Become who you are

As I am writing this, sitting on my bed, basking in the sunlight, I had been confined within the four walls of my room for 12 days. My freedom was taken away by a two-page letter from the authority. Just like that.

The day I went into quarantine, the temperature dropped to minus 10 degrees Celsius and my city was a winter wonderland. I sat on the bed in my room and watched the time went by. I watched the snow melted. I watched the clouds cleared away. I watched the sun came up. I watched as spring came.

I read “When Nietzsche Wept” and I also wept, although these actions did not happen simultaneously. Breuer asked “How can I get out of despair?”, and Nietzsche said, “Become who you are!” Breuer asked “How do I know who I am?”, and Nietzsche said, “Choose your own fate!”. Breuer asked, “How does one choose his own fate?”.

A question from the book stuck with me: “What would you be thinking about if you don’t think about Bertha?”. If Breuer considered Bertha his source of despair, the culprit of his unhappiness, the tormentor of his agony, so was the confinement to me.

When I could not go on walks, my thoughts started to wander my head. At first, they were harmless. There were enough trivial problems to keep me occupied for a while. My brain did its job wonderfully by pulling up some coping mechanisms. I worked out and read and listened to podcasts and talked to my friends and watched Netflix a lot. At first, the reasoning sounded reasonable:

“So what, it’s a perfect day outside with bright white snow in bright sunshine and clear blue sky; and you were supposed to be on a one-day road trip with your boyfriend; also you booked a car and now have to cancel the booking; plus it’s Lunar New Year but your plans are cancelled anyway so everything feels so unreal—but on the flip side—maybe some isolation would be good for you!”
My self-denial in action

No, isolation is never good for anyone. After the first week, my mental fortress started to crack. I was in my room for so long that I didn’t know what and how to focus on anymore.

At this point, basically, you are reading a whiny rant about a first world problem. I get it–I’m in no position to complain given my blessings. I am in perfect health. I am employed. I have a roof over my head. I have people who care about my existence. I was also aware that complaining wouldn’t change anything.

Yet, if there is one thing that I’ve been trying to constantly keep in mind, that would be “You can’t heal what you don’t let yourself feel”. Nobody ever dies from having a feeling. Indeed, the moment I accepted my agony, I felt free. As quickly as emotions flooded over me, they also passed in the blink of an eye. And before I know it, my quarantine is over.

In fact, much of our life may be lived by our instincts. Perhaps the conscious mental representations are afterthoughts—ideas thought after the deed to provide us with the illusion of power and control.

When Nietzsche Wept

Today, two days after I started writing this post, I left the house for the first time in two weeks. It was 17 degrees Celsius outside. How magical it was to feel the sun on my face, to hear the traffic noises, to look strangers in the eyes and give them a big smile. I wanted to dance in the street. I wanted to ask everyone I saw, “Isn’t it a marvelous day?”. Having my freedom temporarily taken away reminded me again how much I’m grateful for the banalest thing in life, such as buying your own groceries or walking around knowing that you’re not the only one alive.

It’s funny to me how all this time, I was never really “free”, even as I walked out of the house for the first time after the quarantine. As Irvin D. Yalom wrote:

“And I also learned,” Breuer said, “—or maybe it’s the same thing. I’m not sure—that we must live as though we were free. Even though we can’t escape fate, we must still butt our heads against it—we must will our destiny to happen. We must love our fate.

When Nietzsche Wept

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