23 March 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not

 

Dear Diary,

The rain arrived in Oregon again today — the same day the governor shut down most businesses and issued the Stay at Home orders. It feels fitting. I’m looking out my window now. The wind is howling and the rain is falling sideways, but I can see the Cascade Mountain Range in the distance, and it’s a crazy quilt of dark, heavy clouds and fluffy white ones with patches of intermittent blue to break up the grey scale motif.

It’s like the sky is dancing in rhythm to this crisis — cold and ominous interwoven with breaks of optimism and the reminder that our source of light and life may feel hidden, but it’s actually not gone away, and it’s sure to show itself again  soon. 

The sky can’t make up its mind how it feels, and neither can I, but, unlike my brain, the sky doesn’t seem bothered by it. It’s big enough to hold more than one thing at the same time. And it’s a reminder I am, too. 

This time is full of uncertainty. Our best scientists and epidemiologists have predicted the storm that’s on its way — it’s made landfall in some parts of the world already — but here where I am, we don’t know the extent of it yet. We prepare and we read and we listen and we hope. But we don’t know, you know?

We sit here full of darkness and heaviness and sideways rain in rushing wind and also full of sun breaks and bits of blue sky while we try to catch a glimpse of what’s coming over the horizon. But our crystal balls are murky and vague, and the future is a translucent fog with shapes that only fully materialize as we get closer. We’re used to thinking in linear and binary fashions, so we’re far more at ease when we can either tackle the storm or bask in the sun and do so in an orderly, predictable manner. We get jittery when it’s storm and sun simultaneously. 

I’ve been jittery, Diary. 

I’m mostly fine. Mostly good. Mostly feeling guilty because Stay at Home is an easier mandate for me than for most — as an introvert, I’m predisposed to prefer it, and my work was already here. The COVID-19 Stay at Home order has made my life simpler in many ways.

I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed to be jittery. My babies aren’t little anymore. This isn’t like the snowstorm thirteen years ago when Greg was away on a business trip, and I was trying to transition two premature babies to my breasts after their tube-feeding stint in the NICU (HAHAHAHAHA — good times), and a windstorm knocked out the power, and I “slept” on a foam pad in the babies’ room because all the other rooms were battered by falling trees, waking up with an alarm every two hours to feed and pump and pray my emergency pump batteries didn’t fail.

Now my kids can make their own ramen if I poop out. It’s pure luxury

But I’m jittery anyway. 

And even though I laid down All Expectations for my children to be academically productive during this time — we shall count Stay at Home a RAGING SUCCESS if we can Do Chores intermittently and Be Kind(ish), the end — I realized today I have not been similarly easy on my own productivity. 

Instead, I’ve been telling myself I should be MORE productive than usual. I have NO DISTRACTIONS. I have NO APPOINTMENTS or ERRANDS or CARPOOL. I have NOWHERE TO BE. I should be like SHAKESPEARE and NEWTON who did their BEST WORK under quarantine. 

Until it occurred to me that neither William nor Sir Isaac was busy with All the Other Tasks like managing a household, managing a household under a completely new set of rules, avoiding laundry, baking bread like it’s a new job, helping young humans work through Big Feelings amid Global Pandemic, etc., etc., and so forth into infinity.

So today I revised the rules for myself in an attempt to offer Me the same kindness I’ve offered my children. In an attempt to help Me work through Big Feelings amid Global Pandemic. In an attempt to recognize that this situation is a Trauma on every level, from the broad international scope to each individual. In an attempt to start spreading peace with the person in the mirror and hope THAT pandemic will go viral.

In light of that, here are my new personal rules:

1. Care for your most basic needs. This is a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs move. You can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not surviving yourself. For me, this means I make sure I take my meds and feed my body when I’m hungry. It sounds a lot easier than it is. I’m working on it.
2. Check in with yourself frequently. I’ve put a sticky note next to my computer that has two questions on it: a) How do I feel? and b) Is there anything I can do right now to help myself feel more peaceful? So far, honest answers to both have had me taking breaks from screen time, making myself cups of tea, reading chapters of escapist fiction, making myself toast, and watching the resident chipmunks outside my window as they scurry along with their Busy, Busy, Busy lives. Tiny things. Big brain changes. SO helpful at this juncture.
3. Do less. I was writing 2-3,000 words/day on my Big Project before this crisis hit. I felt SO GREAT about that. I was GETTING SHIT DONE. Now? My brain is more scattered, and I’m just going to allow it instead of fight it. I’m decreasing my daily word count goal to 500 words. That feels tiny. But also possible. And tiny but possible feels like the wisest way forward. 
4. Adapt as needed. Honestly, the stage we’re entering right now is Constant Change. We feel like there should be more structure — like we should be able to have a daily schedule. How hard can that be when we’re suddenly Just Home? But the reality is far more complex. We’re receiving new information daily — sometimes hourly. We have family members with fluctuating abilities to cope, mentally, emotionally, and physically. We have OURSELVES with fluctuating abilities to cope, bless our sweet hearts. So instead of Figuring It All Out, I’m taking a posture of flexibility so I can bend and move and dance with these new rhythms. Each day will be what it is. And that’s enough for now.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and angst if I just followed my dog’s lead on this whole Schedule/Productivity thing. 

