I’m going to jump right into this. You know what’s going on. And it sucks. Big time. Our family decided to start self isolating nine days ago now, on the night of Friday the 13th when they first announced school closures. We’ve had extremely limited contact with anyone since then. Greg took two very fast trips to the grocery store with a wipe in his hand for everything he touched. We’ve been to the dog park twice without touching any surfaces. We picked up school supplies on Tuesday in a drive thru. Shepard had very brief contact with some neighbor kids earlier in the week. And that’s it. It’s just us, at home, like so much of the world right now.
Also like much of the world, I feel like I’ve been on a ridiculous emotional rollercoaster this past week. The first few days were REALLY HARD. I was already really struggling after months of at least one extra family member being home for most of the week, week after week, because of random illnesses or bad weather. My routine hasn’t been “normal” since November. And my mental health has not been good. I’ve been working with a therapist to come up with ways to take care of myself and most of those solutions entailed leaving the house by myself. And then…this happened. I was not mentally healthy enough yet to deal with everyone home all the time with no place to go. I’m not handling it every well. But I’m trying.
After two weekends with a week in between, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good plan to survive this. To be totally honest, MY life hasn’t really changed that much since I work at home anyway. My social life was pretty limited to 1-2 gatherings a month, so it sucks not to have that anymore, but it’s also not a huge change. I just can’t ESCAPE. I can’t go shopping. I can’t go out to eat. I can’t go on two (probably three, maybe four) trips I had planned in the next few months. I realize that so many other people have had to cancel and postpone much more monumental events. I’m not trying to compete with that. It sucks for EVERYONE. But considering this isolation period will probably last weeks – most likely months – I need to have a concrete list of ways I can fight back to find the good in all of this. So here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Follow a Schedule
My kids think this is the worst thing in the entire world. But after the first few days of working out the kinks last week, it made all of our lives SO much better. We all do better with knowing expectations, having boundaries, and following the same routine day in and day out. My initial schedule was a bit too rigid, but we reworked some of the time blocks so the boys have about an equal amount each day of screen time, “learning” time, free outdoor play time, family walk time, and quiet reading and art time. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that learning time has been the most difficult. They will have real school lessons starting up in a week, so I’m sure we’ll need to adjust things again depending on how many hours their teachers expect them to be present. But I think this is the best way for all of us to survive. I can really vouch for that after having a “normal” weekend of basically unlimited screen time and me feeling totally overwhelmed and sad and trapped again. I didn’t feel quite so helpless when we were following the schedule during the week.
Walking as Much as Possible
We have two daily walks on our schedule every day. And for the most part we’ve followed those, though we did have a lot of both rain and snow this past week. Greg and I have also gone on occasional walks alone when one of us needs to get out of here. Annie is getting a lot of exercise! Everyone always says that exercise is the best way to reduce stress and I’ve never craved that outlet as much as I have this past week. Today we even changed things up by hiking around a (deserted) county park. The boys were NOT happy with it (less screen time), but it made me feel a lot better to do something a bit more rigorous and in a new setting.
Writing A LOT
Though I’ve been very quiet on the blog, I have been writing a lot in other places. Mostly I’ve been keeping up an ongoing daily log of the changes that are happening in the world and how our family is dealing with it all. Just a private space that only I’ll ever see where I can vent out everything in my head. I’ve also been writing in an actual journal every morning and adding a list of ten things I’m thankful for, trying to get in the right headspace for the day. And most nights I write some sort of public instagram post about how that particular day has gone, which helps me feel like I’m being heard and connects me to other people with my honesty.
During my normal life, during the school year, I take a nap almost every afternoon. I always feel like I need to justify that fact with a reminder that I get up at 4AM EVERY DAY. And this past week? I’ve barely been sleeping at all. I’m allowed to take a nap! I know for an absolute fact that I will not survive this isolation period if I can’t also isolate MYSELF for a chunk of time every day. I’m also trying to enforce individual quiet times for the boys too, even though they keep wanting to sneak into each other rooms. They fight nonstop, but also can’t seem to stay away from each other. The boys have a 1.5 hour time block in their rooms for reading and art followed by 1.5 hours of screen time. So that gives me THREE hours to myself every afternoon. It will be my lifesaver.
Make Big Meals
This is maybe the most stressful part for me. The expectation of needing to feed four people three meals a day, while also monitoring all their snacks, for an indefinite amount of time in the future. Also – THE DISHES for all those meals. It’s so much mental gymnastics trying to figure out how to use up the most perishable food first at every meal so we’re not wasting anything and prolonging trips to the store for as long as possible. My only real solution to this is that whenever I do make a new meal, make it as large as possible so it’ll last at least two or three more meals in leftovers. I was very overwhelmed by this last weekend, but it’s becoming more of an enjoyable puzzle each day, getting creative with the food we have on hand. Though I do really miss running to the stores for random ingredients for special recipes. My plan right now is simple and big.
Sprinkle in Some Take Out
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at the start, but I’ve done some more research on how unlikely it is to catch coronavirus from having a no contact delivery food experience. It feels like a safe option. It’s also a huge morale booster. And it helps support our local small town restaurants for as long as they’re open. So far we’ve gotten a pizza and Mexican food. As long as they’re open we’ll probably continue to order about twice a week.
