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Last Thursday I came down with a mild cold, so out of an abundance of caution for others I’ve stayed at home since then. Though I’m not in a vulnerable category a member of my household is, so we’re basically at home for the time being. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far about “sheltering at home” (doesn’t that sound nicer than quarantine or self-isolation?).
2. Try to eat well balanced regular meals; get outside; exercise; take deep breaths.
3. Binge eating a bag of candy while frantically scrolling through news articles on COVID-19 probably will leave you not feeling so good (advice from a friend). But be gentle with yourself the way you would with a child you love and say to yourself: “Oh honey, sometimes we make mistakes. It’s okay, we’ll try again tomorrow.”
4. Routine and structure are your friend. Don’t try to impose on yourself your exact usual daily routine. You’re not going to work or doing your regular activities; kids are home from school and we’re in a pandemic (you know, in case you haven’t heard yet). Instead, try to hold the core structure or core components of your routine and readjust as needed. Slowly, step-by-step, day-by-day develop a routine for this reality. Put on work clothes for your work day (or at least get out of your pajamas); choose an area of your home to be your work space; put boundaries on your time working and don’t check/respond to email 24/7; take breaks for breathing and stretching, but don’t get side-tracked and suddenly decide that now is the time to do a deep clean of the refrigerator. If you’re retired, but are used to volunteering, going to exercise class etc., engage in connecting with others and caring for yourself in a modified way. Do exercise at home (there’s tons of free videos online) and call your friends you would normally have met-up with for coffee or activities. Develop a daily and weekly rhythm (for the religiously-minded, think of this as developing a new and beautiful liturgy).
5. We can do this thing people. We can. Those of us who are amongst the very privileged (like me), who have salaried jobs and are not constantly on an economic fault line, those of us who reside in North America, are used to living as if we control the world and bending it to serve us, are learning that we don’t control the world. We control our own actions. We’re accustomed to living as if economic growth is the top priority and always leads to a better life for everyone. It doesn’t. It definitely leads to a comfortable, material-item filled life for the very privileged. Sometimes it actually reduces the quality of life for the less privileged. We’re used to living as if we are entirely independent and do not need anyone else; we do. We can remember together what it means to live as if taking care of one another, the planet, and all living beings is the reason we are here. We can remember how to live as if we are all interdependent. We can do this thing people.
6. If you are sheltering at home with others, no one, I repeat, NO ONE, is allowed to sing songs from the movie “Frozen”or “Frozen 2”. Trust me on this one. If you have small children, tell them it’s a new rule just like social distancing is a new rule. Yes, I agree, lying to your children is not generally a good practice. However, going criminally insane is way worse for your children than telling a small lie that will save your sanity.
7. Basic self-care is essential right now. Put good food in your body, wash your hands, drink water, wash your hands, move your body, wash your hands, breathe, wash your hands. This is a marathon not a sprint. We have to find a new normal, but we’re all under a great deal of stress. Even if we’re not aware of it it’s just under the surface. We all have a part of our brain that is intermittently screaming: Ahhhhhhhhh! PANIC NOW, PANIC NOW, PANIC NOW! We all have a part of our brain that is like the fear character in the Disney/Pixar film “Inside Out” running around screaming and creating a list of a million things we should be panicked about right now. We have to take care of ourselves in the most basic ways in order to live from our hearts with compassion; if we don’t take care of ourselves, the fear monster in our brain will get hold of the controls and that won’t be good for anyone. While you’re at it watch the film, it’s great fun.
8. Sometimes it’s useful to allow yourself to actually name your fears. Say to yourself (or you and your partner say to one another): “okay for ten minutes we’re going to just say out loud our awful fears. Go.” “I’m going to get really sick with the virus and end up in hospital and there won’t be enough ventilators and I’ll die.” “We’re going to be stuck at home so long we’ll go completely crazy”. Some fears are real and within the realm of possibility, some are entirely irrational. Saying scary fears out loud seems like a terrible idea, but when you give them a very small amount of airtime you can then say to them: “thank you for sharing, that’s not happening right now.” You can caress that fear’s little forehead and put it to bed with a warm blanket so it will stop popping its head up and begging you to pay attention to it all the time.
9. Pray more.
10. Stay connected to friends, colleagues and family with whom you normally have in-person interaction. Connect via phone calls, video chat, texts etc. Find new ways to engage in routine social connection. Have a coffee chat, dinner party or pint using Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, whatever. Sure, you’re each in your own homes looking at one another on screens, but it’s still connecting in real time; it’s still hearing one another’s voices and seeing one another’s faces.
11. Pray again (are you seeing a theme here?)
12. If you have an impulse to call your great aunt or grandniece whom you haven’t talked to in forever, do it. If you have a desire to say: “I’m sorry” to someone you hurt in some way, do it. If you have the desire to reach out to a friend you’ve lost track of, do it. If you have a desire to pull your partner or kid into your arms and hold them close and say: “I love you”, do it. (Unless you might have been exposed to COVID-19 in which case you should stay a 2-metre distance and do a short interpretive dance expressing your love for them).
13. If you live alone I hear that the SPCA’s are asking people to foster animals. Maybe now is a good time to foster a furry creature who needs love and care. Also, if you live alone, you’re not alone. People love you. You are held in a community of love. People who love you are giving you a big hug right now – it’s a virtual one – but feel it and receive it. I repeat, you may be in hour house alone, but you are not alone. We’re all in this together.
14. Limit your media consumption and try to read/listen/watch things that help you to feel empowered, loved, capable of loving, connected to others. I know it’s hard, but more information is not always helpful. Yes, we need to know what trusted health authorities are recommending at this time, but we don’t need to know every terrible detail of every tragic reality happening in the world right now. We need to find ways to love our neighbours as ourselves in this time and place. Also, constantly consuming the news feed will make your soul feel like a deflated balloon and your head feel like it’s been hit with a cast iron skillet.
15. Yes, something is happening to us, but we can choose to respond with love instead of reacting out of our fear. Love casts out fear. We can choose to let this moment be a moment for us to remember who we’ve been created to be in this world. Allow yourself to feel the grief, the horror, the sadness and the anger, but act with love and compassion. Acknowledge the tragedy of this moment, but say, “hello” to the opportunity to be a bearer of love in a trying time. We can choose to let this moment be the pivot upon which we turn towards one another in love, in need, in solidarity, in compassion, in vulnerability, and in truth. Amen.