What a whirlwind the last couple of weeks have been! Raise your hand if you’re officially tired of being locked in your house? (ME!)
You are not alone. The world is facing a pandemic and I want a margarita.
The other night, as I sat pouting about my lack of chips and salsa, I started thinking about my own experience with being in isolation. Way back in 1998, I spent several months on lock down, and it was truly terrible. Thank god that times have changed! I started making a list of what I did then to get through those days and it put things into perspective. I want to share some of the ways I survived quarantine back then and how we can survive it today.
The Back Story
In 1998, during my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Due to a weakened immune system, I found myself alone for the better part of 1998-1999 school year. The type of chemotherapy I received attacked my white blood cells so they died off one by one like characters on Grey’s Anatomy – only it was Alyssa’s Anatomy and it wasn’t nearly as interesting. I was lucky to be able to quarantine at home with my parents and brother for company, but it still had challenges.
The Current Story
Today, I am healthy and happy! Again, I am able to quarantine at home with my husband, our three kids, and two hound dogs. In fact, before I dive into my survival list, I want to acknowledge my great privilege. First, we are all healthy. Not one person in our household is on daily prescription medication. Should one of us get sick, we have fantastic medical care and insurance. For this I am truly grateful. Second, we are together. My husband, an active duty soldier, happens to be home right now. Many of my fellow military spouses are facing this pandemic with their spouses deployed! We are taking some extra precautions so he can deploy without notice, but for now he is here. Third, it hasn’t been without sacrifice, but we are financially stable, nearly debt-free, and have opportunities. Finally, our home is safe and filled with love. We have a great marriage and our kids are fun to be around.
I know all of this and I am very thankful.
No matter your situation, being in quarantine sucks! Here are some ways that you can help it suck a little less.
Eleven Ways to have a Happy Quarantine:
1. Stay positive
Most of us are not in life-threatening situations. This experience has scourged up unhappy memories for me, so I have to remind myself to stay positive. I’m not fighting cancer - I’m just staying home. One way to stay positive is to make a list of gratitude. What are you thankful for? Flip it to funny by making a list of ways it could be worse. We could have a snake infestation. In our pantry. We could only have cold water – or no water at all like during Hurricane Matthew. My husband and I have been through several long-term and innumerable short-term times apart. Over the course of our fifteen year marriage, we have only been in the same location for about nine years. I usually handle the separations well – this is our life and I believe in what he does. But I’m human. I like to say you get used to military life like you get used to a toothache – NEVER! The pain doesn’t go away, you just learn to chew around it. Sometimes life chomps down on a nerve. On the worst days, I curl up with a cup of coffee and a cozy blanket and watch the movie Cold Mountain. No matter my current situation, I’ll never be Ada Monroe covered in dirt, fighting off the enemy, and bartering her precious piano for some cabbage. Praise the Lord. This isn’t how everyone copes, but it helps me tremendously. This current situation might be frustrating, inconvenient, financially hard, or maybe even scary. But try to find the silver lining. We haven’t traded the piano for cabbage …. yet.
2. Have a schedule
Maintaining a good routine is important for feeling like the days aren’t running into one another. Make a schedule for your days and weeks (Think, on Wednesdays we wear pink!) Start with regular wake up and bedtimes. Get ready for the day – even if it means trading nighttime pajamas for daytime pajamas. My mom made this rule when I had cancer and I think it helped! Our family does breakfast and lunch on our own, but dinner is together. With no soccer, no homework, and no youth group to interrupt, we have time to meet in the dining room for dinner every night. It’s great! Schedule time to work, play, and rest. It can be tempting to sit and stare at a screen, but you’ll end up feeling like a lumpy bowl of pudding. Go to bed, wake up, shower, put on pants with a zipper. It will worth it.
