It’s Day 47 of the South African lockdown, and I think I’m suffering from third-quarter isolation.
Albert Vorster, a longtime reader with a knack for sending me articles that perfectly encapsulate feelings I didn’t realize I had, sent me this Australian story about “the dreaded third quarter of isolation” this morning. The article, written two weeks ago by James Purtill, explains:
“Researchers have found there appears to be an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear. According to the clinical psychologist who assesses the mental health of Australians in Antarctica, we’re entering this phase now.”
The author goes on:
“Australians have broadly been through two periods of isolation: an initial point where there was panic buying and confusion, and then a ‘honeymoon period’ when it felt novel and different to stay at home…That phase — which we can call the sourdough starter moment, or the time when we all downloaded Houseparty — is passing.”
Wow, this really hit the nail on the head for me.
I remember that first phase so clearly — the last couple of days before lockdown, when I tossed and turned all night and jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn, running around in a panic trying to accomplish everything I thought I needed to do before that metaphorical door slammed shut. That frenetic, panicky feeling continued for the first few days of lockdown, when I struggled to accept the things I’d lost (mainly trips I’d been looking forward to) and adjust to my new reality.
Then came the honeymoon phase, when an eerie sense of peace descended. I developed exciting new habits: new exercise routine, new eating routine, new blogging routine. I cooked enthusiastically and froze the leftovers. I drank wine. Zoom calls were still a novelty. My calendar was free of social commitments so my time belonged solely to me. I felt sad and apprehensive for the world, but totally — almost blissfully, at least in hindsight — in control of my own life.
Now I’m in the third phase — the “third quarter”. Again, in the words of James Purtill:
We may now be entering the dreaded third quarter of hollow-eyed stares, odd fixations and brooding resentment. Time grows sludgy. The days blur into the nights, and the weekdays into the weekends. You’ve hidden the notifications from a recently downloaded exercise app and you’re no longer telling people you’ll learn Italian. You begin to suspect that your friends have their own Messenger group.
I have no idea who you are, James Purtill, but you’re speaking my language. The odd fixations, the brooding resentments, the sludgy time and day blurring into night…All of that. All of that and more.
I’ve attended many American football games, and the third quarter of the game is always the hardest. If your team is winning, even by a wide margin, you worry they won’t hang onto the lead. If your team is losing narrowly, you fight a persistent sense of impending doom. If your team is getting killed then you’ve already lost hope. You try to convince yourself you don’t care, that it’s only a game and you’re fine with the outcome either way. The truth is, you do care and you’re not fine.
I’m fighting that sense of impending doom. My team is losing and I don’t feel terribly optimistic.
The article doesn’t go on to explain how people usually feel during the fourth quarter. I’m not sure I want to know.
I had a skype session with my therapist a couple of hours ago and cried for nearly the whole hour. I feel hopeless, I told her. I feel unproductive and useless and worried about the future. I don’t know where I belong anymore, or what my life will look like whenever this…situation…ends.
I’ve become acutely aware of my dearth of commitments: no full-time job, no kids, no partner, no house (at least not one I own), no permanent residency in South Africa. Before the pandemic I enjoyed being free — not tied down, able to go anywhere and do whatever I want, whenever I want. Now, since I’m stuck anyway, I’m wishing for a slightly heavier anchor to hold me in place.
In case you hadn’t noticed, my motivation to write these lockdown journal posts in the morning has officially dissolved. It’s almost 6:30 p.m. Oh well.
Today’s Worthy Cause
This is more of a fun activity than a worthy cause. My friend Julia, a geography lecturer at the University of Mpumalanga, is conducting a survey about attitudes toward travel in these new, weird times. It would help Julia immensely if the Americans and South Africans among you participate in the survey.
If you’d like to take the survey, please click here. I did it myself and had fun — it takes about ten minutes and is totally anonymous.
Talk to you again tomorrow (probably in the evening).
