It’s taken me 2 weeks to write about this — not because I didn’t want to — but because I didn’t feel ready to.
For Harry Potter fans, coronavirus has felt like Voldemort to my mind. Writing about the virus that I wish didn’t have to be named has taken me lots of mental and emotional processing time. And perhaps you can relate. It went from being insidious to pandemic within weeks.
Suddenly my daughter’s school was canceled “indefinitely.” My heart lept into my throat when I read the school district’s email. I was moving into my new therapy office that day. I brought Clorox wipes with me and cautiously wrapped the wipe around the door handle as I walked into my new space. I saw one client and then got a notice from my supervisor that the county mandated us to start seeing clients via telehealth.
Suddenly the seriousness of the matter hit home — literally.
As I drove home, neon signs along the highway flashed, “Stay home and save lives.”
The thought of at least 2 weeks quarantined at home sounded kind of romantic to my introverted self. Kind of is the key phrase. It also sounded like a funhouse to my self employed, single mom self. School, work and play all in one house — all at the same time?
Worries suddenly started whizzing through my brain.
How will I work and homeschool my 3rd grader? I have no idea how to teach the Common Core!
How am I going to deal with the clutter that is everywhere?
Will I get to do yoga without having my kid or cat climb on me?
Will we start to feel claustrophobic in our one-bedroom apartment?
How will we structure our days?
How will I manage to do confidential therapy sessions with my kid in the house?
My mind felt like a traffic jam. As I pulled in the driveway I struggled to take a deep breath. My chest felt tight. The sky was a pasty gray that gave me a deep sense of dread.
As I walked into the house, I wondered how I would keep my sanity in this indefinite quarantine period.
Almost two weeks later, I have not only kept my sanity, but I have also gained a newfound peace. Here’s how:
I re-organized my entire apartment.
I happen to have a fabulous friend who is a professional organizer. After spending a day stewing on the messiness of my kitchen cupboards and ruminating over the mishmash of clutter from previous tenants stored in the closet in my kitchen, I decided to give my daughter and I a gift: I hired my friend. It was an investment (thanks to my tax refund) that was one of the best gifts I could have given myself and my little family. One room at a time, my organizer friend and I tackled drawers, cupboards, closets and even rearranged my living room and bedroom. The end result: a spacious oasis that my daughter, cat and I could enjoy. And the biggest testament to this investment of time, money and energy was my daughter’s testimonial: “Mom, I LOVE this place now. I never want to move.”
I understand not everyone can afford to hire a professional organizer, especially right now. And guess what, you don’t need to. Here are some tips and tricks for making your space Zen, the Marie Kondo way:
~Get your groove on.
Put on some funky music and get your groove on as you re-arrange things or fill bags with things that don’t bring you joy anymore. Maybe even make a playlist for each room you de-clutter.
~Make it a game.
If you share space with others, include them. Make it fun. Tell jokes and stories. Sing songs together. Make it a contest (just for fun, of course). See who can clean or organize an area the fastest, the neatest, the artsiest, and so on. Just because life is heavy out there, doesn’t mean it has to be heavy in your home. Lighten it up with a little organizing joy.
The pot of gold at the end of your organizing rainbow will be a fabulous new space to hang out in. But why not also cook yourself a special meal. Pick up that ukelele you got for Hanukah last year and finally play it. Have some fun drinks and a Zoom hang out with your best buddies and include a video tour of your new pad. Take a long bubble bath with that new novel that’s been sitting on your nightstand collecting dust.
Our outer environment reflects our inner environment. As we de-clutter our spaces, we also de-clutter our souls. Many emotions release as we let go of things that no longer serve us, so reward yourself with some self-care after it’s all said and done because you’ve made the space for it — and you finally have no excuse to just kick-up your feet and relax.
I go for walks daily (maintaining my 6-foot distance from other humans, of course)
Getting outside when you’re told to “stay home” is vital to your mental health. When my 9-year-old is grumbling about leaving her dolls for a walk with mom, I remind her that her brain and body need the fresh air. Within minutes of walking, she’s smiling and skipping and stopping to check out the buds coming up in the neighbors’ yards.
