Two weeks ago, on March 16, I began self-isolation. I was not sick; I had no symptoms of this horrible virus. My first lesson about COVD19 was via the red circles on an interactive world map that got bigger and more widespread. I heard a news interview from BBC clarifying epidemic and pandemic. More lessons: Photos of people lying in hospital beds. First responders looking like something I had only seen in NASA photos or science fiction films. It scared the hell out of me.
Safety phrases entered my daily newsfeed and conversation. “Use caution” became “an abundance of caution,” then “extreme caution,” “isolation,” “shelter at home,” “self-quarantine,” “quarantine,” “lock down.” I looked at risk factors like medications and past illnesses. I came to the reluctant conclusion: I’m in that risk factor of older people. And so self-isolation.
Being me, I read voraciously–online, my nutrition books, emergency safety tips, how to prepare for COVID19 when it seeped into the US. About three days into being home, my husband said, “We can’t always be talking about this, or reading about this, or thinking of this virus. We need to live too.”
And so began our search for the new normal.
Change is Difficult
Especially change I didn’t ask for. Today, even in our state-ordered stay-at-home, I feel fortunate. I am healthy; I have a solid and safe roof over my head. I live in a lovely neighborhood where I can easily walk out to the foothills and at most see three or four other people. I’m sticking to routines I had before COVID19. Like my morning routine of meditation, stretching, and yoga. My husband and I still do a daily spiritual reading and talk. We eat three meals a day, sitting together. We get outside, hike, or bike, sit in the sun (the newly appreciated antiseptic).
Learning a New Habit
In this new normal, I have committed to keep to my daily routines as strictly as possible. Because I know, like New Year’s resolutions or a new food plan or other promises to self, boundary lines can get wavy. It’s tempting to not do the exercise or eat whatever is handy from the cabinet. Especially when negative stress is present.
When I taught kindergarten and first graders about writing, the steps to print letters were pretty strict. We started them writing top to bottom. Left to write. “Make it a habit-do it this way. A habit is something you do a lot–so much that after a while you don’t have to think about it. It becomes a habit by practicing. Like brushing your teeth, or tying your shoe. In the beginning you have to remind yourself how to do it or have someone else remind you to do this new thing. You can say what you’re doing. ‘Top to bottom. Left to right.’”
Whew, I was tough in the beginning. Because I knew after a while individual personalities would slant the letters, some forwards, some backwards, that little dot over an “i” would become a circle or, more precious, a heart. And that’s okay as long as the foundation of the routine was still there.
Our New Normal
We adhere to the AZ stay-at-home order. We don’t hug people (a hard habit to break but… consider the consequences). We wear gloves outside and enter the house through the garage, disposing of junk mail right away in a container that gets closed and wiping down other mail before opening. We wash everything (soap and hot water) that comes from the store. We have outside shoes and inside shoes. I do not go to someone else’s house and no one comes into ours. Today I will work on crafting a mask to wear when I do have to go out for food. I dance at home instead of going shopping. I look through still-pristine pages of cookbooks to find new ways to prepare sea bass or what to do with carrots instead of “Let’s go out to eat.”
I will do this. Because I have read or seen on TV that these new habits to stay safe – have an added incentive for compliance – to stay healthy… and alive. And that could scare the hell out of me.
Suggestions to Balance Anxiety with Hope and Humor
Surrounding these new routines, I added the practice of gratitude, Facebook posts that are humorous. Check out Bored Panda, Electric Lit, Lit Hub, Brain Pickings, photos that poke fun at ourselves, words that inspire, music, parodies, free shows online from London National Theater, virtual meetings with writing groups and family, and neighbors who give a thumbs up as they walk by my window and see all the pink and purple hearts I’ve taped up with “We love our neighbors.” (Thank you, MM for this idea).
It’s a good thing to be negative today. (COVID19 test)
“No hugs” gets a reward.
“Keep in touch” has a certain irony.
Love is still the answer.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it.