Living In A Box

When I started my holidays on March 14, I had no concept that my life, not to mention the life of everyone around the world, was going to change significantly. COVID-19 was still at the ‘don’t come into the office if you’re sick phase.’

The last thing I want to do in writing this article is to give the false impression that my situation is somehow worse than others,’ so right off the bat, I want to set the record straight.

I am fortunate enough to have:

  • A home
  • A home that has two levels so I can move around
  • A quiet neighbourhood and the ability to go outside
  • A family that is supportive
  • Children that no longer need my constant attention
  • Pre-scheduled time off work so that I can slowly adjust to this unprecedented situation
  • A long history of offering phone counselling
  • Money for food and essentials
  • Hobbies that amuse me
  • A meditation practice
  • Counselling training which includes self-help tools
  • No fear of the phone (I am a gen-X’er!) and friends to call

I like to review this list regularly because it helps me to keep things real. And I like to add to it too, when I think of new or forgotten things to be grateful for.

I have noticed a great effort in the counselling community of mental health professionals kindly offering up COVID coping suggestions and I have followed along with gratitude and have picked up some helpful tips. And what I’m about to say next should in no way nullify my peers’ excellent contributions.

I want to be clear that I have no experience dealing with plagues, which makes me question whether I’m in a position to give advice. In fact, my privilege has protected me from pandemics, and is still protecting me. Just only a few years ago, I listened with sadness to news reports about ebola but I was not personally affected. I went through SARS when I was young but it was still very remote and I didn’t have to change my life in any way.

Now this global situation is hitting not just close to home but at home. And I know that you’re all experiencing this too, with effects unique to your particular circumstances.

And I don’t want to minimize your experiences by offering a snappy list of suggestions that, if employed, will be guaranteed to make your life better. If I’ve learned anything about this situation thus far, it’s been that each person’s situation is unique, access to resources varies widely and social and global circumstances are changing rapidly. This article may be obsolete very quickly.

So, I thought I’d keep things idiosyncratic, and rough-hewn, sharing my observations and my coping attempts (and fails); f there’s something in here that can help you, in your own unique situation, then perhaps article will have been worth something.

That was a very long intro. Pause.

A Typical Day In The Box (on days I’m not working)

  • Wake Up – Between 5am and 8am – no alarm as I’m not working
  • Ruminate while lying in bed (2-30 minutes), sometimes get up right away
  • Get up and throw on cozy robe or get dressed
  • Refresh sourdough starter
  • Meditate – sometimes
  • Shower
  • Do Willow Tree work related to client communication and launching my video practice over a cup of tea
  • Late breakfast
  • Do some more Willow Tree work
  • Post on Instagram
  • Light housework
  • Lunch or snack
  • Get out for a walk on a quiet street; take photos
  • Commune with family or Baby the cat
  • Sometimes ruminate about taxes and home projects that I never get around to
  • Follow up and do some project work, oftentimes not
  • Look at Instagram, sometimes too much
  • Ruminate, problem solve and test video counselling (which I have never done before), get panicky, calm myself down
  • Do a little more Willow Tree Work
  • Make supper
  • Eat supper and clean up
  • Housework (sometimes)
  • Engage in a hobby (knitting or breadmaking, typically)
  • Play board games with family
  • Refresh sourdough starter
  • Watch TV
  • Read
  • Go to bed

At random times in the week/day:

  • Phoning and texting loved ones and friends
  • Listen to meditation lectures

Observations and Learnings

  • Sometimes I feel very emotionally blah and that’s ok. Sometimes I feel very bluesy, and that’s also ok.
  • This ain’t a holiday and I don’t have to put any pressure on myself to fulfill some sort of leisure expectation.
  • I have no previous experience of living through a pandemic. I shouldn’t expect myself to have it all figured out, even if I am a counsellor.
  • Keeping it real is important: recognizing where I’m at emotionally and practically. Sugar-coating things only disqualifies my feelings and experience.
  • Gratitude is vital and stops me from going into a pit of self-pity. I like to choose specific, real things that I am grateful for (see above) and I have no time for platitudes and cliches.
  • Letting go of rigid expectations is key. I’m trying to roll with the punches and see what I need to respond to, as things arise. Each day is different and often unexpected. Cleaving to old, pre-COVID standards is a recipe for emotional suffering.
  • Being bummed is not a barrier to continuing on. I find it an interesting practice to continue with whatever activity is next, even if I don’t feel too into it. Does it end up feeling better or worse? Usually the former.
  • Screens can suck me in and make me feel worse. And I’m not just talking about the news, which I limit to 5 minutes once a day. I’m a person who has long struggled with screen time and I actually have an article in the works about that, for a future newsletter. It has been one of the biggest contributors to my anxiety longterm. I need to approach social media and other screen-related activities with caution.
  • Reaching out and talking to others by phone, text or message helps me feel better, but it takes work. Vancouverites have a long history of being non-comital, ghosting or otherwise flaking out (sorry, Vancouver people, and yes I am born and raised here) so it can feel culturally odd to take initiative socially.
  • I have slipped into some bad habits and I don’t have to beat myself up over it. I have eaten more chocolate than I have in months, I don’t feel as interested in cooking like I usually am and my exercise has slipped. These are weird times and tomorrow is always another day. Today I made bagels for the first time in over a year. It felt great.
  • I’m not responsible for my family’s happiness. My kids can get bored and figure out what they want do do with their day. My parent self-esteem is not on the line.
  • Social distancing can be hard on our mental health. Human beings are social beings.
  • Social distancing at home can be important too! I need some time to myself because it can be intense being around family for most of the day. I am an introvert! And, family can be a great source of hugs too.
  • Self isolating can have a flip side: we can let go of social pressure and social performance issues/anxiety.
  • Getting outside has been vital. Even stepping outside for some fresh air helps me. I’m thinking of it these days as wandering: walking with nowhere to go.
  • Not being able to go out at the drop of a hat, to get whatever I want, fosters ingenuity. I am re-appreciating my yarn stash more and thinking creatively about cooking (when I feel like cooking).
    Forecasting the future and engaging in ‘what-ifs’ and disaster scenarios makes my mood plummet and does not change the future one bit.
  • A restful sleep is a godsend and can do wonders for coping for the next day.
  • One of the things that keeps coming back to me like a mantra is that we’re all in this together. Please: let’s be as kind as possible to one another.