Lucky for me, being creative is my job. At first I considered closing my etsy shop all together for the time being because I was worried it would be too much added pressure. Now I’m realizing it might be the absolute best option for keeping myself sane. I’m mostly just sewing during the boys’ learning time, so we’re all doing something productive at the same time. But I’ve spent a few nights doing it as well. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to produce a certain number of dolls a week or anything, I’m just using the creativity to keep me happy. I’m also looking forward to trying some other craft projects I always put on the back burner and maybe even picking up one of the many coloring books I have, but never actually use.
Talking to a Therapist
I really picked a good year to start up online therapy! Yikes. I mentioned this a few posts ago, how I signed up for therapy through the company BetterHelp. I connected really well with the therapist they assigned me and it’s been such a positive experience so far. It’s so nice knowing I have that impartial person to talk through all of this with. She’s helping me problem solve a lot of the issues that have popped up. And she’s really helping me deal with how much anger I’ve had at certain people for not taking everything seriously. I know it probably feels like a frivolous expense in such uncertain times. But if you’re really having a hard time, I think it’s worth it, even if you only sign up for a few weeks or a month. With daily conversations it could really do a world of good to change your perspective.
To be honest, I’m not so great at this. But I’m also on day 47 of a meditation streak using the Calm app, so I’m not giving it up. I still have a very hard time concentrating, but I’m committed to the effort. I like this app in particular because there’s a new 10ish minute meditation every single day, so I never have to think about what I want to do, I just sit down and do it.
I am trying to train my brain to see tea as an ultimate form of comfort and self care. It’s fast and easy to make, it’s cheap, it forces you to slow down for a few minutes, and once you find a few kinds you like, it’s really quite delicious (and calorie free!). I try to drink at least four cups a day and it’s my go to every time I need a little warmth and comfort.
This one is NOT going so well. It’s been so hard to concentrate. But I’ll never give up on reading! It’s been more frustrating that I don’t seem to be connecting with most of the books I pick up. I’m dnf-ing quite a few. But then a book comes along that I like and it’s a great distraction. I’m hoping as we all settle into this new normal reading will once again become the great joy it’s always been to me. In the meantime, I might just keep rereading all of my favorites because they’re a surefire way to bring me hapiness.
Connect with Other People
I’m going back and forth on social media lately. On one hand, it seems like so many more people are connecting on deeper levels since this all began. Everyone has more time to read and write more honest posts and support for each other has been a lot more prevalent. But I’ve also had days this week where it felt like other people’s comments were being directed at me which I took very personally and kind of lost it. I don’t handle my feelings being invalidated very well. Even if it wasn’t intended to poke at me, I certainly felt like it was. I’ve also been getting incredibly angry at people who are continuing to live their lives the way they always have and taking unnecessary risks. But for the most part it’s been a positive space lately. I’m also trying to stay in contact with my friends. And of course family.
Celebrate the Things You’d Normally Celebrate (and maybe a little more)
St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, but it really got lost in the midst of all the chaos this year. Fortunately I had already picked up my box of Lucky Charms, so the leprechauns were able to make their annual trek to leave it out for breakfast. And I made an effort to make a festive dinner that night. Tomorrow is Annie’s 5th birthday and Caden’s 11.5 birthday (we’re big on half birthdays around here). I’m making chicken tacos at Caden’s request and will come up with some sort of dessert for him. I’ll probably try to find some kind of dog treat cake to make Annie as well and we’re planning a trip to the dog park to celebrate. I’ve been buying things online so I’m fully prepared for all our normal Easter festivities, minus the time with extra family. And I’ve been trying to put together a nice selection of gifts to send my sister-in-law whose bridal shower is (I assume) definitely not going to be happening in a few weeks as planned. Even though life is totally crazy right now, I’m trying to remember to celebrate all the things I’d normally celebrate while also making an effort to help other people celebrate as well. We could all use a little more cheer to get through these hard times.
Lower all Expectations
I hope it’s obvious from my list that while I’m trying to find many ways to bring joy and normalcy to our life right now, my expectations are still quite low. Caden is really struggling with the indefiniteness of everything being so uprooted in his life. Shepard, as the most social of us (by far!), is really struggling with not seeing his friends, especially all of those that are running around right outside our windows. Greg is probably struggling working in such a distracting environment and not being able to leave the house for a job he enjoys. I’m struggling with the constant noise, constant arguing, constant need to prepare, make, and clean up after meals. The messes that are never full cleaned up, the enormous piles of laundry waiting to be folded, the inability to do any of the things I really love doing that nurture my soul, and the disappointment of so many trips being cancelled. But I’m also enjoying how much longer and freeing my days feel, without any real plans or restrictions. I find myself actually WANTING to exercise and really enjoying every chance I get to walk around outside. I hope that if I continue to focus on the things I CAN control, I won’t be so overwhelmed by all the things I can’t. And that somehow, we will all come out of this devastating pandemic for the better.