folks. 

As always, thanks for listening to my (virtual) TED talk.