Social Distancing Day 62

The weather here has been crazy the last few days. We had a few days of sunny, almost-warm weather followed by a big rainstorm with high winds. Meanwhile, number of new COVID-19 are on a gradual but continued decline here in Massachusetts, and there are murmurings of a gradual re-opening. Of course, the rest of the United States is not doing nearly as well.

After spending a few days of letting myself grieve over the state of things, and the great expectations that won’t come to pass, I’m starting to focus on the small things. I’ve been focusing on making breakfast, experimenting with eggs, bacon, sausage, bread and butter, and doing my best to stay calm and mindful through it all. My local Zen group had their online meditation session together yesterday. It’s been good to have a point of stability in a time where each day is somehow largely the same, but differently chaotic.

Talking about grief, I’ve been reading Nick Cave’s blog The Red Hand Files, where he talked about a different sort of grief. One paragraph seems to summarize so much of our current situation:

In the end, grief is an entirety. It is doing the dishes, watching Netflix, reading a book, Zooming friends, sitting alone or, indeed, shifting furniture around. Grief is all things reimagined through the ever emerging wounds of the world. It revealed to us that we had no control over events, and as we confronted our powerlessness, we came to see this powerlessness as a kind of spiritual freedom.

While powerlessness (and it’s distant cousin, learned helplessness) are things I wish only on my worst enemies, there is a certain freedom and peace in narrowing your focus to just the things that are immediately within your grasp. While it’s hard to stay focused on making breakfast, doing my work, eating dinner with the roommates, and keeping a proper bedtime, the days I successfully do it, I feel better and stronger. While it’s ok to give productivity a pass, activity seems to be good for the soul.

As I’m sure I’ve said before on here, there isn’t much that most of us can do in this time. But most of us can stay at home and away from other people. And all of us can wear masks, wash our hands, keep proper distance, stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 55

It’s been about three weeks since the last post, almost two months since we started this collective experiment in self-preservation. I stopped writing in part because it seemed like all I could do was say the same things over and over, and in part because the situation has been doing a number on my mental health, as I suspect it has been doing on many of yours. In the beginning of all this, I kept telling myself that I was in a better situation than most. That’s still more or less true. I’m younger and healthier than most. My employment and income seems secure for the foreseeable future. The state I live in, Massachusetts, has been doing a fairly good job at containing the outbreak, and ramping up testing. And the weather is slowly but surely getting better.

At the same time, I can’t pretend that large parts of the situation don’t suck. I had plans for this year: I wanted to be more social, meet new people, exercise more, go to a friend’s wedding in Singapore. Most of that is not happening, at least not anytime soon. I really miss not being able to go out to restaurants, I miss not being able to work from coffee shops, I miss not being able to just pop into a library or bookshop when I’m feeling down, I miss going to the gym. Hell, I even miss being able to take the subway to work. And many of these things are probably not coming back anytime soon. As much as it’s good to look on the bright side and be grateful for whatever good there is in this situation, it’s also healthy to admit that there is a deep and continued sense of loss that we mostly can’t do anything about.

Ok, collective deep breath.

While this crisis is not doing my mental health any favors, it is making me take it more seriously. As an academic, my mind is my means of production, as it were. I also need to use my mind to take care of my mind, which puts quite the spin on “self-care”. But having to do that has also been a learning experience, making me pay attention to what I need, what is good for me, and what is not. And it’s helping me un-learn heaps of learned helplessness, which I suspect will be good in the long term. I’m regularly thankful for a good therapist and a strong local Zen community to help navigate all of the above.

The last week or so has been an exercise in picking myself up off the floor, metaphorically speaking. I suspect that maintaining some semblance of sanity over the next few weeks (months?) will require both looking at the bright side, but also acknowledging the bad, even if part of that is trying to make peace with not being able to actually do very much about it.

All that being said, there are things that I am enjoying and looking forward to. The days are getting longer, and the weather is getting better (seems like we’re now allowed 2 days of sunny weather in a row now). I’m looking forward to spending more time on the balcony. My roommates have turned much of the balcony into a garden, and we’re looking forward to a steady supply of fresh flowers, herbs and leafy greens, as well as some amount of tomatoes and peppers in the near future. And I’m enjoying all the Nature is Healing memes.