For weeks (I guess coming upon months…weird), I have been wanting to sit and write, but the task has felt daunting. What do I write about during a global pandemic? How do I narrow down what I am feeling into one post? What can I say that could possibly be helpful or interesting while we all (and I mean ALL…LIKE EVERYONE ON THE PLANET) learn to navigate this unchartered territory? I literally walked in circles for miles (to be addressed later) thinking about potential blog topics, all of which seemed silly and insignificant. You know what JUST occurred to me – at 4am, which is rather annoying because why can’t inspiration strike at a reasonable hour of the day??? – that made me come downstairs and actually start writing? I don’t have to write something helpful…as a matter of fact, I CANNOT write what will be helpful to you during this quarantine because no one has ever done it before in our lifetime and I have no clue what will be helpful to you. I am still trying to figure out what is helpful to me, and THAT is something I CAN write about. Will there be nuggets of wisdom that jump out and resonate with you? I certainly hope so! Are you going to read this and think I am going about it all wrong? You might!
Disclaimer: I understand that I am able to write this blog from a position of privilege. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated that given the circumstances, I am wildly lucky in many ways. That said, I can only write from my own experience and do not intend in any way, shape, or form, to diminish anyone else’s experience or to assume that all people are at a level playing field during this time. I will address that later in the blog and felt like it needed to be said now.
I think the best way for me to break this down is to do exactly that: to break it down. I am going to address various categories (for lack of a better word) that I focus on during quarantine: Mental Health; Making Art; Marriage; Parenting; E-Learning (that deserves its own post), Friendships; and other possible topics that will likely come to me at 4am…
Go big or go home, right? Start with a doozy: Mental health during a global pandemic.
A few things to know about me going into this quarantine:
- I suffer from anxiety
- I am a wildly extroverted extrovert (I love being with people; I get my energy from people; I would probably have lunch with a serial killer if it meant not being alone)
- I am a hugger (a, “Nice to meet you…let’s not shake hands, let’s hug” type hugger. If this goes on much longer, I may go on a hugging tour wrapped in saran wrap)
- I am an actor, so my soul is filled in a job that brings people together in large crowds (or small crowds, but crowds nonetheless)
- DID I MENTION HOW MUCH I LIKE PEOPLE?
Needless to say, adjusting to shelter-in-place has been quite a challenge for me. I am not alone in my home (I have a husband, three children, an au-pair, and a dog), but the social and physical isolation from people outside of my home really began to take a toll rather quickly. Within a very short amount of time, my play was closed after two of nine performances, my kids were suddenly home all day, my dad was diagnosed with Coronavirus (he would eventually be on a ventilator for over 30 days – still navigating this journey as it is still going on), and my husband was home way more frequently than ever before in our marriage. Oh, and the WHOLE WORLD SEEMED TO BE FALLING APART AT THE SEAMS.
The first time I wore a mask to the grocery store I had a panic attack in the produce department and started to do something that my psychiatrist called “future tripping.” I saw my children in my mind as adults telling their children about a time when they were young that people didn’t wear masks and we were allowed within six feet of each other, even allowed to touch each other. I highly recommend NOT going down that rabbit hole because it does not lead anywhere good. For now, in addition to taking my anti-anxiety meds, I actively avoid coversations trying to predict what is to come.
I started to walk. It started with an early morning walk with my dog, Leo, and a cup of coffee in hand. Then a mid-morning walk, a lunchtime walk, an afternoon walk, and an evening walk. I didn’t go anywhere in particular. As a matter of fact, I walked the same 1.13 mile loop around my neighborhood. On a “normal” day, I was walking about 6-8 miles. On days when my dad was not doing well, I was walking about 10-12 miles. At some point, I broke the dog and even he didn’t want to walk with me anymore. I still walk everyday, but my need for hours and hours a day of Forrest Gump type walking has subsided (much connected with my mental health needs, I believe).
Okay, crazy lady, why all the walking? I noticed during my walk in the morning that I could really slow my brain down. My brain moves always. ALWAYS. Whether it is the anxiety or my ADHD, my mind is constantly spinning. I have never been particularly good at meditation because sitting still for a long time is a challenge, but I noticed that with my body in motion, my MIND COULD BE STILL! WHAT?!? (next blog post: Meditation in Motion for people with ADHD…just kidding…or maybe not…we’ll see). It started with focusing on something small like a sound around me (a bird or the wind) or my breath. I noticed almost immediately how grounded and present I felt when I started to focus on one small thing in the moment. It was a comforting feeling, so I just kept walking.
