2020 sure isn’t pulling any punches, is it?
A lot of people are suddenly home who aren’t used to being home all the time. And while this situation is exceptional and scary and farther-reaching than anything I’ve experienced before–I realized this morning that I have already made 90% of the self-isolation transition, and maybe it’s worth describing how I’ve coped.
Everyone is going to have a different experience and set of circumstances, so here’s the context for me, personally, because this is all me, personally, and YMMV, and maybe some of this will help or all or none, etc etc, caveat, caveat:
I have always been a really outgoing introvert. There are fabulous people everywhere and I like to make friends!! But I also get overwhelmed from too much group activity, and I recharge best with long periods of quiet and introspection. So: lots of socializing followed by lots of recuperative quiet.
Wellllllll, then I had kids. And after Baby #2, I left my day job. Staying home with small children = constant vigilance and minimal adult conversation. Hoo boy. No socializing OR alone time! The perfect storm!!
I sharply whittled my VERY MANY activities down to a biweekly grocery trip, a monthly book club, and the occasional sibling hangout.
And now those are gone, too. But I got most of the way here 2 years ago, and I have dealt with these feelings before.
I’m not going to lie: isolation hit me with a pretty bad wave of depression. It’s rough! It’s disorienting! It’s literally isolating! And it is normal to go through some rollercoaster emotions. It is normal to feel a total disconnect from routine, because it’s kind of like the weekend? But the weekend never ends? And you still have responsibilities, whether work-from-home or the aforementioned children, or BOTH? And you never have to put your bra on or change out of those pajama pants, so you don’t, but that only increases the malaise? And you’re hungry at weird times and there are no external cues to shape your behavior and it’s hard to get started working on things but there’s also nobody telling you when it’s okay to stop, and and and…
And you realize you have lost your grip on the linear flow of time, much like the makers of this amazing poster I spotted in freshman year of college:
It feels like life is simultaneously standing still and never pausing for breath. The weeks slip by too quickly and you feel like you’re not getting enough done for somebody who’s home all the time–but also the individual days can feel so slow when they’re not broken up into commute/work/break chunks. It’s just you and a couple of toddlers and 14 hours to fill before having that glass of wine and heading to bed.
It’s a whole mess.
So. My tips for coping, if you are an outgoing introvert suddenly stuck at home, lonely and yet never alone:
1) GET THEE TO SOME GROUP CHATS. I mean it. This is my #1 piece of advice and my friends do not even know the degree to which they have saved my sanity over the past two years. All day, every day, I message my book club, my sisters, and my writer friends. My phone’s got FB Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, and Slack, because everyone’s on something different, dammit. And in the more private chats I talk about personal things, sure, but I’m mostly there for company, for laughs, for daily water cooler talk. For memes!! Nothing like a good laugh to break you out of a funk.
2) Learn to love phone calls again. It’s really easy to go hours and hours without speaking, and then realize your voice is a croak. Also, my constant written chat does NOT keep my conversation skills sharp! I open my mouth and feel like I have forgotten what a normal volume is or what my cue is to respond. I get giddy and interrupt too much. I’m a disaster, is what I’m saying!! So I call my mom or my brother or a friend and I chatter a bit. Now that my book club can’t meet in person for a while, we’re gonna move to a group video chat so we can love on each other’s drunk, bored-ass faces.
3) Don’t be silent all the time. I love some calm, soothing silence, as I mentioned, but too much silence for too long and I sink very far into my thoughts. Time starts slipping by at a weird pace and I’m completely zoned out, susceptible to negative thought spirals. With the kids, there are cartoons and video games breaking up the monotony, but otherwise I use music. I pop on Pandora and jam.
4) Related item: dance party!!! I rope the kids into dance parties when they’ve been zonking on the games too long, but honestly these are just as much for my benefit as theirs. I have to stand up! And move my body! And it’s silly and we look ridiculous and I laugh.
5) Genuine alone time. Yup, this is the opposite of everything else on the list and it’s because of the introvert bit. I’m isolating with roommates here–the kids 24/7, my spouse evenings and weekends. I need that little bit of unwind every week to center myself, and so I schedule it in. Once a week I go lock myself away in a separate room, and for a few hours I write, and listen to soothing music, or stare dreamily out of a window–anything I feel like really, I’m just alone and quiet and nobody wants anything from me.
So, those are usually enough for me to manage, but the current situation is aaaaall of that plus an unending stream of personal and international stress, so here are a few more:
6) For the love of god, take breaks from social media!! It is really tempting to stay plugged in all day, especially since you are stuck at home and hardly seeing anyone, and it feels like conversation, doesn’t it? A steady, never-ending conversation, whether you’re actually leaving comments or just endlessly scrolling the feed. If it’s funny memes you’re checking, it’s good times. But if it’s an endless spiral of bad news, it’ll get in your head, amp your anxiety, make everything feel worse and more immediate. Not to mention the excessive screen time messing with your eyeballs. Take! Breaks!!
7) Like, try to exercise? If that’s your thing? I didn’t realize how much I moved around until I left my day job and atrophied up. I’ve got a combo exercise bike/elliptical at home, and a couple pairs of weights. For small spaces, there are portable mini-ellipticals for sale for about a hundred bucks, or I know folks who pull up yoga videos, youtube step aerobics routines, things like that. Or, you know…. dance parties!!!!
8) Cry when you need to. Really. Take a moment by yourself or take turns with a loved one. My feelings build up and they don’t subside unless I get a good cathartic cry out. The weirdest things set me off. I’m good all day and then I read a tweet about somebody doing something very nice, or I hear some song lyrics out of context, or I let my thoughts wander too far into the future (when will my children get to play with other children again?) and I’m a faucet. Just let it out.
Signing off with some happy cats who are loving the extra lap time. ❤ ❤