Quarantine. I never really gave that word much thought. I never needed to. Have you? Now that word takes up a huge space in our vocabulary, our time, our energy, and our brain. The first two weeks were like winter break the very first year that I taught. I did nothing. Almost literally. The first two days, I read in bed and ate. That’s it. Then I ventured to the couch for a day or two, then I ventured outside. But outside of obligatory holiday gatherings, I didn’t socialize or reach out with plans. I was just too exhausted, spent, and overwhelmed. Not by choice but because of the taxing nature of my new job. I ordinarily like to have plans to hike, to see music, to catch up with friends over drinks or dinner. I usually carpe diem and make the most of time off. This time I didn’t. And this surprised me, annoyed me, and nourished me.
But I did vow to never that let happen again. Never say never, is what I should have said.
I felt that same kind of debilitation when quarantine began. BTW, side note, I never spell that damn word correctly when I type it. Do you? I hope that the quarantine ends before I learn how to spell it correctly on the first try. Anyway, once the restaurants, bars, and gyms shutdown, so did I. I am a teacher, and we didn’t haven to work the first two weeks. I did make daily attempts to connect with students, but compared to my usual schedule, I was in shutdown mode, an unwanted vacation. Not a vacation that resembled anything that I would choose. The climate of our new world–one of quarantine–exhausted me, made me feel spent, and overwhelmed me. See, never say never. So, at least part of everyday, I took to the bed again. Well, actually, a corner on the floor in my bedroom, which has now become my amazing work space. Check it:
Things changed so quickly during this time. And you know how I struggle with change. Curves and dips and climbs, just like a roller-coaster. A floor littered with scattered pillows, unfolded blankets, and earmarked books transforms into an organized, peaceful place of production. Or was it always productive but now it just looks different? But I am getting ahead of myself.
I awoke each morning, panicked that I overslept for work, and then reality hit. This is a new world. I don’t have work today. So I would take Charlie (my dog) out for a walk feeling grateful to still be allowed to go outside. Then I would think, “Grateful to go outside? WTF is this? 1984? Handmaid’s Tale? Is this how it was done to Winston and Offred? They can’t do this to us. Calm down Dorothy, you are just being asked to be a part of the solution. Flatten the Curve. Be a team player.” The emotions were up and down, turning on a dime and in a moment. And that was all before 8 am. Now a morning walk to take out my dog becomes an event with this much power? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can it be both?
The rest of the day, I read. I exercised. I walked and listened to podcasts. I cleaned and purged. I napped. I cooked. I ate and ate and ate. Meal time held a lot of power too. I drank and drank and drank. Cocktail hour held too much power, for sure. I played games around my kitchen table every night with my children, who were supposed to be away at college. The gift of time. I felt lucky to gain this unexpected time with them:
I was grateful, I was stuffed, I was hungover, I was scared, I was hopeful, I was motivated, I was devastated, I was surrounded by my children, I was lonely. All at once. Did I miss anything? I am sure that I did. It was confusing, but it was also helpful in learning some important things about myself. A roller-coaster.
I couldn’t make the plans that I usually like to make–to catch up with friends, to see some live music, to hike the hills…everything was closed. And this scared me. That everything was closed, yes, but also that I had so much empty time in front of me, with no end in sight. Scary! Frightening! Is time really a gift? Did you just feel the waves of the roller coaster ride?
But then, something settled over me after the first two weeks. First of all, the kids and I were all back to work (or some crazy variation of it) and busier than ever. I was challenged with learning how to Zoom and Screencast and write directions for assignments in a new, online kind of way. We all learned new ways to work or to not adapt to not working. I was surprised at how much and how quickly I learned and adapted. Hopefully we all did. Second of all, I realized that my anxiety is linked to FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. I have fear of missing out! I always thought that this was a teenage thing. Nope. This almost 52 year old has it too. Maybe I don’t want to feel young again after all…
Now that the world was shutdown and there was nowhere to go and quarantine mandated that there was to be nobody to be within six feet of, I found peace without having plans. I have always approached a wide open weekend or week long break or two month long summer vacation with an unhealthy amount of trepidation because, I thought, I wanted to live life to the fullest and I was afraid that I wouldn’t make the most of my time and do the most and be the most. Pressure to make the most of the gift of time. A gift with strings attached. Well, I was slightly off with that assumption. More accurately, I feared that other people were doing the most without me. Once I knew that nobody could do much, I felt at peace with not doing much outside of my new and limited and slow paced world. I allowed myself to laugh at the quarantining memes. I got lost in comics posting snippets of their stand-up on Facebook. I fully emerged myself in group texts, facetiming, and Houseparty to play trivia, to discuss books, to debate controversies, to be graced with humor, and to be dignified with connection. I found peace in just being.
But like any roller-coaster, the infliction of anxiety, FOMO, stole that inner peace after not too long. Here we are, one month after my last blog, where in the end, I promised to talk about my new found peace, I am here to tell you that it didn’t last long.
I needed people so I took walks with agreements of six feet of social distancing. So it came back: “Ahhh,” “Ommm.” Then it disappeared again, “Dammit.” I began to suspect that, as restrictions lifted in some places, people were loosening up their quarantining rules. And you know what that means. I was missing out on fun. And just like that, there I was again, on that slow climb up. I was on a roller coaster with a tedious, treacherous hill to climb and an irritating clackety clack disturbing my peace… my body felt the confining pressure of the seat belt and my mind felt a paralyzing fear as the car climbed. But I also knew that once I got to the top, the view would be amazing and the ride down wild and exhilarating. The reward of the intense climb would be the easy coasting down the track, while screams of excitement and reckless abandonment resonated all around.
Roller Coasters are awesome and fun, but then we get to leave the park. I felt like I can barely leave my house and my neighborhood. I am currently stuck on the roller coaster. I need more balance than these literal peaks and valleys offer. Awareness is half way to recovery, right. I am on the road. Oh, I hope.
Perhaps during this pandemic, I can focus and learn how to maintain peace even when the whole world is in turmoil. That, my friends, is my new life goal. What is yours? God knows I need a new goal since I won’t be dating any time soon. How in the world is that even going to look moving forward??? Have fun. Be safe mon. Can these two things co-exist anymore?
So while I thought that I would be giving you tips on how to find peace, now, instead I am asking you for them. Anybody got anything for me? Peace comes from within. But my anxiety is squashed with the help of others. Complex, I know…help me move the roller coaster back to the amusement park.
Wouldn’t it be cool if my next blog was a compilation of your tips and goals???