I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile now. I haven’t written anything for my beloved blog for over a year, but there was something about these last few months—really, only a few months??—that triggered a desire to write about my experience and how I am making it through the pandemic with my sanity (mostly) intact.
Waiting until now was probably for the best, as anything I would have written in March or April likely wouldn’t have been very helpful (or, to be honest, super coherent). Those months were hard. May and June were difficult too but not as hard as March and April.
Reasons for this are obvious. The virus was spreading globally and killing so many people. In the U.S. alone, as I’m writing this over 170,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. For every one of these deaths there were stories not shared, assurances not offered, instructions not given, goodbyes not spoken, and hands not squeezed. Every one of these deaths was tragic.
The economic impact has also been unimaginable. The number of people who have lost their jobs—millions and millions in the United States—is hard to comprehend. Like many, my job was never at risk but overnight it looked completely different: not only was I working from home but because of what I do, my workload significantly increased and with it, the stress I was under.
And then there is the social upheaval. I’m not sure what it is I am witnessing but I know it is too far from a human race collectively working to bring peace and prosperity to all—with no consideration for what someone looks like, where they were born, who they love, or who they do or do not worship—for my liking.
These three aspects of of the pandemic—health, economic, and societal—aren’t going to be fixed anytime soon. In fact, as I see it, it is only health we even have a chance of addressing in the near term by finding a way to treat the virus so it is less deadly and to prevent it’s further spread with a vaccine.
Recognizing this means I have to find a way to live in this re-jiggered world, to balance awareness and engagement with self-preservation and continuing to feel happiness and joy. I have to overcome feeling powerless, and believe there is a point to continuing to take actions to make myself a better person, and my world a better place.
This may seem a little melodramatic, but I don’t think it is: the anger, hate, and general lack of empathy that have been revealed by the events of this year are both frightening and a call to action. If I as an individual and we as a society don’t rise to the occasion, it will be something we regret (and pay for) for decades to come.
Not Just Stress
I know I should be able to remember March, April, and May—it was only a few months ago— but it’s all kind of blended together. I was working a lot and I remember that weather-wise Spring came late so I was chilly at times in my home office. There was the call from my sister to let me know how bad her money situation had gotten. There was the growing panic of getting closer and closer to running out of toilet paper. And there was the unrelenting bad news.
While a lot of people were struggling with staying home, I couldn’t seem to make myself leave, even to take a walk. I know I have anxiety but it had never manifested itself as being afraid to go outside. And it wasn’t because I was afraid of getting sick. I was just afraid full stop.
Within a few weeks I came across this article on Medium: You’re Not Lazy—Self Isolation is Utterly Exhausting.
“We truly underestimate how much energy it takes from us to be able to navigate and manage life when being bombarded with harmful, negative messaging at all hours of the day.”
This article helped me realize something I should’ve realized from the beginning: living through this pandemic experience hasn’t just been stressful but traumatic. Collectively, this experiencing has been traumatizing, and to pretend otherwise is doing ourselves a disservice.
Accepting that I was coping as best I could given the daily roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing, I cut myself some slack. If my feet refused to cross the threshold, I should probably just listen to them and not fight it. At that moment in time, I needed to feel safe more than I needed a walk.
Being Alone (But Not Lonely)
There has been a lot written over the last few months about sheltering in place while single. Most associate being alone with loneliness but in my experience not only are the two not synonymous, but being part of couple doesn’t mean never feeling isolated.
I genuinely enjoy my own company and am hardly ever lonely. I know how to entertain myself so if something bores me, I stop doing it and start doing something else. I am also usually good at motivating myself and managing my ups and downs. I’m not perfect at either of these but I think I do as good a job as a partner would.
And I have a great group of friends, some of whom I’ve known for almost 30 years. I don’t talk to them daily or even weekly but we are there for each other when it matters most.
Finally, I also have my two cats. Yes, I know I am risking being characterized as a crazy cat lady just by writing this but having lived with cats and dogs my entire life, I can say with certainty that having pets means you are almost literally never alone (especially when you have to pee).
They may weigh less than a bowling ball, but their personalities can fill a room. And they are all different.
