Handling Self-Isolation During the Coronavirus
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for a few weeks. This coronavirus is no joke and all along the way I’ve felt like I have something to say. But what I want to say keeps changing from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. These past few weeks have been rough as we’ve moved into self-isolation.
Part of what I’ve struggled with is what to say that you haven’t already heard a million times. Stay home. Yep, we know that. Have some sort of a schedule. Check. Limit the amount of news you get caught up in each day. Uh-huh. It’s okay to feel all of the feelings right now or no feelings at all. Okay. I know you’ve heard these things a million times because I have too.
It’s all good advice. Having a schedule each day, getting out of bed and following some sort of routine that mirrors some semblance of our former “normal” routine can be helpful. (For some hilarious daily routines, check out Eugene Mirman’s Instagram account.) Limiting our exposure to the 24-hour news cycle, which is apt to contain contradictions and a lot of guessing – let’s call it speculation – can also be helpful. And we all know that we need to stay home right now. You don’t need me to remind you of that.
Some advice depends on who you are as a person in terms of whether it’ll be valuable for you. For some folks, it helps to lean into all of the feelings. For others, feeling numb is where they are at the moment. For a lot of us, we vacillate between the two, depending on the day – and sometimes depending on the hour.
The first week of self-isolation we were all in shock a bit. I had taken a trip to the coast the weekend before we moved our clients over to telehealth (the trip seems like a dream now). We knew that some sort of social distancing might be happening, but we didn’t dream that it would be this. It was only a matter of hours before “we don’t want to overreact” became “we need to do our part to keep everyone healthy.” That first week was about finding new ways of doing things.
The second week was a period of getting adjusted and telling ourselves, “Hey, we can do this! This is okay! I mean, it’s difficult, but it’s totally workable! Yeah!” That didn’t last long. The third week was when it started to hit a lot of folks differently. The novelty of being at home had worn off. “Wait. We might have to do this for a while? What’s a while? How come we have no end date for this? How am I supposed to make this work indefinitely? Are my kids ever going back to school?” Financial worries started to set in. More people became ill with the virus. People we knew or had heard of were dying from COVID-19. Dying. During this week, I read an article that surmised that one of the only ways out of this might be for everyone to eventually contract COVID-19 and either you become immune to it or…you don’t survive it. That’s bleak.
As of this writing, it’s the end of week 4 of self-isolation for me. People are wondering if life will ever return to normal. Will businesses survive this? What will the recession look like? Will we just have to live with this coronavirus for the rest of our lives as we live with the flu? How long will we have to stay in our homes? The city of Wuhan in China has just opened up and is letting folks out (and I’m sure letting folks in, but the emphasis has been on folks leaving the city). Cities around the world are just starting to report that cases have peaked and are now in decline. There’s some good news. But still, we stay home. And we wonder what our future looks like. There’s still SO MUCH we don’t know about this virus.
In this fourth week, I’ve seen a lot of people wondering, “Okay. Here we are. What now?” This is the time that some of our coping strategies that have been working in the past few weeks may no longer be working. Some folks are hanging in there okay, but many others are experiencing hopelessness, sadness, despondency, constant worry, grief, and even some anger. To those people, I say – you’re not alone. I know it can be difficult when you’re self-isolating to not feel alone, but I will tell you that if you’re going through some really tough feelings right now, so many others are too. You’ve heard many times that we’re all in this together, but it’s true. Everyone is affected by this in some way.
Some Ideas to Get You Through
One piece of advice that I have found useful in the past week or so is to stay busy. Yes, there are days that I want to wallow on the couch and so I do that. But most of the time I feel better when my days are full. That then begs the question of how to stay busy when there are a limited number of things to do. I’ve found that I have to get a little creative. Some of these are things that I normally do that I’m just doing more of now and some are things that I’ve never done before or rarely do. Here’s my list:
- Cleaning. I’m getting this one out of the way because I know it’s on everyone’s list these days. I haven’t just been doing my normal cleaning though. I’ve been doing weird things like cleaning the walls in my kitchen and dusting. Dusting.
- Podcasts. A few new podcasts have come up in the past few weeks and one I’m enjoying is “Staying In with Emily and Kumail.” They talk about their own self-isolation experience and do fun things like interview other people and talk about gross food that they or others have made with ingredients they have on hand at the moment. It’s fun.
