So ‘social distancing’ has become the buzzword of the past few weeks, as people – voluntarily and involuntarily – start barricading themselves into their houses for the foreseeable.
I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from couples and families back home in the UK seeing the silver living in a terrible and unprecedented situation by using it to spend quality time together – reading, watching films, cooking, playing board games.
This is of course lovely – but what if you live alone?
And what if you live alone on the other side of the world?
A happy life as an expat for me revolves around my social circle, as I’m an extroverted introvert (also known as an ‘omnivert’ but that sounds too much like ‘omnivore’ to me, which always reminds me of dinosaurs for some reason…).
While I crave social interaction, I find myself exhausted and overstimulated if I’m around people too long (especially in larger groups) and feel the need to hibernate and recharge. But in the same vein, if I’m isolated for too long I find myself irritable and depressed.
Being away from home just amplifies this – I can’t go and chat with my mam, meet Lauren for pints, have a night in with Claire or get a train to visit Sam in Glasgow whenever I like. Living abroad you really have to work hard to put yourself out there to make connections – potentially friendships.
So what happens when that’s taken away?
As of writing this post there is no lockdown in Japan, nor clear information regarding social distancing. (Except beyond that it was suggested by the local government for Tokyo residents to stay indoors this week, and for no non-essential travel to the capital due to the recent rise in cases.)
However as an asthmatic I am classed as ‘high-risk’ and so I made the decision to self isolate as much as possible, only leaving my apartment for essentials such as trips to the supermarket/conbini and short walks in quiet areas.
So here’s what I’ve been doing while social distancing:
♥ Keeping in contact with family and friends back home.
While I do text my mam every day (if I don’t she assumes I’m dead – Italian problemz) I’m making an extra effort to Skype. Seeing their faces keeps me going, and reminds me that they are keeping safe and well.
But you should know that by now! From curating photos to even brainstorming ideas, I’m loving keeping my little diary about my time here to one day look back on.
Back home in the UK I have a decent physical collection of books, but knowing I’d be moving into a tiny apartment I bought myself a Kindle. (My sister has a MA in English and refuses to even look at it.) I have a hefty reading list to get through – though I’ll probably end up re-reading Harry Potter for the billionth time.
“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”J.K. Rowling*
♥ Watch something familiar and comforting. For me:
TV: The Office, Friends, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Spaced.
FILMS: Harry Potter, The Princess Diaries, Tangled, Pride.
♥ Watching something new!
Time to get through that Netflix list. (And resist the urge to watch season 6 of Drag Race AGAIN.)
♥ Spa time.
A long bubble bath, face mask, painting my nails etc.
♥ Drinking lots of tea.
Because I’m British and tea runs in my veins. I actually have a nice little collection of teas built up over the last few months.
I mentioned in this post I don’t really like cooking, and living in the city I prefer to eat out. But now I’m kind of forced into cooking, so am trying to flex my skillz. Back home, baking is a huge stress reliever for me (I don’t have an oven in my apartment and there’s no room for a mini one) – and although I still can’t say the same for cooking – I’m really trying!
Well, I’m using the term a bit loosely here – there’s only so much I can do with my little rented Leopalace. But I’m doing what I can to make it feel more homely – especially as I’m going to be staying her at least another year.
I ordered a cute pink sofa from Amazon for only £80 and was able to put away my dining room table and chairs which has already made the space look a lot bigger. I have a new rug, which is much nicer than the rough carpet that came with the apartment, a new fuzzy pink blanket and I’ve been re-arranging my photos, prints, books and other knickknacks I’ve accumulated over the past seven months.
Because I’m so extra I actually have THREE journals – an everyday journal, a journal for streams of consciousness/creative writing etc, and a Hobonichi for more art-style journalling. For me, it helps to set time aside to write down my thoughts for the day so they aren’t going round and round my head at bedtime. Speaking of which…
♥ Keeping to a routine.
I’m a night owl and could happily go to bed at 3am and sleep until noon. But frankly it’s not healthy to spend my days like this, so I still set an alarm and try to go to bed around midnight at the latest.
♥ Playing video games.
I’ve been enjoying spending time once again in Skyrim (my all-time favourite game – I even have a Skyrim tattoo) for the first time in a long while. I’ve also been playing Breath of the Wild, Fire Emblem Three Houses and online multiplayers like Mario Kart and Splatoon on my Nintendo Switch. With most of the world in isolation you’re never short on people being available to play!
Speaking of which…
♥ Four words:
Animal Crossing New Horizons. I don’t need to say anything more. It’s the game the world needs right now.
♥ Treating myself.
I believe everyday is “Treat yo’ self” Day, but on a particularly dull, grey day – I opened the fancy chocolates my pal bought me for White Day and watched Space Jam.
When I do venture to the supermarket or conbini, I’m making an effort to try something new – difficult for me as a creature of habit!
♥ Improving my Japanese.
Because it’s still embarrassingly bad. With all my Genki textbooks gathering a little dust on my shelves, the thing I’m actually making most progress with – for now – is the Duolingo app.
I’m an interactive learner and struggle with textbooks alone. I’d love to take some classes (when everything has calmed down) but my schedule simply doesn’t allow it. I’ll eventually go back to my textbooks when I’ve progressed a little more with Duolingo.
♥ Practicing mindfulness.
I recently converted from Apple Music to Spotify, and you can get Headspace a reduced rate if you sign up to a paid account (and even free for the first three months!). So I’ve been trying to make time to meditate every few days.
♥ Open the windows/spend time on my balcony.
I have a tiny balcony in my tiny apartment, and really it’s only meant to hang your clothes out. But as the weather warms up, I have no problems with bringing a chair outside and reading, playing my Switch or meditating outside. Get that vitamin D, guys.
♥ Stretching/working out.
I fucking hate exercising, I fucking hate it. But I don’t mind yoga and pilates. It’s on my list to do more, I promise.
♥ Practicing my ukulele.
A few years ago after a night out I went on Amazon and drunkenly bought a ukulele. Last month, I did the same thing again – I even managed to buy the same make and colour. Well done, drunk Carla! While instruments are technically banned in my building, if I do it on the down low people don’t have to know. It’s not like I’m being a dickhead with a drum kit.
No! Is that the only word you know? No???Giselle, Enchanted.
Wah wah. I’m a really sensitive and emotional person, and know that it’s OK to just be sad sometimes. It’s OK to feel sad, lonely, homesick sometimes as an expat – there’s a lot of pressure on you to be happy, excited and doing amazing things every single day. But in these scary times, being honest with yourself and how you are feeling is of the utmost importance.
Last Sunday I was feeling a bit wobbly all day so tried watching Enchanted to cheer myself up – joyful, musical numbers, helpful pigeons, a Disney princess in New York, Timothy Spall!
But for whatever reason during So Close I just sat and wept like a baby – huge racking sobs – for the full duration of the song. No idea why, I just did.
Anyways, whatever you are doing I hope you are keeping healthy and as happy as can be. Remember, during these stressful times there is NO pressure on you to be productive. If you want to get up, work, enjoy your hobbies then that’s great. But it’s also totally valid to stay in your pyjamas all day and binge Drag Race.
I’m there with you, everyone.
*Although I’ve used one of her quotes here, I do NOT endorse or agree with JK Rowling’s harmful stance regarding trans women. The Potterverse has always been a safe and welcoming space for so many of us in times of both joy and hardship, and learning that your childhood hero harbours views like this is frankly devastating.