Searching For Solid Ground

The ground we stand on looks solid enough, but if something happens, it can drop right out from under you. Haruki Murakami

I was unprepared for how hard sheltering in place would be. After all, I work for myself. I have a home office. I crave time alone to work, write and think, happy to have only the dog to keep me company. And yet … I find myself struggling mightily during this strange, uncertain time. To stay in the present moment. To choose between productivity or play. To find a routine. To settle. Instead, I spend much of my time wandering around, not giving my full attention to any one thing and getting very little done.

I haven’t been this afraid since Jimmy died. I’m scared that Dan or Molly will get sick, that my family and close friends will get sick, that one or more of them won’t be able to get the medical care they’ll need, that I won’t be able to see them. I’m frightened about the financial impact of the virus, not just on the three of us, but on the other people I love, my clients, my community, our country, the world.

The virus reminded me how quickly you can become isolated. That many people are and have been lonely day in and day out. It’s easy to forget when I’m caught up in the busyness of daily life, and being by myself is a choice. I miss chatting with the barista at my favorite coffee shop, spending Saturday night with Dan at dinner and a movie, eating lunch once a week with Rotarians of all ages and working out with my Kaia FIT sisters. I long for the routines that gave structure to my days and defined my life. After craving free time, I now find I have far too much.

So much of what we counted on, took for granted even, has been stripped from us. The places we go, the people we spend time with, our feelings of safety and security. The isolation and sadness awakens other pain … the people who aren’t here to keep us company, the losses we never fully grieved. I miss my son who should be here quarantining with us. I want to call my dad and hear him say “this, too, shall pass”, wisdom and a perspective that came from surviving both World Wars and the Great Depression. I want to pour my worries and fears out to my mom, the one person who could always find a way to calm me.

Over the past few days, I’ve been experimenting with ways to add some normalcy to my days and ease my anxiety. Here’s what’s helped …

  • Establishing new routines. Scheduling time on my calendar to work and write. Creating a daily list of 3-4 priorities I want to accomplish.
  • Connecting with other people. Even though we can’t be in the same room, we can commiserate, comfort and make each other laugh.
  • Guarding my time. It’s easy to fill all this free time in ways that don’t nourish me.
  • Moving my body.
  • Going outside. Soaking in the sun, smelling the fresh air, pausing to take in the spring flowers and rebirth happening all around me.
  • Watching the news in moderation. I spent the first ten days of the quarantine obsessively checking my phone and leaving the TV on all day long until I realized what a negative impact it was having.
  • Drinking more water. Those dehydration headaches weren’t doing anything for my mood or my productivity.
  • Giving myself the opportunity to sleep. Staying up too late makes everything else seem harder, especially exercise and writing.
  • Tackling home projects I’ve long put off. Cleaning out closets, clearing out files, making piles of seldom worn clothes for the Salvation Army. There’s something satisfying about creating space and checking items off my to do list.
  • Binge watching series. Homeland, Better Call Saul, Ozark … shows that hold my attention and take my mind off what’s happening in the world right now.
  • Letting myself off the hook. Sometimes my mind is too divided or distracted to focus. Rather than sit at my computer feeling frustrated and unhappy, I do something else until my mind clears, and I can return to the task at hand.
  • Staying focused on the present. During these scary, uncertain times, it’s easy to worry about what might happen in six months or a year. We can’t know how the virus will spread or what the full extent of its economic and social impact will be nor can we control much of anything that happens outside of our own home.

Our world has been upended. What was familiar, routine, relied on is now lost, perhaps forever. We need to acknowledge, name and grieve those losses to understand why they were precious to us. Once the shelter-in-place order is lifted, the world we step out into will be profoundly changed in ways we can’t anticipate or imagine. My hope is that when this is over I will pay more attention to the ordinary, I will notice the daily interactions that bring me joy and I will spend more time counting the small blessings that make my life rich and beautiful.

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