I’ve been trying to keep a journal throughout this quarantine journey, and in an entry last night I asked myself a question – after one full week of being at home, what advice would I give myself for how to keep moving in a healthy and sanity-hoarding way?
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Keep things in perspective. This is critical to making it through this thing with my scruples intact. Things are NOT normal right now, and to pretend otherwise is foolish, if not dangerous. I have had many conversations with friends over the past week and from almost all of them I have heard frustration and stress about how to balance it all – how to get their work done, how to make sure their kids keep up with their schoolwork, how to get the space they need for themselves, how to be a good partner. The list goes on, but sufficed to say, I think it’s taking a while for it to sink in that the normal standards they might hold themselves to don’t apply right now.
We can’t do everything, and we have to make our peace with that. Maybe you’d typically get a project done for work in a certain amount of time, and maybe right now it takes you twice as long. THAT IS OKAY. We’re in the midst of a global crisis! It’s bigger than any one thing we have to get done on a daily basis. I feel like I should create an app where when you feel stressed, you tap it and it shouts at you “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s a global pandemic going on!”
2. Truly embrace that this situation is beyond my control. I have never been an addict (except for a brief period my freshmen year of college when I devoted every waking moment to trying to beat Mike Tyson’s Punchout), but I know anecdotally one of the major themes of recovery programs is to have the courage to accept the things you cannot control.
Well, this pandemic is probably the most extreme example of something I can’t control I’ve faced in my lifetime. There is so much uncertainty right now, so much unknown. Will I or someone I love get sick? Will we lose all our savings if the market crashes? Will we lose our jobs?
It is frightening to ponder any of those questions, and an affirmative answer could be waiting for any of them. But if that happens, there is nothing I can do right now to prevent it.
Should those events take place, I will deal with them then. But to preview that trauma for myself now does me no good – it just means if it does happen I’ll get to experience it twice. Why do that to myself?
3. Be present as much as possible. A welcome side-effect of the current situation, and the amount of uncertainty of what is to come, is it has made it easier (at least for me) to live in the present. Some of that is by necessity – having to run our children’s lives every day instead of shipping them off to school requires a lot more attention than I typically need to give people during normal business hours. Say what you will about my coworkers, but they are way less likely to fight over who gets to use the iPad.
I have noticed in just this one (verrrrry loooooooong) week how easy it is to zone out when things are normal. Get up, get the kids to school, go to work, do work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, do it again. The time melts.
This time is not melting. This time is moving at a glacial pace (pre-climate change glacial pace, that is), and the slowing down is allowing me to be more present for the time I am spending with everyone I come in contact with, but especially my wife and children.
As we develop a new version of normal, time will begin to speed up again, so it’s up to me to maintain that sense of living in the now, now.
4. Turn negatives into positives whenever possible. I wrote about this a bit last week, and it continues to stay at the forefront of my approach to dealing with our current predicament. I was as thrown by the sudden disruption of life as we know it as anyone, but the more I have sat with it, the more I’ve tried to lean into finding ways to create joy each day. That sounds so self-helpy and flowers and rainbows it kind of makes me sick, but it truly is joy I am chasing to help keep the other feelings from taking over.
Saturday we tried to go for a family walk, and our son Jamie was a sourpuss about it the entire way. He moaned, he pouted, he whined; he pretty much sucked the joy out of the entire thing. We talked about it that night and decided to give him a chance to have a say in what we did Sunday to see if it made a difference, and he landed on taking a bike ride instead. So he and I set out and rode for over an hour, and it was one of the most joyful things I’ve ever done with him. It probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been such a jerk about taking a walk. Lemons to lemonade.
5. Be patient. This one ain’t so easy, but it’s so important. This is new for everyone, and we’re not all going to adapt to the changes that need to be made at the same pace. So be patient with everyone, including yourself, while you settle into the new routine.
This may be particularly challenging with the children, who may lash out for any number of reasons, but if one of them is because this is unfamiliar and scary, I’d be sad to think I exacerbated it by losing my cool with them (even though it’s so tempting – why is it so hard to stop throwing things at your brother!)
6. Give space to my family to have feelings. Related to the previous point – it’s important to understand that given the different ways we all handle new information and unfamiliar territory, we need to create room for everyone to express themselves even if it isn’t how we would do it. I know Hilary, for example, is a creature of habit, so a crisis like this one is going to throw her for a loop until she establishes some control over her surroundings. The first few days of the week were difficult, but each day got just a little easier as she found her footing.
In the past, I might have gotten agitated at her from the beginning, but I tried to give her as much space as possible to adjust, and that made things between us much less tense than they might have otherwise been.
7. Keep reaching out to friends and family, it’s nourishing. We’ve seen many people taking to technology to keep themselves in contact with their friends and loved ones, and we’ve made this a priority for ourselves as well.
This crisis has given us all a common connection point, something we can all relate to each other on for once. We’ve had long, in-depth conversations with friends more often in the past week than we’ve probably had the rest of the year combined, and each one has left me feeling more whole and a part of something bigger than myself, which is ironic given how much distance we have to keep.
I want to keep doing that as often as possible, which honestly should be easy since there’s literally nothing else to do.
8. It’s okay to share. This may be strange to admit as someone who works in social media for a living, but I share things on the platforms way less than one might think, and that’s mostly because right before I post something a voice inside my head shouts at me NO ONE CARES and I’ll delete it instead.
The truth is no one DOES care, but that’s not a bad thing. What it means is, no one is judging you. If you have something you want to say right now, say it. Someone might find it helpful, or entertaining, or relatable in some way, and right now we need all the help, encouragement, and distraction we can get.