Yesterday the weather was beautiful — sunny and warm. My family spent a lot of time outdoors, and I got a lot of cleaning done inside the house. I felt great, and confident that “I’ve got this” social distancing business. Then, today was overcast and chilly, and it seemed harder than ever to get my family to focus on their things so I could concentrate on work. My fuse is shorter than usual, and I am finding it hard not to lose my temper when things go awry. Today, my family got the full treatment, followed by lots of regret by me.
It just goes to show that there are going to continue to be ups and downs with this process. One of the things that is helping me today is the advice of Natan Sharansky, a famous Zionist activist who was imprisoned in the former Soviet Union for 9 years. He posted a humorous video with his tips for enduring a difficult situation that has no known end point.
His advice is similar to a lot of other tips I have seen, but carries the weight of someone who lived in solitary confinement for years. If anyone knows how to stay sane during a time of restricted freedom, it’s him. We have the additional comforts of sleeping in our own beds, and being able to communicate by phone and video with family and friends. As periods of isolation go, we are really very lucky, and that helps to put things into perspective.
I realized when I opened this document to write today’s entry that I had the wrong date on yesterday’s entry. I know many others have observed that they are losing track of what day it is, and apparently I am too. Time certainly feels very different from our usual routines, without the regulation of leaving the house at particular times, and needing to be on time for school, work, and appointments.
We are all disoriented, scared, and, increasingly, we are sad as we learn of hardships others are facing, and as we hear of those who are very ill and dying. This wonderful opinion piece from Psychology Today beautifully describes the emotional weight of living through this time. When I read it last night, I realized that it’s OK to be sad right now. It’s OK to be functioning at a lower level than usual. While it’s generally not good to dwell on negative emotions, sometimes we have to let ourselves feel them before we can move on.
As a fun family activity, over the weekend, we decided to watch the Pixar film “Inside Out,” which imagines the emotions inside a tween girl’s brain as a colorful cast of personalities named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. As the girl goes through an upheaval in her life, Joy, once her dominant emotion, gets sidelined. It turns out that Sadness needs to have a more central role in the girl’s life as she matures. While the movie was lighthearted overall, it carried a deeper message that moved me. Joy and Sadness are intertwined in our lives and our memories. What makes us happy can also make us sad, but sometimes things are just sad. It’s just the way they are, and we can’t cover that up. We can just struggle through it. And sometimes, the sadness we express can give other people the opportunity to connect with us, and create more opportunities for joy.
Even now, there is still joy in the world, and when we have come through this great time of sadness, joy will come back to us. We just have to help each other in the meantime in whatever way we can.
Between managing my work responsibilities, and trying to make sure my kids stay connected to their online classes, I sometimes feel like I barely have a moment to breathe all day. Today, I followed some guidance from the JFCS Counseling Department in how to breathe deeply. This video offers a simple breathing technique that I used yesterday and today and found to be helpful.
I took a moment just now to use the technique, and felt my body relax and my worries begin to subside just a bit. I notice that during times of stress, I tend to worry about not only the big topic that is creating stress, but also lots of much smaller issues that don’t usually stress me out. For example, when my laptop battery was running low this morning, I began to feel really anxious, when all I needed to do was plug it in so I could continue working. I try to be aware of this stress to keep myself from flying off the handle for minor inconveniences.
In the last couple of years, I have tried to challenge my own internal worries. For example, whereas in the past I would have invested a lot of worry into some minor detail that I couldn’t control, in recent years I have tried to let go of this worry, knowing that worrying wouldn’t help, and that anyway, the consequences of things not going according to plan would be very minor. I’ve been proud of myself when I have been able to do this, but I am finding it hard to do this right now. Instead, when I feel my anxiety level escalating, my new goal is to take time to breathe deeply.
It’s almost uncanny how much difference the weather makes in getting through this difficult time. Today it was finally sunny again. At lunch, my kids and I took a walk around the block, which did wonders for helping me feel less stressed out and anxious. When the sun is shining, it feels like a reassurance that life is still going on and following the natural order. It feels like good times are on the way. I happen to enjoy a nice rainy day from time to time, but right now I am appreciating the illuminating power of a sunny day.
Objectively, not much has changed in the world since yesterday, and I can’t avoid the disturbing headlines that keep popping into my e-mail inbox, but it helps to have some historical perspective. Humanity has endured wars, famines, and plagues much more severe than this one. The resilience of human beings, and of our world, is truly remarkable.
There are a few glimmers of hope that help me cope with this pandemic. First, the significant reduction in traffic from cars and airplanes, and probably even from industries, is good for our environment. Several weeks of this, going on not just here but globally, will result in a small, and probably temporary, improvement in air quality. I am hopeful this will in turn help our plants, animals and insects to be a little bit healthier. And, I hope the knowledge that we can live with less dependence on fossil fuels will help us make permanent shifts in our culture to preserve the environment.
On a personal level, it has been nice for our family to be together a bit more and to be less rushed. (It’s also extremely stressful and frustrating at times…) We have this opportunity to learn to tolerate, appreciate, and support each other. We will certainly remember this time for years to come, and hopefully in hindsight will be able to focus more on the happy times together than the pervasive fear around us.