Adapting to Quarantine
This post is something I never would have dreamed I would write 140 days ago. And let me start off by saying I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to work from home and to have remained healthy through all of this. With that being said... on to this lengthy post:
As a "seemingly" normal first week of March slowly turned into an unsettling and unnerving second week of March to a down right scary third week, our minds were reeling trying to keep up and adjust to this new life we were forced into at warp speed. The influx of new information and grappling with how severe the situation was becoming every hour was exhausting. I was feeling the brunt of it big time. The month of March felt like it lasted a lifetime.
As April rolled around, the "new normal" everyone kept citing was starting to sink in. I felt myself mentally adjusting to life at home alone. I'm a naturally introverted person, but I do thrive in my small group of friends, so getting that ripped away so quickly was difficult. You might know if you've followed me for a while that I've kept a Bullet Journal for just over 4 years now. The realization that we were going to holed up for a long time triggered me to begin journaling more traditionally about my thoughts, fears, and emotions. Looking back on those entries now, I can clearly see the shift from struggling with loneliness to directing my thoughts about this new life to a healthier, more intentional place.
How did a simple Bullet Journal help me write my way out (oh hey fellow Hamilton fans) of such a dark mental headspace? Well, let me first start with what a BuJo is... The easiest way is to just send you off to the creator's website or to a post I wrote 3 years ago. But in a nutshell, its a journal that's anything you need it to be. The moniker "bullet" comes from the bulleted list of things you need or want to accomplish each day. It's as simple as that. Everything else is fluid and ever changing just as life is on any given day. It's a place to be creative, or just keep track of the things you do each day. It can be a diary, calendar, habit tracker, sketchbook, recipe keeper, or any combination you can think of.
My bullet to-do lists and calendars suddenly morphed from keeping track of events and errands to just washing the dishes and doing the laundry as the pandemic crashed into our lives. But then something else happened. I started writing more about my feelings around all the uncertainty. Then I began jotting down when I did something that made me feel better and capturing all the things I was grateful for each day. I noticed myself doing these things naturally and then gradually started being more intentional about it.
The Gratitude Log was one of the best things I started doing. It's just one line, whether that's being grateful I still have a job, my health, being able to pay my mortgage, the added time I get to spend with my dogs, or just a beautiful day I get to spend at the park... seeing these things and having those reminders was nice when something in the news would get me down. I also made a list of all the people who have reached and I've connected with as a reminder that I'm not as alone as I might feel in the moment.
Then, I made a "spread" (BuJo language for a designed, laid out page) within my journal to start tracking exercise. I felt an inclination to be outside more as I realized how much my mood improved when I took the dogs for walks. I also wrote about how peaceful I felt as I visited my favorite park, and now make it a habit to visit 3-5 times a week. I sometimes spend the entire day there on the weekends. I'm going for walks 2-3 times a day along with a dedicated workout.
My ongoing excuse during "normal" life was that I never had time, so I was never consistent enough to make any sort of progress. I couldn't get up early enough in the mornings, and I was too tired when I got home. Lunch workouts weren't an option because I would never be able to carve out enough time to workout, shower and get ready again to return to the office. Shelter in place has eliminated all those boundaries. With no commute time (even though mine was short), I get more time in the morning for walks, I can workout at lunch and sit right back down at my computer. When the day is over, I can get another workout in if I'm feeling up to it. It's been a huge change for me, but the benefits I'm seeing from my stabilized mood, to shedding pounds and inches (I've lost 19 as of this posting! More on this later...), is enough for me to want to keep this up once things start getting back to some sense of normalcy. I'm feeling stronger every week and have more energy each day. Turns out there's something to all that endorphin talk I always conveniently ignored! :)
Everyone is handling this pandemic and all the effects of it differently. What's important is what works for you and being open and honest about what that is. What's working for me might not work for you. After all, I live alone with two dogs... some people have kids they're having to home school and entertain while trying to keep up with working from home. In that case, you may need some time alone... or you may need some connection with other humans outside of your own family, so maybe reach out to a friend and schedule a virtual lunch or happy hour. Check in on your friends. I know every time someone cares enough to just send me a quick message, it can be just the boost I need for the day.
Some people thrive on routine. I have a loose one... It doesn't involve getting up and getting "ready" for the day as many people like to suggest. I wear yoga pants and no make up pretty much every day. I sometimes wake up and shuffle over to my makeshift workstation. Other days I get up and go for a walk before starting my day. I workout at lunch when I'm able, and when my day's over I try to go for another walk either around the neighborhood or at the park. It's not incredibly defined, but I make sure to make time for the things that work well for me. Some people are using TV as an escape from everything and binge-watching tons of shows and movies. That's awesome! Others have been discovering new hobbies like baking or art. I tried my hand at cake decorating and actually enjoyed it! Just don't be too hard on yourself if you're not being as productive as you might want to be. Getting through this in one piece is more than enough.
Whatever is serving you and your mental health the best is what you should focus on, but never be afraid to try something new. You'll never know what could be waiting on the other side until you do it. The golden (or platinum) rule serves us well both in times of a pandemic and out... be kind to yourself and to others.
A quick note: I don't think I could have adjusted as well as I did (even that took me several weeks) if I hadn't been in therapy for a year leading up to it. I had developed and strengthened the tools to direct my thoughts and focus my energy on things I could control. That groundwork made it easier to handle this cataclysmic shift in our daily lives, but that's not to say it's required to be able to adapt. I just wanted to note this in case you're struggling or thinking to yourself "EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!" in regards to anything I've mentioned here. Reach out when you need help. None of us are in this alone.