She’s already figured out self-care, feeling more peaceful, doing less, and adapting as needed. I got out of bed this morning to Tackle the Day, and she was all, “Uuummmmm, nope. I think not. I’ll just stay here under the covers, thankyouverymuch.” 

P.P.S. I made waffles this morning instead of pounding out my 2000 words. 

Aren’t they pretty? 

I think that pic looks like pure magic.

Here’s what the kitchen really looks like, though:

Meh. Whatever. It is what it is. 

P.P.P.S. Our secret, magical fairies returned to the path behind my house with new messages for us today. 

You are loved.

And you’ve got this. 

❤️ 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
18 comments
  1. Today I did much better at spending hours away from technology. Granted, I battled with an ancient serger instead and had to get a household young man to even re-thread needles for me because I am OLD and cannot see worth beans, but at least I wasn’t reading news updates and feeding anxiety. Frustration? Yes. Anxiety? No. Except now my ancient serger definitely needs to go to the doctor and THOSE HELPFUL PEOPLE are not considered ESSENTIAL. “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” = needful.

    1. Sewing machine battles sound WAY better than online angst. Good choice! (And you’d think, given all the calls for homemade masks, machine repair would be essential. Ugh.) Love to you! ❤️

      1. Thank you, Beth, for writing this online diary. Waving in the dark was never so important! I have had plenty of online angst — I just keep it in a private group so my extended family doesn’t see it (darn pride). I’m hoping that letting the machine rest for a day or two will make it reconsider its (my) fate.

  2. those waffles look awesome. i’m the only one that’s melting down. the kids are all fine!

    1. Sending love and solidarity! ♥️

  3. We have been working from home for a week now, but I spent too much time on Facebook and watching scary videos on YouTube yesterday and threw myself into a panic. Today is a self-care day. I’ve already told my boss. Sum total of work performed today is the 30 minute conversation I had with her. Today I will clean if I want to, bake if I want to, eat, watch relaxing things on TV. Today I am grounded from news and Facebook. Today, I take care of me. Thanks for setting a good example.

  4. This Minnesota mama with a grown kid living in NYC can’t concentrate on a thing because he probably has the virus. He’s too far away and I’m well over 60–so even if he was right next door I couldn’t do a thing. They’re always your baby. So deep breaths and is it wine o’clock yet?

    1. Oh, that’s HARD. Boo. I’m so sorry. Yes — I hate that my adult kid and her human are back in Hawaii — across an OCEAN — and God only knows when we’ll see each other again. Sending lots of sympathy and solidarity. ❤️

  5. You are helping to hold me every single day during this. I have shared you with everyone I know. I am not reading much during this time, but I am reading you.
    I’m a writer too and so I know the barrage of info out there that I am competing with. Yours is a breath of fresh air, my friend.

    1. Thank you, sweet one. ♥️

  6. Totally relate to getting new information daily and sometimes hourly – I work in a grocery store. And it does indeed feel like we are getting new information and new protocols handed down from our corporate office/the health department/the CDC hourly. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting.

    Also, I think waffles are an excellent option for being productive. And making waffles requires making a mess of the kitchen. Or, shoving the existing mess over so you can make waffle mess. It’s all good.

    1. THANK YOU for your work! I hope you’re getting lots of kindness at the store. ❤️

  7. Thank you! I love reading these diary entries and wonder if it’s time to dust off my own. Right now, though, I’m doing a shared diary with my 8 year old. She writes me messages about how she’s feeling and I respond in hopefully helpful ways. Lately, she’s had big feelings that mirror my own: stressed, sad, afraid, frustrated, disappointed and no where close to happy. She was so brave today because she sat with these feelings until she could name them. Then, she and I sat in the mud together. After we sat with our feelings, we tried to focus on those things that were happy that occurred today: our long walk in the morning, her scooter ride with her brother, reading books in bed, making monkey bread. It was a brutiful day!

    1. I really like hearing about your parenting. Thanks for sharing!

    2. That’s genius and GORGEOUS. I love the way you’re loving your kid right now. Brutiful, indeed. ❤️

  8. I’ve got the jittery part down, just no productivity. I did manage a shower for the first time in five days. Hoorah for me! Tomorrow my goal is to locate toilet paper. It’s good to have goals while being isolated. Thank you for writing.

    1. Productivity is overrated. Taking care of ourselves is where it’s at right now! ❤️ I hope your TP hunt went well. I still haven’t inventoried mine, so we probably have, like 45 minutes’ worth of TP left.

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