When Self-Isolation Drives You A Bit Mad
Uncertainty is the only certainty, but one cannot say this is not a learning experience
It’s been what, a month since lockdown? I’m in London, UK and it’s comparatively relaxed here than some other countries. We’re allowed to go food shopping and out once a day for some exercise, but my goodness, I’ve really began looking forward to my Tesco excursions.
We’re not allowed to do unnecessary journeys but I’ve found myself going for an aimless drive once a week. I know it’s a bit naughty and not really environmentally friendly, but I can’t seem to help the need to move around a bit.
We humans are creatures of variety. As the old sayings go;
‘Variety is the spice of life. Familiarity breeds contempt.’
There’s a certain comfort in familiarity; the predictability of routine, the safety of the same four walls, the comfort of the same faces. Too much of it though can become stifling. Being told you must maintain your life within the same four walls, those familiar faces must be the only familiar faces.
Something happens in the mind (well, my mind at least) which propels one to seek a change of scenery, still known but less familiar faces, a different set of walls. Or no walls at all, for an indefinite period of time.
It’s pretty much why we go on summer holidays. The change of scenery, of faces and of pace is somehow refreshing (the beaches and beautiful people probably also have something to do with it).
We’re creatures of Scarcity. When something is readily and easily available we take it for granted. Take away the freedom to have it whenever we want and we start wanting it SO much more.
This is called Reactance; when an already enjoyed freedom becomes restricted our minds fight to get it back. Psychologists reckon it’s become we’re creatures of progress, we can’t stand the feeling of regressing to a lesser state of lower freedom.
It’s a phenomenon observable in so many situations. Dangle a ball of yarn in front of a cat’s face and it’ll go crazy for it, jumping, clawing, biting. Drop it on the floor in front of her and she’s no longer interested. Same with babies and toys.
Same with that person you once went out with who wouldn’t stop texting you. At first it was sweet, then it got a bit annoying, but when they finally stopped contacting you altogether you were left wondering to yourself — why there was such a big hole left in their place.
There’s something about being told to stay in. Even if it’s what you normally do anyway, having the freedom to go out restricted just makes you want to do it more. We generally don’t like being told what to do.
I know all of this is absolutely necessary. We need to stop the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. I know I’m in a much better and more privileged position than billions of other people in the world — that much can be shown just from the fact I can write this and post it on Medium.
I’m simply exploring some psychological ramifications of a novel situation.
The lack of variety & restriction in freedom also seem to be doing something to my neurotransmitter levels. How much dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin swim around in our brains pretty much defines how we feel. Obviously there are SO many other chemicals, but I can’t mention them all. These chemicals are stimulated by external factors.
One of the things which affects serotonin, for example, is sunlight. The more sunlight you get, the more serotonin your brain releases and sero is linked to your mood. The higher your levels the better your mood and the more empathetic you can be. Low serotonin is linked to depression and many anti-depressants work by increasing serotonin activation.
Caffeine is another example of an outside stimulus. Consuming it changes the flow of a chemical called adenosine. The practical effect is that you become less tired — a change in the level of one transmitter produces a change in your conscious experience.
Dopamine is the reward chemical and is released when you do something good for your survival, like eating or sex, so you’re encouraged to do it again. It’s also released in little things; playing games, seeing friends, receiving texts (that last one is one of the reasons our phones are so addictive).
The lack of stimulation, lack of variety and the overfamiliarity of scenery feels like its playing with my dopamine and serotonin. I obviously haven’t tested this, so I don’t know for absolute certain, but my moods seem to go up, down, left, right and sideways diagonally.
They’re not huge changes, just a bit more irritable here, bit happier there, lazier yet over there, energetic here. I’ve never really been one to have a few shifting moods over a day, but isolation certainly is teaching me a thing or two about myself.
The theme of restlessness constantly persists in the background though. Despite exercising, shopping, learning as much as I can and playing FF7 remake, I still feel stifled by the restriction of where I can go, who I can see and the lack of variety which generally permeates life now.
I can see a slight madness forming in my psyche. It can be seen in how energy has to escape me, most notably coming out in bouts of silliness. Dancing like a moron, singing even worse and generally making faces in front of the mirror and to the people I live with.
Meaning seems to be a much more fluid concept now than it ever was. Especially when you start questioning what you actually need to live and how much of life before was just filler.
Did my normal job truly fulfil me? How much social contact do I really need?
Is my happiness a product of internal or external factors? How would I most like to fill all the hours of my life to come? How large has my carbon footprint been, especially now I seem to get by barely going out, and the planet can breathe a bit better?
At least now I’ve got all the time in the world to write.
Silver linings, eh?