We live in a quarantined area, and have been instructed to stay home as much as possible. I have never been so grateful to live in a four-bedroom house. We have eight rooms, nine if you include the screened-in porch. As a new empty-nester, I had wondered if we had too much house and whether we should downsize. Now, every day I exclaim, “At least we have all these rooms. We can move around. If you get tired of one room, you can sit in another.”
It’s come to that. 5 people and 1 dog, rotating in 9 rooms.
Anxiety zooms in our air, with so many things to worry about. There is the obvious anxiety about our health and the health of our loved ones. Then there is the economic news. I myself haven’t even peeked at my retirement savings yet. I’m hoping I still have some. All our plans seem to be up in the air. Vacation to Japan? Cancelled. Tickets for West Side Story? Cancelled. Dinner with friends? Cancelled.
Will our kids return to college? Will our companies close? Will we have jobs? Will we ever be able to retire? Will there be enough food for everyone? How long will we have to stay in these 9 rooms?
I have no answers for any of these questions. I feel the same crushing pressures as everyone else. Still, I feel some obligation, as a psychologist and author of this resilience blog, to offer helpful thoughts about how to manage this strange time. I will do my best. (I also know that anything I say today might seem dated or hopelessly naïve in a week’s time.) But, for this week, here is my best advice.
I have created a new home base for myself, with new daily rules. Every day, I try to do the same five things. Each of these activities makes me calmer, happier, and/or more at peace. For ease of remembering, think of the mnemonic M.E.C.C.A. (Mecca being both a holy city, and a word that means “center”). What is M.E.C.C.A.?
1) Meditate: Start your day with a brief meditation. I listen to “Headspace,” which offers a ten minute daily guided meditation (learn more about it here: https://www.headspace.com/). To be clear, every morning I wake up and think, “Oh let’s just skip meditating.” I always want to barrel ahead with my daily activities. But, when I engage in meditation, I feel much better: clear headed, relaxed and refreshed. It is a wonderful way to start the morning.
2) Exercise: Every day, I exercise. The gym is no longer an option, but I can walk the dog, or hop on our elliptical trainer, or lift hand weights. I’m not as active as I’d like to be, but it is better than nothing. And as with meditation, every time after I finish exercising, I think “Oh I feel so much better.”
3) Create: Do you play an instrument? Do you write? Paint? Quilt? Perhaps you used to practice a creative art, years ago, when you had more time. Now your flute case lies dusty and untouched in the corner. Yes, I know you probably suck and you used to be so much better. But pick up that flute anyway. You have time to practice now, and your skills will come back faster than you think. Creativity is one of the best coping tools we have. By making music, or writing, we can take our feelings and transform them into something else: something beautiful or moving or cathartic.
4) Connect: Reach out to your loved ones. In my house, we have dinner together every night, and usually wind up playing a game or watching a movie afterwards. I’m also trying to call my friends and family more. I grant you, our conversations are not riveting. No one is doing anything, so there isn’t much to talk about other than Covid 19 and whether you have toilet paper. Just the same, call your friends. Call your aunt. Call your grandparents.
5) Accomplish: Every day, do something you have put off doing. You know those projects that you never have time for? My house was filled with those, but not anymore! I cleaned off and dusted my catastrophically messy desk. I filed old papers, and shredded financial documents. Then I organized my closet, turning hangers in the opposite direction so I would have a system to know if I ever wear that shirt or if I should give it away. (This system is currently thwarted by the fact that I only wear sweatshirts now, but I’m hoping for the best). Then, I shined my silver earrings. Every day, I do something that I normally wouldn’t have time for.
No one knows how long we will drift in this odd limbo, hiding in our homes, hoping for better news. Jokes abound on the internet, “Today is Wednesday, for anyone who needs to know.” My recent favorite was, “It’s 9:00 PM. Time to take off your day pajamas and put on your night pajamas.” I hope you can make the best of this strange time, caring for yourself and keeping a healthy grounding routine. You can find me meditating and exercising (reluctantly), playing the piano with returning skill and calling my friends. You can also find me in the back of my closet, throwing out metal hangers and replacing them with plastic ones.
I will return with more thoughts on resilience and getting through tough times. We will find our way back to normal, at some point. For now, notice that sunlight streaming through your window. Take care and chin up. China got through this, and so will the U.S.A. Humanity has gotten through all kinds of difficult times, and we will too,
Be healthy, make art, stay connected, and keep busy.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.