3. Create a new normal
No one knows how long this will go on, so try to adjust. Something I learned as a military spouse was to never count the days. During our first deployment as a couple, I counted each and every day. “It’s been 118 days since I saw him and 27 days since I heard his voice.” Insert eye-roll. No wonder I was an emotional wreck! My life got a lot easier when I stopped counting and started living. I hope life will be back to normal by summer, but that might not be the case. How will you feel if we get to May 1 and the country is still shut down? Pretty terrible, right? I remember telling my boys towards the end of a 15 month deployment that daddy would be home before it snowed. Bad idea. We had the earliest snowfall in history and his deployment got extended. Now, whenever he’s gone, I try to set our life up so we would be disappointed if he came back early. (I know that’s impossible, but its better than the alternative) If you need help, the internet is full of ideas of how to learn, earn, and enjoy life from home!
4. Eat well
This was one of the hardest things for me when I had cancer, because everything tasted disgusting. I’m not dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy so… I. WANT. ALL. THE. FOOD. Maybe you are one of those superhuman people who can survive on powdered sugar and potato chips. I’m not – sad day. Eating at the same time every day helps our family maintain a sense of normalcy. Eating healthy food helps our moods and immune systems. Load up on nutrients! … But cut yourself some slack. I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to try a new recipe without making a thousand extra trips to the grocery store. This isn’t the time to try a new diet or complicated meals. You’re under enough stress. Enjoy cooking! Enjoy colors! Treat yourself a little bit! It will be okay.
5. Get regular sleep
Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge sleep advocate. As a dream interpreter, sleep regularly comes up in my conversations. I’ve been researching sleep for over ten years and dreams since 2012. My own struggle with sleep started when I was in quarantine. Cancer and chemotherapy made me extremely tired. Before I was diagnosed, one of my biggest symptoms was fatigue. I would sleep all day and toss and turn all night. Trauma induced nightmares added to my struggle. (Speaking of… have you been having coronavirus dreams? I have! But we will save that for another article.) Set yourself up for better days by creating a regular nighttime routine. Know your personal sleep requirements - we are all different – and get that amount of sleep. Head to bed at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time every morning. When you can wake up without setting an alarm clock, you’ll know you’ve created a good sleep routine.
6. Break a sweat
I didn’t get to do this when I had cancer. I don’t remember being told not to exercise but it doesn’t seem like it was an option. We might have had a jazzercise a VHS tape shoved in a drawer somewhere, but at-home workouts weren’t all the rage in 1998.… maybe? In any case, between spinal taps and chemo side effects, exercise was the last thing on my mind. But it is now and I’m so thankful I’m healthy enough to exercise! If you’re able to break a sweat, do it! This will accomplish a few things: it will add structure to your day (see #1), it will help build your immune system, it will help relieve stress, it will help you sleep better at night, and it will force you to take a shower! Many developers – such as Peloton and Beach Body - are offering online exercise classes for free. Its fun! Get the whole family moving by playing soccer in the yard, going for a family bike ride or walk, chasing the dog around the neighborhood (like me). Exercise will ease stress and frustration for everyone.
7. Create goals
Feeling like you’ve accomplished something during this season will help everyone involved. These goals can be as simple as writing letters to friends and family, finishing reading a book, learning a new song on your instrument. Or it could be a little more in depth like studying a new language, learning a skill on YouTube, or finishing household projects. I’m refurbishing all of our patio furniture, clearing out our abandoned garden, and meeting writing goals on my novel. You can set some bigger goals as a family. Like painting a drab room, rearranging your furniture, or organizing some closets. We live in a forest and our yard is currently under three inches of pine needles. We have a family goal to rake up all the needles and will reward ourselves with a marshmallow roast. It will feel so good!
8. Focus on care
First a parable - There is a story of missionaries who went to a foreign country to serve. They were ambitious and excited, so they hired local guides to help them get to the remote area and set a rigorous schedule to get there as quickly as possible. The group pushed all day, only stopping for the night. The next morning the missionaries woke up early and rushed to get ready so they could continue the journey. But the guides? They refused to proceed.“Come on! Let’s go!” the missionaries cried. But the leader of the locals refused and said, “No. We must give our souls time to catch up with our bodies.”
Sometimes we just need to slow down.