- Puzzles. This list is starting to look like every other list out there, I know, but stay with me here. Yes, I have the regular puzzles that other people are doing and those are fun, but I’ve also found myself eyeing The Golden Girls puzzle that someone gave us as a joke for our wedding. For the moment, it’s still in its packaging, but I suspect that I’ll be breaking it out soon enough. Watch out, Blanche.
- Baking. Yes, I’m one of those lucky people with flour. I don’t know why we’ve all started baking bread, but I’ve done my share of banana bread in the past couple of weeks. I even made the White Mountain Bread from The Bread Bible. I’ve also done my share of creative cooking, though nothing that Emily and Kumail would probably find interesting. Yet.
- Reaching out to long-lost friends and family. Like many others, I’ve reached out and have been reached out to by folks I haven’t talked to in a few months or longer. I spent an inordinate amount of time wishing my aunt a happy birthday on Facebook (I did a fun birthday background and employed more emojis than usual for me). I even reached out via text to my mother who I haven’t spoken to in over 10 years.
- Coloring. There are so many people touting the benefits of coloring with their adult coloring books and colored pencils. Good for you, I say! My coloring has included raiding my stepdaughter’s stack of Sesame Street coloring books and crayons. (Just a warning: Cookie Monster looks a bit disturbing when colored red.)
- Buzzfeed quizzes. It turns out that my knowledge of the 80s and The Office is impeccable, I prefer sweet to savory, and I’m a Miranda.
- Therapy. I’m not just talking about seeing my clients. I’ve had video calls with my own therapist and it’s been exactly what I’ve needed. (See #5 above.)
- Cleaning out my closet. I normally hate doing this, because I hate getting rid of clothes that I love that don’t fit anymore. And yes, lots of things don’t fit right now, because did I mention I’ve been baking? Inspired by Allison Tolman, who is having a fashion show with finds from her closet, I’ve been trying to make it fun by trying to match new things. Or purposely wearing unmatching things in an attempt to see what kind of travesty I can create.
- Reading blogs. This is something I do from time to time anyway, because I’m curious about what other people’s lives are like, especially right now. A favorite is Jenny Lawson’s blog. She has recently posted a list of things she and her family, who are all self-isolating together, have been fighting about in the past 48 hours. Some of them are hilarious! Some sound familiar.
- Sewing. Like so many others, I’m making masks, but it’s a slow process for me. I haven’t always had a lot of energy to sew – it kind of comes and goes. But making masks for my family and others feels important right now. My partner also feels that it’s important for his Deborah Harry shirt that he found at a thrift store in London to fit better, so I’ll be sewing that too. Soon he will no longer have an ill-fitting t-shirt. You’re welcome, society.
- Finding humor. This one isn’t for everyone or all the time, and I certainly think that there’s not a lot to laugh about right now. That said, I do find it beneficial to find levity in the things we can right now and have a good laugh. We recently did a video call with my partner’s family and we laughed so hard during the call that we had tears streaming down our faces. It felt SO GOOD to laugh. I realized it had been too long and so I’ve been trying to welcome humor back into my life. This video has been helpful (sound on).
If You’re at the End of Your Rope
All kidding aside, if you’re feeling hopeless and depressed, it’s important that you reach out to someone. If you have family and friends, reach out to them. If you feel alone or your family and friends aren’t helpful, reach out to us. We’re offering telehealth sessions currently (phone or video sessions) AND we’re offering “pay what you can” sessions during this time to health care workers and anyone who has lost their income as a result of the coronavirus. That means you don’t have to get your health insurance company involved – you just set up an appointment and pay what you can at the appointment, even if you don’t have much to spend on therapy right now. And we get it. Folks have lost their jobs and are worried about money right now. We still want you to be able to get the help you need. Please. Reach out to us. We’re here and we understand that this is a tough time. Let us help you get through it.
And even though we’ve all heard this a million times already, I’m going to say it now, because I mean it: Stay safe. Stay healthy. We are all in this together.
Jenny Larson loves her work as a therapist at Live True Counseling and as a Volunteer Counselor at William Temple House. When not seeing clients, she can be found reading psychology books and celebrity memoirs, watching bad (good) 80s movies, and sewing or baking. While self-identified as a cat person, she also has a fondness for dogs and other animals.