President Kennedy was said to have been quoting a Chinese curse when he said, “may you live in interesting times.” Well, these times are nothing if not interesting. A global pandemic during a time of unprecedented global travel, communications, and commerce; at a time when our earth has more people on it and, therefore, a greater demand than ever for her resources. This, my friends, is getting interesting. As world leaders are responding with every conceivable action from doing nothing to enforcing quarantine with military action – we’re on a world’s stage like we’ve never seen before.
Meanwhile, most of us, are being asked to shelter in place. Unless we are in the position of serving an “essential function” – everything from working at the employment department, transportation services, health care, to grocery stores; the rest of us are mostly staying home. As I’ve said to scores of friends and family, “this is what I’ve been training for. This is my event!” Naturally, what I mean by that is that as a spoonie, and someone with chronic illness, I can go three or four weeks without ever leaving the house. (However, doesn’t it feel different when someone else tells you you can’t leave the house?!) Additionally, with multiple autoimmune diseases (one of them lung-related) and being on immunosuppressing drugs, we are always on infection and virus alert at our house. So, the handwashing, mask-wearing, shoe-removing, sanitizing, no-handshaking, are part of our regular routine.
All of that said, maintaining a sense of self, remaining content, finding ways to pass the time in reasonable – if not meaningful, ways can take a while to find your groove. And here’s where the “this is my event” comes into play. I’ve been practicing for this. I know how to shelter in place and not lose my whole identity. Let me share some tips and ideas with those of you who may not be ten years into this.
Be impeccable about your inputs. If you do nothing other than this, do this one. Really. When so many other things have your nervous system on high alert, when you are concerned about the dangers seen and unseen, DO NOT make things worse by adding to the stress, anxiety, pressure, and fear. Now is not the time to watch the movie “Outbreak.” Acknowledge that how you feel when you watch CNN (or any other news outlet) continuously. Protect the sanctuary of your home and mind by heavily controlling what you allow in. You’re diligently trying to ensure that the virus doesn’t make it in, why would you be any less thoughtful about the media you allow in? It can be just as insidious. Taking care to just get a bit of news from trusted, calm, reputable source. Then turn it off. Allow your entertainment to be that – entertaining. If you are watching/reading/listening to something that is bringing down your spirit, now is not the time. Turn it off immediately. This kind of hygiene is critical to your well being throughout this stay in place order.
In the movie “About a Boy,” Hugh Grant, a rich dilettante, passed his days by breaking them into units. I recommend the same. While staring at a blank 24 hours can be daunting; looking ahead to the next unit is less overwhelming. For me, a unit is 45 minutes. In that amount of time I can make a meal, write a letter, tackle that nagging customer service issue. With two units I can take a shower, lotion my bod and get back into bed. Perhaps you and your family can make and eat a meal in two units. You get the picture. Units make the time a little bit more approachable and help the day pass by in productive chunks.
Spend time tending to your body and mind. Real self-care is necessary for getting through what promises to be a long-term problem. Therefore, making sure that our physical resources stay intact is critical. Perhaps when this first began, it was easy to see this as a kind of national slumber party – complete with late nights and junk food. However, it’s clear now that this will not be over any time soon. To be up for what is required of us, we must do things like protect our sleep habits, clean up our diets, splurge on weekends or special occasions. Use the splurges on other things like outings with your family to see nature, the murals in your town, or double down on some game playing or creative activities you haven’t made time for in everyday life. This is a great chance to do vacation activities like puzzles, have a film festival, or pick up old hobbies like knitting.
Read books aloud, have a drawing contest, start prepping meals and freezing them, take meals to neighbors who have a hard time cooking, garden, write cards and letters, make your “never get to it” to do list and start checking things off, find out what your kid/spouse/friend/mom is interested in and read up/listen to podcasts so you can start discussing it with them, start a blog, pick one day a week to be analog and have a digital sabbath, learn geography, start a new exercise plan, learn a new cooking style, make a new playlist each week and share it, have a virtual reunion with your elementary school friends, weed a neighbor’s lawn, take sandwiches and toiletries down to homeless camps, make a vision board for your future, and this list is just a start. I know that not all these things are available to each of us – but some of them are! Pick a few and give them a shot. What else is on your list? What are you doing to keep some joy and sanity in this strange time?