Reflections from someone living far away from her homeland during self-quarantine
“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise” (Camus, 1991).
As Albert Camus said, societies are not well prepared for health crises, not for losing the everyday rhythm of life. Even when human beings are aware of the events that can occur during our lives, we do not deeply think about important topics until those events occur. We find ourselves in an unusual situation with our thoughts, work, our closest ones, or just alone. It can turn out in questioning several aspects, from our purposes, the quality of our relationships, and, perhaps we are seeing ourselves in the eye as we never do. This can be illuminating, but also difficult being far away from home, like me.
In my case, I just started my PhD in Psychology at the University of Groningen some months ago, coming from Chile in South America, a very long and thin country at the end of the world, with singular geography that makes us quite isolated. It is surrounded by the Pacific ocean, mountains, a desert to the north; and the Southern Patagonian ice fields in the south. I can say we are very defined by our geography. For me, being in The Netherlands during the COVID-19 outbreak has had different sides: at the beginning it made me feel even farther from my homeland and loved ones; but also, it is not the first time that I experience an unusual situation that breaks the status quo. I come from a society that needs to be prepared for emergencies like natural disasters.
These events might help people to be more resilient facing unexpected emergencies and recover quickly, at least for me it has allowed me to face this current health outbreak with temperance and hope. In my case, those external factors have affected my individual experience and my tendencies for facing new events.
From a theoretical perspective, the individual experience is significantly affected by collective phenomena at the society level. These can take the form of a health emergency, natural disaster, or social crisis (Nowak, Vallacher, Praszkier, Rychwalska & Zochowski, 2020).
As Vallacher and Nowak (2009) explain, the dynamism of human experience is in a constant flow from the micro-individual level processes (personal experiences) to macro-level processes of society in constant and reciprocal interaction.
The individual experience is immersed in the fast and constantly changing course of perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and actions, evolving at different time-scales. This means that some of them evolve in milliseconds (as perceptions) to weeks or months (as interpersonal relationships) (Vallacher & Nowak, 2009).
Certainly, a contextual event like a pandemic will affect our thoughts and affective processes. For individuals being away from home, these kinds of unforeseen situations might be especially complex. Particularly, I have experienced fluctuating emotions and states, I realized how recurrent can be to feel overwhelmed by the available information in different media or experience loneliness, anxiety, and distress (World Health Organization, 2020). It is relevant to accept those states since we all are guided by uncertainty nowadays, but it is fundamental to not over-stimulate with information, finding coping mechanisms to regulate our affective states.
For me, these days provide an occasion to develop relevant aspects of myself, to reflect and accept what is out of my control; to be fully aware of the meaningful and expendable things. This can be a moment to accept our vulnerabilities, sensibilities, and strengths. Also, this could be a chance to retake contact with people whom we have not talked for longer. Personally, I have felt even closer to some others. Being in a place that is not completely familiar to me, sometimes I miss a little, in other moments I miss a lot, especially my family and country. However, I know that all these elements are constructing an imprint on me, adding value to the achievement of my purposes and allowing me to value the space I inhabit.
In this situation, I am aware of loneliness either as a feeling or state as a valuable element of the affective spectrum, it can help us to discover what we need and moving to necessary places or stages.
As John Lane (2006) stated, silence, solitude, and slowness can be a space for the emergence of creativity, self-reflection, and confidence in our future plans. A relevant thing is, do not isolate ourselves, which means keeping in contact with the people surrounding us.
This equilibrium between the time alone and in relation to others is an aspect in which I have been reflected during the last weeks, and probably will be how I have been moved by the external contingency. Relationships are a fundamental aspect of our lives as social beings, even when solely is a comfortable place to be (to a different extent for everyone), it is important to find an adequate equilibrium for us as far as possible.
In this sense, we individuals, construct ourselves in relation to others but also in solitude, it is a space that we own, it can be a prelude for future encounters with otherness. Nonetheless, there is a clue element: solitude is necessary and comfortable but not sufficient. There is not truly self-construction without relationships with others.
As Heidegger (1988) and later Arciero (2009) refer, itself is reflected by things and others, the consciousness of Self resides on factual existence, which means, on the concrete elements of life, insofar as it is emotionally situated through my interactions with the world and others on every single occasion.
Being oneself emerges in the daily itineraries which everyone follows in relation to the world, in our daily activities, passions, encounters with others, basically in those elements that constitute our itineraries (Arciero, 2009).
Therefore, some insights for me during these weeks have been mainly related to the adaptation of my life to this period and also the preparation for returning to “normal life”. I have realized the importance of staying connected to others, about not feeling afraid of sharing moods, deep thoughts, and emotions. It is fundamentally relieving. Besides, I have learned to really enjoy doing things slowly, calmly, and consciously from my home office; as well as being more aware of my affective states and thoughts in normal situations and finding myself on them, which has worked as a coping mechanism for me.
In conclusion, from my point of view, this can be an opportunity to be more connected with ourselves and to notice how our affective experience is colored by each moment; as well as being more prepared for the future. I have noticed that home should not necessarily mean a physical place, it might mean those moments in which I really feel comfortable with myself and the ways I relate with my surroundings and otherness in an extensive way. I have found out that it is possible to find home in everyday life and build it wherever I am. Hence, even if I am physically far away from my homeland, I can feel myself in a safe place to be and construct that space in full awareness every day.
Arciero, G. & Bondolfi, G. (2009). Selfhood, Identity and Personality Styles. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
Camus, A. (1991). The plague. New York: Vintage Books.
Lane, J. (2006). The Spirit of Silence: Making Space for Creativity. Cambridge, UK: Green Books.
Heidegger, M. (1988). The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, First Midland Book. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Nowak, A., Vallacher, R. R., Praszkier, R., Rychwalska, A. & Zochowski, M. (2020). In Sync. The Emergence of Function in Minds, Groups and Societies. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38987-1
Vallacher, R. R., & Nowak, A. (2009). The dynamics of human experience: Fundamentals of dynamical social psychology. In S. J. Guastello, M. Koopmans, & D. Pincus (Eds.), Chaos and complexity in psychology: The theory of nonlinear dynamical systems (p. 370–401). Cambridge University Press.
Word Health Organization (2020). Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf
Note: Featured image from Flickr.com (all creative commons) by Nicol Arellano Véliz