How fascinating and absolutely accurate, I’m most definitely also finding myself in that third quarter. It’s so difficult to make sense of all these thoughts and emotions, particularly since I’m normally a very ‘emotionally stable’ creature. Thank you so much for sharing these insights and your daily blog (no matter what time!) I enjoy reading it so much!
Here’s to the fourth quarter, it can surely only get better from here…
Let us hope 🙂
Heather hang in there! It’s tough no doubt. I think this post was timely for so many of us- thanks for that. I feel the same- just slugging along through the sludge. Much love friend
You too! I’ve actually beed reading your Philly post today, little by little. Philly sounds a lot like Baltimore 🙂
Please be assured that I have dutifully and with joy and empathy read each and every lockdown blog within hours of it appearing. Whilst I understand your desire to wind down,
I will really miss your daily submissions, as I am also alone. Do at least work on a weekly
blog, that way you have more time to devote to each one. Best wishes.
Thank you so much Dieter. That really means a lot! I’m still thinking about what to do but considering just taking the weekend off and getting back on the horse. Let’s see 🙂
I suspect that for people quarantining with others, that 3rd quarter is more like wanting to scream, “Get out of my face!” at everyone in your house.
Or maybe that’s just me?
But I do get the lack of anchor issue. “As I dissipate into nothingness/ I think I’ll miss my cat.”
That sounds very plausible.
Wow, this 3rd quarter stuff is spot on and your American football analogy is excellent! Hopefully it’s more like your football and not soccer with the knife edge extra time and dreaded penalty shout outs 😆
Heading over now to take the survey 😀 thank you for your continued blogging, you might feel like there’s nothing new to create, but we all love reading these updates, you really have the most incredible ‘voice’ x
Awww, thanks so much Louise. I really appreciate that. And thanks for doing the survey!
I only know about third quarters in marathons…between 21k and 31k, it gets rough. At that point, I wonder how I ever got into this. I hate everything and everyone. But somehow, I get through it.
Looking back, I always tell myself I should have ”enjoyed it more”.
I hope we will all be able to say this of this lockdown experience.
It’s soon over – hang in there!
Interestingly that’s one of the findings at the end of the article – people who go through extreme isolation experiences usually want to it again.
thank you for putting all of this into words, some kind of meaning, for all of us.
Thanks Violet! We must also thank the mysterious James Purtill.
Also Albert for sending me the article.
How comforting to read these comments and realise how many people are also experiencing third quarter isolation. 🙂 Working mainly from home and having online meetings with colleagues and clients I have noticed that conversations are shorter, less jovial and more business-like.
Yes, you really started something here!
Agree with this third quarter isolation, I’m normally very happy and positive about most things, these days I’m sad and angry more times than not. I don’t like being like this so keep very busy to take my mind off things and also to stay off social media for a large part of the day. I’m also beginning to worry about things that may never happen – this is just not me. I do however look forward to reading your blog.
I can imagine it’s especially hard for you. You’re one of the busiest people I know! But well done for staying busy and staying off social media during lockdown — I’m not doing well at either of those things. I just can’t believe how much time I waste.
That captures it so well! Thanks for this Heather. I am hearing this from many people and so what you write resonates with me and many I am talking to online daily. This is one of (not the only!) best of these blogs. It is real. These blogs may feel uninspired and pretty mundane to you but they are supporting others and helping them… Take care x
Thanks so much Russell. I really appreciate that!
I totally identify with your point regarding dearth of commitments. I took a personal sabbatical at the end of 2019 with a view to studying, travelling and figuring out what it is I want to dedicate myself to going forward. 2020 started off as it was supposed to and then, well, we know what happened… now I also find myself craving some of those anchors of life you mention. Thank you – this post feels a bit like a healing balm for a chronic ache.
Thanks Laura 🙂
So, so true for me too. Thanks for sharing, now I feel better already!
And sadly the third quarter never ends!