Growing up we had two border collies. One was smarter than many of the people I have met and the other one ate insulation. I have had a tabby cat who never met a stranger, a tortoiseshell who runs if she even thinks another person is nearby, and a gray Persian mix who me and my friends suspected was an Animagus (aka a wizard who elects to turn him or her self into an animal).
And in addition to my cats, I’ve sort of made friends with a spider that lives right outside my balcony door. I know that sounds really, really weird but I have a side window so I can safely watch her from inside as she does her spider thing outside.
She (and I’m assuming she is a she) doesn’t do much but occasionally produce what looks to me like an egg sack or devour a bug that has wandered into her web. The latter is especially cool because she spins a web around it first. Who need Hamilton when they have a pet spider? (Although I did sign up for Disney+ and watched Hamilton too!)
By themselves, pets may not be able to ward off loneliness but between my cats, a spider, my friends and family, and the fact that I genuinely enjoy my own company, it is very rare for me to feel lonely. I know my experience won’t be true for all singles out there so please don’t think because you are struggling with loneliness, there is something wrong with you. The CDC has pulled together a list of tips and resources I encourage you to check out. As noted above, I have spent a lot of the pandemic feeling overwhelmed. I just haven’t felt lonely.
Lifting Someone Up (and it’s Okay if that Someone is You)
I have really cut down on the number of podcasts I listen too since I wrote this post a few years ago. Initially, it was because I kept getting ear infections in my right ear and my doctor told me to lay off the headphones. Once I got out of the habit, however, it was hard to pick it back up.
The only podcast I still listen to religiously is Jill on Money with Jill Schlesinger. She tends toward a more conservative investment strategy than I do but we aren’t that different. And I love her delivery–snarky with heart!
Since March, she has been doing short, daily podcasts and they are definitely worth a listen. But it’s how she ends each podcasts that keeps her voice in my head. She reminds her listeners to wear their masks, wash their hands, maintain a physical distance (including staying home), and to lift someone else up that day.
The first three are best practices to maintain the physical health of you and those around you. They work and require minimal effort and sacrifice. Truly. Compared to what my grandparents went without during WWII, or my great grandparents during the Depression, I’m not even sure it qualifies as a sacrifice.
But it’s her last request I find myself repeating over and over again. I can’t control most of what is happening in the world but maybe I can do something to make someone else’s day (or my own) better.
What have I done? I’ve mailed quarantine cards (making up for not getting holiday cards out last December) that have been a hit among my friends. I’ve bought lunch for first responders, sponsored acres at a reserve in Kenya I visited a few years ago, voted in one primary and one special election (with plans to vote in the general election in November!), and even bought a new storm door so my cats can watch the world go by.
If I have to wait in a line, I stay patient and cheerful by reminding myself how lucky I am to be healthy enough to stand there, to have money to purchase goods, and even that there are goods on the shelf to purchase. I do as the staff directs without complaint: after all, they are just doing their best for not a lot of money and there is no reason for me to be an asshole to them (or really for anyone to be an asshole to them).
I don’t get takeout often but when I do, I shop at local small businesses. I’ve also hired local service providers to fix or update things around my place, and once cases slowed down in my area I have gotten my hair cut, a pedicure, and gone to the doctor (although I still haven’t gone to the dentist). And I leave big tips.
Helping others and being kind to myself works wonder to make me feel less anxious and more powerful. It can take a lot of energy–I still haven’t written all my quarantine cards even after working on them for five months. But each time I do something to help, I’m thankful that I made the effort. It is often the best part of my day.
Sending Good Thoughts into the Universe
I have so much more I want to write but I really want to hit publish on this as I’ve been working on it for weeks. I have no idea if anyone will read it but I hope it helps those who do because I really do care and empathize with how awful these last few months have been.
Please actively do kind things for yourself and others. It is the best first step I know of to feeling happier and more powerful.
P.S. A more mundane piece of advice I read early on was to wear shoes while teleworking. This seemed strange at first but I’m really glad I followed it. My place has tile and hardwood floors and without the additional support offered by the shoes, I know my feet and legs would feel a lot more tired by the end of the day.
For shoes, I bought a pair of Skechers that I can slip on in the morning and off in the evening. I wear them indoors only so I don’t trail outdoor dirt around. I probably also should have followed the advice to wear pants with a zipper but I have never claimed to be perfect!