Adapting Without Acclimating: Keeping Your Imagination Alive
I visited India in my early twenties. When I first got there, I didn’t think I would be able to handle it. I had never really traveled before, and I was used to daily hot showers and sleeping in my own bed every night. Backpacking, eating unfamiliar foods, traveling by rickshaw… it was all way out of my comfort zone. Yet after a week or two, I was more comfortable than I thought I would be, and after 6 weeks, I even tried to extend my stay. I remember being impressed by my capacity to adapt.
I’m similarly astounded now. What was previously unthinkable is now my daily reality. I’ve been self-isolating with a husband and two small kids for over two months, and I never would have believed I would be able to stay put for this long—only leaving the house for groceries and a weekly drive to another neighborhood for a change of scenery, where we can go for a walk with our masks on.
Adaptability is mostly a good thing. It allows us to be flexible in response to our changing circumstances and to act appropriately. However, being adaptable can also make it more difficult for us to make changes when we want or need to. Like a frog who acclimates to boiling water as the temperature increases bit by bit, we can be conditioned by our environment, and grow accustomed to things that aren’t good for us.
I’m reminded of relationships I had when I was younger, ones I stayed in for way too long because I had adapted to them. Or long bouts of depression, when feeling depressed had become my normal. Sometimes it became difficult to see beyond what I had adapted to, leading me to feeling hopeless because I could no longer imagine my life the way I had once been able to picture it. My adaptability affected my agency, and my circumstances killed my imagination.
Carl Jung spoke of “making the unconscious conscious.” When we choose to be conscious of how we’re actively adapting to self-isolation and COVID-19, it allows us to do several things.
First, we will be able to better recognize opportunities to celebrate ourselves and our loved ones. Every day is full of amazing adaptations. Our kids attending school online; our families leaving the house only once or twice a week; hosting birthday parties on driveways or over Zoom—these are all so impressive. When we are more aware, we can be more affirming of ourselves and others for our flexibility. This may serve as a mental health boost, and it may help us recognize that we are doing a good job, even if we don’t feel like we are.
Second, we will stay in touch with the idea of life outside of self-isolation. Acknowledging our sacrifices reminds us that normal life looks much different. While this can be painful, as there’s a lot we have lost with this new routine, it can also help remind us that there is a bigger picture. All things pass, and self-isolation will too. Taking time to think about, or even talk about, what we will do after self-isolation helps us have hope.
Being conscious of how we’re actively adapting helps us stay connected to ourselves. Although we all are sharing an experience, safer at home has looked and felt different depending on who we are. Some people have roommates, others have elderly family members living with them, and others are living alone. As we enter different stages of safer at home and certain restrictions are lifted, we will have to do what feels best to us. If we aren’t in touch with what we’re really feeling or wanting, and allow ourselves to become too conditioned by our circumstances, we may feel paralyzed by choice later on.
While we should continue to do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus, let’s keep our imaginations alive. I will practice social distancing. I will wear a face covering. I will actively recognize the creative ways in which I continue to adapt, praise myself for my flexibility, and remind myself that these adaptations will not be permanent.