We are lucky enough to live near a beautiful park with a wooded path. There is nothing more soul-expanding than walking amongst old-growth trees in the quiet of the forest. If you don’t live near a green space or water, just getting outdoors is enough. If you live in a city, focus on the nature around you as you walk. Notice the grass that peeks up between the side-walk cracks. Notice the trees — the sky — the sun — the clouds. Use your senses to explore as you walk. Feel each footfall. Hear each sound.
I’m in the moment, which has lessened my anxiety.
A grandiose statement, I know. In the moment in a pandemic? Why yes, more so than ever, actually! At a time when mortality is laughing like a hyena in our faces, we must be here now.
And being here now does not mean we enjoy every damn feeling or thought or experience that rolls on in. Being in the now means we focus on what’s in front of us, not what’s going to happen or what has happened. In the now, we focus on what is happening.
Let me walk you through my day yesterday to give you an example of in the moment living.
I had my daughter in the morning and we had breakfast and watched our favorite Netflix show, Tiny House Nation. When I watch a show I’m into, my brain kind of shuts off. It’s like a little vacation for my thoughts — I love it! And my daughter? Well, she’s like a meditating monk in front of the TV!
After the show, I washed the dishes, which I find very relaxing. I get all into my senses — enjoying the look and feel of the soap bubbles, the warm water on my skin. I feel a sense of accomplishment when all those grimy dishes are scrubbed clean.
Then my daughter wanted to play Connect Four before her dad came to pick her up. We spent 40 minutes playing various versions of Connect Four (ever tried Connect 5? No? Well how about Connect 6? — My kiddo would beat Einstein at this version! How about Connect 3? Connect 2? — it’s a very short game). When we played, I was completely immersed in the experience and felt so much child-like joy.
Then it was time to grocery shop. Cue the horror music. Cue the crocodile tears. You could say I started to get anxious. As I packed my home-made bleach spray and rubber gloves into my re-usable shopping bags my heart started to play drums on my chest.
I put some fun music on in the car and noticed my breathing relaxed a bit, but as I pulled into the grocery parking lot, my anxiety spiked. I immediately took a deep breath. “I can do this!” said my inner coach voice. I kept deep-breathing as I walked into the parking lot cart depot and chose a cart, spraying the handle with the disinfectant.
On my walk up to the store, I started looking at people’s hands. Who was wearing gloves? Who wasn’t? “Is this was my inner world has come to — judging people for not wearing rubber gloves?” I thought as I sheepishly walked into the produce section. Feeling a jolt of anxiety as I walked by the potatoes, my eyes settled on a plant in the floral department. “Breathe, Sarah.” There was something soothing about the plant’s green leaves that reminded me of yesterday’s nature walk. I breathed. I kept breathing as I validated my anxiety. “Of course I’m anxious. I’m sure so many people in this store are anxious right now.” I tried to entertain as many hopeful thoughts as I could. When I passed by gloveless, maskless shoppers I wondered if they thought I was as ridiculous as they were. “Better to be overprepared than foolish, right” I kept saying when gloveless shoppers stared wide-eyed at my gloved hands.
A cartful of flash-frozen vegetables later and I was home, leaning against the counter for a moment of reprieve. Within seconds my despondency turned to celebration. “I did it! I won’t have to go back into that mess for quite some time.” With a deep breath, I dove into the first of five bags of groceries and started to wipe them down with disinfectant before I put them away. Once the groceries were tucked in their new homes, I rewarded myself with a healthy meal and some Netflix.
My day was a continuum of emotions. It was honestly no different than any other day. Most of our days are filled with as many moments of stress as they are filled with moments of joy and contentment.
Being in the moment isn’t about loving every breath you take. Being in the moment is about being honest and authentic about your present experience. Sometimes your moments rock, like my moments of playing Connect Whatever the Number with my daughter yesterday. And sometimes your moments absolutely suck, like most of my apocalyptic grocery shopping trip. But moments don’t last forever.
Moments are fleeting, just like life.
I encourage you, dear reader, to be in the now with every ounce of you that you have during this trying time.
Get your groove on.
Try a new hobby.
Go for long walks.
Start a new project.
Breathe (with or without a mask on).
Be here. Now. In whatever way you can.
If you do, you will keep your sanity, just like I have.
As a therapist, I want to note that mental health struggles are no joke.
If you are struggling emotionally and need support, there are resources for you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released a document that answers questions and offers resources pertaining to coronavirus. NAMI also has a blog post that offers coronavirus coping strategies.
Previously Published on Medium
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