By Milagros Miltos

What isolation made me discover is that I have been running instead of living.

I haven’t lived because I’ve been running to reach a goal, because someone told me that that should be my only goal. Who? I do not know, I only know that since then I’ve been running to be late everywhere, trying to maintain balance between all aspects of my life. Did I achieve it? Of course not. Because when I passed all my exams, I had forgotten to be a good friend, when I was a good friend I had forgotten to attend all my dance rehearsals, when I attended all my dance rehearsals I had forgotten to take care of my diet, and when I realized this I was already inside an infinite circle. I created an endless cycle of trying to give one hundred percent, to give my one hundred in everything and for everyone. I used to end days exhausted, but not the kind of exhaustion that when you spend eight hours sleeping it goes away, no. It was something deeper, an internal exhaustion that was not always easy to hide. It did not matter, because I kept running to reach the goal that, to be honest, I didn't even remember, but I kept going because someone taught me that I shouldn’t give up.

My friends used to tell me that they admired me and that I could get whatever I wanted, but I couldn't help but wonder what it was that they admired about me. My endless race toward an uncertain goal? My life felt similar to solving a Rubik’s Cube. I managed to complete one face with all the yellow pieces, but when I only needed three more pieces to complete the red side, the yellow ones would spread out again. As much as I kept trying to put all the faces together, changing colors and looking for strategies, I never put the cube together completely. I was trying to be a ten when in reality I was never satisfied with the results and it demanded more of me than I thought I gave in the constant struggle to balance everything.

During my race, I finally met a traffic sign. It was a Tuesday, the 17th of March. I remember it well, my first day back to dance after the holidays, surrounded by my friends, happy to see each other again. I came home that night to see on the news that we were going to be separated again because of our first COVID-19 lockdown. By Wednesday, no one could leave their houses. That was my traffic sign, the sign that said stop.

And, of course, I fell. How could I not when I was running and had to stop suddenly? All the incredibly exhausting routines that I had created disappeared. Someone told me I had to learn to rest. Who? I do not know, I only know that I didn’t want to be told what to do. How would I get to the finish line by resting? I wondered while making myself a coffee. Days went by and my frustration increased, my despair increased, and I met a new friend named loneliness. I couldn’t be a student or a friend, I couldn’t be a nine or a ten, I couldn’t run or walk. So what could I do? I sat down to watch Netflix with my dad, and the next day all I could hope for was that he would come home from work so we could watch the next episode. Without realizing it, we were soon in the final season. On a Sunday morning, my mother asked me if I wanted to cook homemade bread with her. I accepted, and we did it while she told me stories of her childhood. That night the three of us sat down to watch movies until dawn. This moved me; it made me feel something new, a tranquility that I had not felt in a long time, but it also helped me to change my way of thinking and seeing things. I realized that I had few special stories about my life while my mother has so many beautiful moments treasured in her memory. I was not collecting memories like her, I was missing them. So I began to discover the importance of these small moments filling my heart with joy again.

The following week I received a message from my English teacher saying that we would have virtual classes. The next week, I got the same message from my dance teacher. It all started again, but this time in a different way. Little by little I discovered new hobbies. I discovered myself enjoying the different little moments, like the ones I spend laughing with my family during marathons of our favorite shows or enjoying a snack with a friend, catching up without interruptions. I realized that those were the cherished moments that happy people talk about, important moments that I had missed out on by being so ambitious, and didn't appreciate enough while running toward my goals.

I created a new routine, but this time it was not a race. This time I appreciated the days, one by one, without any rush. I understood that life is not a race, and I learned a lot about being alone, how loneliness often inspires hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, anguish. It is essential to know ''how to be alone,'' but we cannot deny that it is difficult to be alone without feeling good about yourself. My loneliness helped me to see life from another point of view; I learned that life is not just about giving everything you have to achieve a goal or get something in return, but also about enjoying the little moments in which we simply exist, the moments that we treasure without realizing it and that fill us with joy when we remember them. For example, in my many attempts to kill the boredom of quarantine, I remember jumping in as a chef and trying to make croissants. I spent the whole afternoon making them yet they ended up tasting like charcoal. I got so mad that I started insulting the oven, and when my family heard me, we all ended up laughing until our stomachs hurt. At the time, it felt like a disappointment, but remembering it now, I can't help but laugh. I did not have to be a perfect ten all the time. It is okay to be a five, a six, or a seven from time to time because the goal is not always the goal. Sometimes the process is what actually fills us with light.

A year has passed since I stopped running, since I connected more to myself. My activities stopped being a career, and while I am not the perfect student, I am good enough. I spend time with my friends without neglecting my responsibilities, I attend my dance rehearsals just because I like them. Because now I am not in constant competition with myself, I feel again the passion that led me to dance in the first place.

The isolation that I went through, that we all went through, was quite hard, and it still is, but it is what I needed to understand that processes are not linear, and that is fine. Isolation is what led me to connect with myself and, in this way, to connect with what really matters and what is worth living for. This mindset is the key to everything because I now know how to better appreciate the moments that life offers. Life forced me to change my perspective on so many things, to realize it is useless to live by running to reach a goal if, in the end, we do not know where we are or if it is what we really wanted after all.

Milagros Miltos is a teenager from Coronel Oviedo, Paraguay. She likes dancing, that's really her passion. She also enjoys spending time with kids and discovering other places in her country.

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