If you have ever read previous blog posts (which I hope you have or will do after reading this), I often talk about how I “trust the path” or that I believe in blessings coming from tragedy. I believe in the power gratitude and putting good energy into the world. It occurred to me on one of my walks early on that if I truly, to my core, believe these things, I cannot only believe them when life is grand – I cannot only believe them when things seem to be going my way. I told myself (outloud, because I am totally someone who speaks outloud to myself) to practice what I preach. My entire belief system in how I view the world was being challenged and I could accept the challenge or admit defeat.
Guess which I picked?
My walks have become the time when I can focus on gratitude and blessings. Here’s the thing: blessings, happy moments, contentment…they don’t need to be big and mind-blowing. They can be tiny. Also, finding happiness during tragedy does not justify the tragedy nor does it take away the pain or hardship. It does, for me, provide moments of comfort and knowing that there are and will continue to be pleasure moving forward.
I am grateful for a body that allows me to walk in circles for miles a day. I am grateful for our home and financial security. I am grateful my dad is at a hospital that has a vent available for him. I am grateful for healthcare workers. I am grateful for my husband. I am grateful for teachers. I am grateful for the squirrel that runs across my path, blissfully unaware that the world has changed so drastically. I am grateful for my dog who now lays in the shower to keep me company always (for real…he lays on the bench IN the shower while I shower). I am grateful I travelled to Europe for the first time in twenty years only two weeks before shelter-in-place began. I am grateful for the technology that allows me to be in touch with the people I love. The list goes on.
Finding gratitude comes fairly easy to me. Finding blessing in tragedy can be more challenging. I almost felt guilty when I started to think of what good could come from this horrific pandemic, especially while my dad was (and continues to be) in the hospital. You know what? He will be super fucking pissed if he finds out I spent the last month wallowing. So, here goes: small blessings. I don’t have to get my kids out in the morning in a chaotic, yelling rush. I have an on-going text chain with my mom, stepmom, brother, and sister (and dad when he can check his phone again). The earth has the opportunity to take a deep breath. I missed a lot of time with my kids when I was in rehearsals the first eight weeks of the year and now, well, now I am seriously making up for that time. I have reconnected with friends from all parts of my life, past and present. I have become an excellent grocery list maker (trust me…it is a blessing). Based on aforementioned, we have stopped wasting food. I now know neighbors I have never met before because I see them when I walk. Slowing down gives me an opportunity to prioritize.
On Easter Sunday I was walking and brainstorming potential blog posts. I pulled out my phone and texted my dad (I have texted him every day since he went to the hospital, even though he can’t read them. I find it cathartic and he will have a long diary of texts to read when he recovers). The text said: DAD, IF YOU WAKE UP TODAY, I CAN WRITE A BLOG CALLED “HE IS RISEN” AND THAT WOULD BE HILARIOUS BECAUSE IT IS EASTER! First of all, I am Jewish, so I do not celebrate Easter. Second, I was pretty sure that was the funniest thought I had EVER had and I laughed for a good fifteen minutes about it. And you know what? It felt good. Laughing feels so so good. Finding the funny and making jokes has been another way of keeping my mental health in check. I like to share funny things my kids say or post one-liners about quarantine life. It makes me feel good to laugh and it makes my heart feel good when others tell me how much they enjoy reading my posts because they make them laugh. If I can provide a little laughter during such a bizarre and uncertain time, I feel like I am contributing in a positive way.
The last thing I will say about mental health is that I have given myself the freedom to take away judgment – from myself and from others. We are all taking care of ourselves the best we can. I have never craved alone time and during quarantine I have needed to retreat on the days I have felt the most anxious or scared. I started to question if I really knew myself since this was such an unknown emotional response. I guess it was always in there and whether quarantine is what brought it to the surface or the unprecedented depth of fear related to my dad, it doesn’t actually matter. I am honoring the need and giving myself the space to heal and move forward in a safe and healthy way. Some days that means walking and meditating; some days it means being creative; some days it means belting my face off when I wash the dishes; some days it means curling up in a ball.
Oh, and for those wondering, I am also drinking copious amounts of rosé.
Please check back for 4am Quarantine Thoughts. Post #2: Making Art.