If you don’t have weights at home, try using canned food or the psychological burden of simply existing in the world.
Lila Ash, New Yorker cartoonist
Well, you knew it was coming, right? Any self-respecting psychologist HAS to write at least one article about what’s happening right now as we face the coronavirus pandemic and live under lockdown conditions. So, here’s mine. You’re welcome!
No One Really Knows Jack
The first part of any discussion I have with my clients includes a reminder that almost no one alive today has had any experience doing anything like this. Even those who lived through the Spanish Flu (an insult to Spaniards, by the way) would have only been, like, two or three years old at the time. So, no one really knows what they’re doing these days. Although some might have better-educated guesses than others, no one REALLY knows.
Therefore, any ideas about what you SHOULD be doing these days or guilt feelings about what you’re NOT doing, well, you can just toss those out the window (I say). My best advice includes doing what makes sense for you now. That may change over time, but listen to your body and do what it says to do. Take that nap. Drink that wine. Play with that dog (who’s a good boy?). Binge that Netflix show. (All in moderation, of course.) You’re excused from social pressures and what all the well-meaning yet uninformed life coaches might try pressuring you to do. Just do nothing, if that’s what’s called for. You have my permission. Again, you’re welcome.
Same Storm, Different Boats
OK, so I stole this concept from the poem that went around a couple of weeks ago. While it might feel disheartening at first to think that we’re not all in the same boat, I say let’s get real, people! While we’re all in the “coronavirus storm,” you’re in your boat and I’m in mine. You’ve got your personality type, your financial situation, your lodging setup, your companions (or lack thereof), your job (or lack thereof), your central nervous system, your responsibilities, your level of videoconferencing comfort, your health, your eating style, your supply of toilet paper, and on and on. And I’ve got mine. And, the person you’re living with (if any) has theirs. To put it more poetically, we’re all separate waves in the same big ocean. Try that on for size and get used to it!
I can only imagine what it must be like for those people stuck at home by themselves. Full disclosure, that’s not me. I’m stuck at home … oops, I’m sorry … I get to be at home with my wife of over 38 years, my very dear and best friend (yes, that’s what I meant to say). Anyway, since I’m a psychologist, that doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion or theory about it. (Cue: mild chuckle.)
Seriously, I really do feel for “home alone” people, especially those really social, out-going types. While I could mumble something about experiencing and getting used to another side of life (which I do silently to myself), I can only imagine what it must be like. Really the only thing I have to offer of any value falls into the spiritual realm, about which I ponder below. I wish you well if that’s you (really!). Keep connected (“Zooming” is now a verb) as much as you can. Keep yourself on a healthy routine. Count your blessings. Be sad and lonely if that’s how it is for you. Remember, no one really knows how to be at this time. Just be you.
Having Practiced for a Lifetime
Some “home alone” people, those we psychologists might label as introverts, were almost literally built for this experience. I joke that they’ve been practicing for this their whole lives. (Cue: mild smirk.) And they agree. They LOVE this!! No more pesky interactions with people. Finally, the way they operate naturally comes in super handy and others may even envy them. Whoa! Life is good, eh? I don’t worry about those people too much (for now), but still keep an eye on them for when they’ve reached their limit (yes, even they have their limits of too much fun). Then, I refer them to the prior paragraphs, or maybe this …
Forced Spiritual Retreat
While I’m not in the “home alone” situation, I tell myself that if I was (I told you I had an opinion), I might try to imagine being on a really long spiritual retreat. You know, like the week-long silent retreats I hear about (never been) where the first few days are torturous but you come out of it enlightened (well, closer at least). During that time (I hear), you get to know yourself much better, maybe even getting to the point of liking yourself (if you can imagine!) and being more at peace with yourself and the world as it is. You know, all the “present moment” and “power of now” stuff that people talk about. I hear it’s really great. You should try it! Oops, sorry about the should. OK, just do what’s right for you.
For others who have people around them, you too can throw together a spiritual experience or two along the way (if your body says it’s OK). Maybe you can read that spiritual book you’ve had waiting for you forever on your nightstand. Or listen to that meditation podcast you’ve been meaning to try. Or you can commune with nature a bit more, maybe even adding tree-hugging to your personal repertoire (while also social distancing with any nearby humans). Or go on a Shamanic journey or two to visit your power animal or spirit guide, if that’s your bent. Or start (or add to) a gratitude journal. Or simply act in a kinder manner to yourself and others. It’s just that simple. Just a thought.
We’re on a Mission
If you find yourself sequestered with others, it may be interesting (if not useful) to imagine that you all form a crew that’s on a mission. You can determine who leads the mission, assign roles and responsibilities, and have periodic team meetings. You can even promote crew members who do exemplary work and demote those who don’t. Just a thought. At any rate, I imagine something like being on a submarine or Ice Station Zebra or the International Space Station or something like that. So, establish your mission (say, living a healthy responsible life under the circumstances) and go for it!
One Day at a Time
I really like the sayings and concepts of 12-step communities like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. As you may have guessed by now, one saying that I find especially pertinent these days is “one day at a time” (or maybe even one hour or one minute, depending on your situation). No one knows how long this situation will last or what the “New Normal” will look like. So, taking it a day at a time and not trying to “rehearse the panic” too much might help you get through this in one piece.
What does today need from you? Do that. There’s a joke going around that we now have only three days of the week: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. (Cue: eye roll.) I say let’s focus on today, leaving yesterday behind and tomorrow in the planning stages at most. Live today as best you can. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? When it comes, it will again be today. Rinse, repeat.
Lastly, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your efforts in dealing with this situation in the way that seems right to you. Lots of you have pretty definite ideas about how things should go. You know: mask or no mask, social distancing or not, lockdown or not, testing or not, return to work or not, and so on. Remember that while we’re all in the same storm, we each have our own boat. I invite you to consider your neighbor’s boat and try not to rock it too much with yours. After all, we really don’t know jack about what to do. Be kind to yourself and to others. I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for listening (and not rocking my boat). Take care, my friends!
Copyright 2020 Daniel J. Metevier