But we also need to be aware of the possibility of emotional fallout when our souls catch up with our bodies. I think in this culture of hustle hustle hustle, some of us fear what lurks in the corners if we sit alone with ourselves for long. Or sit alone with our spouse. Or a difficult child. Or our financial situation. Or any number of things. I have had several seasons of my life where circumstances out of my control have forced me into a place of solitude and reflection. It has never been easy, but it’s always been worth it! Grace, grace, grace for you my friends! Be kind to yourself and those around you - spiritually, physically and emotionally. Now is not the time to deal with hot topics or long-term issues in your marriage or family. My husband and I have been through a lot during our marriage. During times of struggle we set clear boundaries around difficult issues and respect those boundaries. You are not running away by setting boundaries, you’re just acknowledging the situation so you can get through this season. That’s okay. Do something that might feel self-indulgent or unnecessary and pretend its required – Tea time? REQUIRED. Sunshine hour? REQUIRED. A walk in the woods? REQUIRED. An at-home facial? REQUIRED. This could include less self-indulgent things: catch up on some filing, complete those work projects you’ve been meaning to do, reassess your financial plans, finish those gross long-avoided chores. Care for yourself and those in your home. My cousin and I were talking on the other day and she said they are doing good because they’re taking turns being worried – lean on each other.
9. Stay in touch
Human connection is important to feeling normal – yes, even for the introverts! Thanks to technology, we have many more opportunities to connect than we did twenty years ago. One good thing about this situation? There’s no #FOMO (fear of missing out). As a teenager in quarantine, the single most difficult thing for me was watching the world move on without me. I remember a few times my friends came to our house to wave at me and honk from the street before they went to whatever event they were headed to. I know it was well-intended… but it SUCKED. I am a social person and want to go to everything. That’s not the case now. We are all in the same boat! Yea….us….. But really, we are all in this together a little bit, so get talking! One-on-one conversations are good for the soul. Read that again. ONE-ON-ONE CONVERSATIONS … Not scrolling past the political rants of your uncle’s fourth grade teacher on Facebook. I saw a study the other day that said the average American scrolls the length of the Statue of Liberty in one sitting. Gross. Technology is our friend, but use it for genuine connection. I’m probably aging myself, but I love Zoom, Marco Polo, Face Time, and plain old texting! Now is the time to reach out to check on each other. This is critical for kids and adults alike. Our house has pretty strict social media and phone guidelines, but we are loosening up right now because we want our kids to stay connected. How about doing something for someone else? Make something for a friend or family member and send it to them. Go on a drive-by of your friend or families houses and shout encouragement from a safe distance. Schedule video “dates” with friends you gather with on a regular basis. I facilitate a small bible study and I’m currently looking into ways to host it on Zoom. Connecting with people outside of your home gives you the chance to get space from the people in your home. No relationship thrives when you’re suddenly forced to have 24/7 contact with each other. So find a corner and connect with someone else!
10. Get outside
I can not emphasize this enough. When I was going through chemotherapy one of the things I tried to do everyday was sit outside in the grass. I would take a blanket out and lay in the grass and read. Nothing crazy, but it seemed to help me feel better. Just spending twenty minutes outside can help fight depression and anxiety, strengthens immunity, improves cognitive skills, and lowers blood pressure! I’ve lived in the frozen tundra of New York and blazing heat of the Sierra desert – and no matter the weather twenty minutes outside makes a huge impact to my overall health.
11. Learn from the experience.
I believe there are lessons to be learned from every situation. Lets do what we can to learn from this experience. Many of my friend are using social media to journal their situations. I tend to keep my own social media for hilarious memes and encouraging sentiments, but journaling daily has helped. Every day I try to ask God two questions – 1. What are you trying to show me today? And 2. How can I translate that into hope and healing for the world around me? Nothing has changed by being in quarantine. Honestly, thinking back as I write this, I may have first started asking those questions when I was in isolation twenty years ago. There are lessons to be learned through all of this – even if the lesson is no family needs 200 rolls of toilet paper.
Happy Quarantine, Everyone!