Almost two weeks ago, I completed my 21-day hotel quarantine upon entering Singapore. If you had told a younger version of me that there’d be a time in my life where I’d have to isolate myself in a hotel room for three weeks, not see anyone or go out of the room – I would have laughed at you. The concept sounds like one of those Facebook posts when someone asks you if you’d do something random for $1 million. But, in a post-pandemic world, quarantine has become a new routine for many travelers. Three weeks of plenty of alone time later, I’m very grateful for the experience.
A 3-week hotel quarantine seems like the modern-day version of the 1965 isolation cave study – this time with hotel room service, 24/7 Netflix accessibility, and plenty of virtual privilege.
Before my quarantine began, I was pretty nervous. It was shocking to me that I had never really spent an entire day alone in twenty-one years – or at least, I couldn’t actively remember. Of course, I had spent moments alone, whether it was eating, working, or taking a walk – but I had never experienced an entire day where I just did not have any interaction with another human being, whether it was someone I knew or another stranger. I’ve done social media detoxes where I’ve virtually isolated myself, but the idea of being in a complete solitude environment was scary – especially for someone who had grown up so emotionally dependent.
My first week of quarantine felt like a novelty. It had been almost a year since I was in a hotel room. Every little thing seems exciting when you haven’t traveled in a while – the 24/7 hotel room service, the relaxing baths, the big comfortable bed, the cozy bathrobes – everything. It was week two when things hit me. Suddenly the jet lag, the nocturnal lifestyle, the over-exposure to technology, and simply not seeing anyone for more than a week hit me.
It was a kind of solitude I had never experienced before. It was scary. The nice big room suddenly felt like a shoe-sized box with the walls caving in closer every single day. I don’t write this to make my experience sound more dramatic because I am aware of my privileges – but almost a month in a single room anywhere by yourself is claustrophobic. The worst part of quarantine was undoubtedly the anxiety that would creep in at the most random times. It was the old insecurities and the fears that resurfaced the most. It was the intrusive thoughts. It was the reminders of the things I shouldn’t have said, the things I didn’t achieve, the names of people that weren’t there as much as they said they would be, and the people I’d let down.
The effects of solitude aren’t new to me. I am a self-aware individual, a student of psychology, and a mental health advocate. I knew what I was getting into. Yet, mental health can be fragile for many of us. Every night, to some extent, felt like a trade with a devil. Your mind is so bombarded with introspective thoughts – and you can’t do anything else but learn to self-soothe with deep breaths, affirmative thoughts, and remind yourself how temporary this all is.
The biggest lesson here is not “Don’t travel. Quarantine seems scary” because quarantine was a smooth-sailing experience on some days and had its highs. But, on difficult days – it was a stark reminder that I had failed to learn how to be alone and enjoy my own company. I’m not talking about that one Friday night you decide to stay home and chill when all your friends are out – it’s not about overcoming FOMO, but really about gaining enough mental strength to enjoy your own company.
The truth is, I didn’t know how to be alone. All my life, being alone felt like it had such a negative connotation. People think you’re alone not because you want to be, but because you might not have anyone else to spend your time with – what sane person “wants” to be alone? For a long time, wanting to be alone has been wrongly misconstrued as loneliness. So, as an insecure teenager, I would shy away from any alone time. It wasn’t until college where I started to feel more comfortable with the idea of enjoying my alone time.
But, being forced to sit in quarantine by myself had its perks. I wasn’t compelled to abide by social niceties, nor was I truck by the guilt of overworking – it was just me. As my third week of quarantine rolled by, I had learned how to soothe the negative thoughts slowly, how to curb the overthinking and avoid seeking constant validation. I didn’t owe an answer to anyone, didn’t need to call or text back when I didn’t feel like it, and I stopped feeling bad for things that were so out of my control.
Without any external influences, it seemed like the perfect time to rekindle a friendship with myself. To figure out my new likes and dislikes, my strengths, and what truly made me happy. Who even was I? I had always learned to associate my definition of me with other people’s definition of me. A question I used to ask my family or friends would be, “What are three words you’d describe me as?” – and whatever their answer would be was something I decided to see myself as. You think of me as caring? OK, I think of myself as caring now. But I had barely asked myself the same question. And nothing was more liberating than finally separating the two opinions.
This alone time had become a meditative experience. I always shied away from using the word “strong” to describe myself, but today, I can comfortably call myself that. I am strong – mentally and physically. I am self-aware, independent, and owe myself way more credit than I am used to giving. And those are my three words without any external need to validate my reasoning.
When I stepped out of quarantine, I felt this instant need to be constantly connected again– to meet someone, to make a plan, to do something! It made me realize how difficult it is to just be and to find some quiet. It took time for me to remind myself of all that I’d learned during my three weeks – and how much I needed that change to be permanent rather than just a temporary experience.
Quarantine has been such a refreshing reminder of the bigger picture – and I’m excited to continue to keep growing and meeting the new versions of me that await. Alone time isn’t easy, but it is so important. It’s not always a comfortable feeling to address those intrusive thoughts but learning to mute the negative voice behind them is crucial.
Every relationship needs work – but if you had to choose, put that work into the relationship with yourself. It’s the most important one and has always been something I’ve overlooked. In the past month, I’ve finally understood the value of alone time and how necessary it is for self-formation. Not only it is great for yourself, but it has underlying benefits for your social life too. I’m excited for this to become a more permanent shift in my life – and I hope you, too, find your pocket of peace when you spend some time alone today.