What 37 Days of Quarantine Look Like for an Introvert in China

At first, it was terrifying. Now I’m not sure I want to return to “extroverted” life.

After a month traveling around Vietnam and Bali, I had to go back to Beijing. I had to return from blue skies and warm beaches to a cold and industrial mega-city. And this time, the city was under complete lockdown as China battled a deadly virus.

Who would want that? You’re right… nobody!

Tears streamed down my face the moment our plane landed in Beijing. The thought of an indefinite quarantine was difficult. Never in my life had I spent more than 48 hours at home. I always found a way to go out, even if it was just to the balcony or the yard to breathe and sunbathe.

How could I spend the next 14 days at home, even as an introvert?

Except this introvert had just spent two weeks designing new creative projects and life goals in Bali that now required the proper isolation and silence to work on. So that was my silver lining — and that’s what I focused on. Here is my story, and what I learned from spending over a month in quarantine.

Scared But Loving the Solitude

Arriving in Beijing was shocking. The city of more than 20 million inhabitants was a ghost town; I felt I was in a movie with no script. Streets and avenues were empty, malls were deserted, and restaurants were closed. Even the usually packed subway didn’t have a living soul for several stations. How amazing (or sad?) is it to have a whole subway car to yourself? That’s a once-in-a-lifetime event in this city. 

Having a chronic autoimmune disease, I’m part of the at-risk group, so I had to be twice as careful about what I touched and did. But I wasn’t too anxious about it, because at the time, the virus had not caused the number of fatalities we’re seeing now. Plus, I was excited with everything I had to learn, read, write, and plan the next two weeks, so I focused on being disciplined and stuck with my to-do list.

 My boyfriend is an extrovert, and one day he said, “You’re really loving it, aren’t you?” That question woke me up. Twenty-seven days had passed with me barely noticing it. I’d been busy, really busy, doing all the stuff I always wanted to do, and the love of my life was always nearby, ready for cuddles. And mercifully, neither I nor anyone in my family or friend circle had gotten sick.

Yes, I was loving the isolation!

The Most Terrifying Moment

Then the virus spread to Europe and other parts of the world. It started growing exponentially fast, and everyone was growing nervous and stressed because of it. People were dying, hospitals were overwhelmed. For me, worrying about my loved ones was the most terrifying moment.

It was stressful to be far from my loved ones. I couldn’t do anything to protect them, and on the news, I kept seeing so many people acting irresponsibly and with blatant disregard for the virus.

They never thought the virus would arrive there. After all, “China is so far away.” But it arrived anyway. My friends and family in Europe had so many questions, but the news didn’t help. So even when my introvert battery was running low, I made time to go on social media platforms and help people who were not dealing with the lockdown as well as I was. I tried to give them any advice I could, since China started the quarantine much earlier than many other parts of the world.

My Quarantine Best Practices

The feedback was curious. Why were they so surprised when I told them that after over a month, I was still loving the solitude? I felt guilty. Everyone was anxious, desperate and lost, and here I was, happy to stay home.

The only thing I could do was share information about strategies they could use to be safe and happy during their time in quarantine. I want to share with you, too, what became my best practices for getting through life under lockdown:

  • Get up early, and don’t wear pajamas all day! Not even for one day. Sleeping late and staying in your pajamas all day will ruin your mood. You won’t feel productive and active. When the world around you feels like it’s falling apart, the sense of getting things done is powerful.
  • Create a morning routine, and stick with it. Here are some ideas for introverts.
  • Create a habit tracker. Inspired by The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll,  I decided to create my own to keep track of the routines and tasks I wanted to implement and complete. Quarantine is a great opportunity to develop small habits and track habits you want to improve. Drink water, meditate, read 30 minutes a day, listen to a podcast, call someone you love, eat healthy, journal… the list could go on and on.
  • Exercise. You choose the way: yoga, functional training, cardio exercises, high-intensity interval training… lots of apps are offering free lessons now because of the virus. Some of my favorites are Home Workout – No Equipment on Google Play and the Apple App Store; and FitON: Fitness Workout Plans on the Apple App Store.
  • Create a to-do list. Write your list each morning (or the night before, if you prefer) and take notes on everything you want to do, even the simplest of tasks. When you don’t have external structure, you have to create it yourself.
  • Eat healthy. It’s good for the body but even more important for the mind, especially in this situation. I know you want those sweets in the pantry, but trust me, your body and mind will thank you for skipping them.
  • Do what you love. Or adapt what you love to do, and do it from home. The media paint a harrowing image of the pandemic. While it’s good to be informed, you need to give yourself a break and do something enjoyable to get your mind off the situation.
  • Get vitamin D. Go to a balcony or open a window. Just 20 minutes a day with part of your arm directly exposed to the sun will improve your vitamin D level, which boosts your mood, lessens depression, and fortifies bones. (Note that you won’t get this benefit from sunlight filtered through a window.) 
  • Go for a walk. If you’re not in total quarantine, get outside, even if it has to be at 6 a.m. so you don’t run into anyone else. Even if you can only go for 20 minutes, it will recharge you.
  • Pursue that dream you never had the time to focus on. Start an online business, create a YouTube channel, start a blog, etc. You know you’ve been thinking about it for years! Your hobby may turn out to be profitable.
  • Keep a sense of humor. Humor is the key in a situation like this. My boyfriend and I spent a lot of time poking fun at each other and the situation. Studies show that laughter can improve your mood, diminish pain, protect you from the consequences of stress, and strengthen your immune system.
  • Avoid fake news and limit the time you spend on social media. You don’t need all that toxicity.

The truth is, an introvert can always find a million ways to be happy, busy, and fulfilled in solitude.

I Almost Wish I Could Keep Staying Home

Not working since January has been fun but financially dangerous at the same time. The truth is, I don’t want to go back to life as normal in a city with more than 20 million people. I almost wish I could keep staying home!

I have at least three more weeks home, but honestly, I think there will be a part of me that feels sad when the time to go out arrives. Every time I go out, there are signs that Beijing is returning to normal, which is a good thing, because it means we’re beating the virus. But my heart shakes a little because I know the day is coming to return to my “extroverted” life.

In truth, I still have so many things I want to learn, read, write, listen to, and watch. I actually end up not having enough time in the day (oh, the silly irony!).

It was important to find Introvert, Dear and understand there is a whole community that can feel happy and comfortable being at home for so long, because I was feeling guilty for this peace of mind, creativity, and productivity I’m experiencing when so many people are overwhelmed with the idea of staying home for only fourteen days.

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Make Your Future Self Proud

We’ll never forget this tragic moment we’re living in now, but hopefully we won’t have to live through another lockdown in our lifetimes. So, how do you want to remember these days in two years? In five years? How will you tell this story to your kids when they grow up? How will you tell this story to yourself in 10 years? Do something meaningful that will make your future self proud.

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Marlene is a compulsive reader, addicted to writing, and a serial podcast listener. A Portuguese INTJ living in Beijing, China. Passionate for human beings, her life purpose is to contribute significantly to the empowerment, transformation, and fulfillment of those around her so they can achieve their dreams and have a meaningful life. That's why she is the founder of Dare to Share; you can follow the project's Instagram @dare.toshare.