Last week, I was summoned for jury duty in a state I haven’t lived in for 10 years. I learned that Norm might have cancer (fortunately, it was only hypercalcemia, although that’s another long-term adventure in and of itself).
These are strange times indeed.
October is usually my favorite time of year, but for the last month, I have been drowning in low energy and apathy. The momentum is gone. And I’d like to say I’ve spent this time in isolation developing my next novel or setting up a new side hustle. But no, I can only say I’ve spent these last seven months watching a lot of tv, completing a few puzzles, and discovering some new hacks for DIY nail art.
When my mental health reached its lowest, I gravitated towards my support network and discovered they, too, were at their lowest. Nobody was going to come out of this pandemic unscathed. I felt hopeless then. But then my behavioral health training kicked in. While I could not control my external environment, I could control my internal one.
How I’m Staying Sane
So, I created a weekday routine to follow, which included a variety of activities to keep my mental health in check, such as:
- Starting my day with cardio activity – something to get the blood flowing, such as one minute of jumping jacks, jump rope, or mountain climbers.
- Eating breakfast and playing with Norm – focused interaction not only did wonders for my cat’s mood but gave me something to be proud of even on my lowest days.
- Forcing a walk or workout midday when less people are out – something that has been triggering has been out among people after work where few are social distancing or wearing masks.
- Keeping a gratitude journal – aka writing down three things I’m grateful for every day on a whiteboard magnet as a way to keep a positive perception.
- Setting aside time for myself – even though I have endless time alone, with virtual work, volunteer commitments and a chronic disease that craves attention, I was burning out. I needed designated time without technology to just be.
- Taking 15 minutes before bed to stretch – a way to relax and center myself after a day’s work.
And while these efforts kept me focused, introduced a consistent sleep schedule, and maintained my physical health, I still felt low. There were improvements, don’t get me wrong, but I came to the conclusion that during this time of isolation, it is likely I am going to feel shitty 80 percent of the time, and that I should hold onto that 20 percent when it makes an appearance.
Assessing My Risk Tolerance
This past weekend I had an unusually packed social calendar. I only see friends every six weeks now (family is too far away). It’s not intentional. Just the way schedules and the weather aligns. But this past weekend was different. I trusted these friends, and I deemed the risk worth it. And just having a break in the routine and something to look forward to made all the difference.
I also have ordered takeout only twice in the last seven months. I have had amazing blood sugar control as a result but I definitely miss the occasional splurges and the chance to share food and drinks with friends. So, I took this weekend to indulge in my double bacon cheeseburger, wild mushroom pizza, squash pie, beer, and pumpkin mule. Fortunately, my diabetes didn’t take it out on me too much.
I returned from this weekend completely exhausted (typical now of most social visits) and yet rejuvenated. Even if my social circle has condensed, I am grateful for the amazing friends I do have.
Gratitude Does or Does Not Equal Meaning
And I considered what else I am grateful for as a direct result of the pandemic. I don’t imagine any of us will ever be thankful for COVID-19 and what it’s brought to our doors. But there are definitely things that have occurred as a result of the pandemic that have brought additional meaning to my life. I was incredibly happy before the pandemic started, and in a lot of ways, it took my community away from me. It made me question everything that I am and everything that I thought my life was going to be.
But in questioning, I came to acknowledge my own mistakes, including ways I have contributed to systemic racism. And just like with many unacknowledged mistakes we make, it has nothing to do with what I intended – only the impact I have created. And in self-reflecting and growing, I have had to come to terms – once again – with my own existence and my incredible fear of non-existence.
Like many during this time, my insomnia has returned and when I do sleep, nightmares often keep me awake. I fear that void. And alone, I often wonder at the point of it all. Am I going to die alone? Does any of it really matter?
LOTR Makes an Appearance
There are many relationships I have cultivated and continue to cultivate during quarantine. Those relationships matter more to me now than they ever did. I have the time now to appreciate the little things and to focus on the small details that give the extended version of The Lord of the Rings meaning.
So, that when I look at that list of things I’m grateful for as a direct result of the pandemic, I know that unearthing that meaning matters. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I certainly don’t believe I was diagnosed with diabetes for a reason. But when things happen outside of my control, all I can control is how I react to it and how I let it define me.
Our physical presence may disappear at the end of our wave (thank you, The Good Place), but our essence lives on. As a valuable friend – who I also reconnected with during this time – told me recently: it sounds like you’ve had a peaceful quarantine enjoying yourself. If this ends up on my epitaph, I will not be ashamed.