Monday, March 30, 2020

First Aid Kit for Isolation მარიამ გელენიძე

First Aid Kit for Isolation

In the moment of writing this blog post, it’s my 13th day of Coronavirus-related isolation (I’m healthy). It’s only 13 days but feels like months. Among other “benefits”, being isolated stole my sense of time. It’s a big struggle even for me, an introvert, and a person with unlimited imagination. Since I was 8 (which is the first time I read “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne) I was obsessed with the idea of being cast away alone on an inhabited island. I spent years “there”, all alone. Sometimes I had company, but most of the time I was by myself, even without Willson, Friday, or Captain Nemo. I fell in love with the island so much that I never wanted to leave. Maybe I never did– even today, I have this childish habit coming up when I get introduced to new people: “would I let this person visit me on my island?”
As it turned out, social isolation is something completely different from my island. The thing is, being cast away was optional. I could travel there whenever I wanted to and I could be back to my reality in a second. This case – virus-related isolation contains so many unexpected struggles I have never experienced, neither on my island nor while first moving abroad and having no friends for weeks or months. This is something new, new for me, and new for the most humans in the world. We have never been told, taught, or prepared for this. Yes, we have watched movies about the various pandemic, we have read about the real ones like SARS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, etc., we have heard horror stories about how dangerous they are and how the science has defeated them. But… we have hardly ever heard horror stories about isolation and the unbearable feelings it brings.
First of all, don’t forget that all these jokes about “saving the world by staying home” are very real and serious. Yes, you are contributing in cutting the virus chain by staying healthy – you don’t only rescue yourself, but “others”, which sounds just as a word, but can equal to thousands of people. So you can proudly tick one more day on your calendar, knowing that you did your priceless job.
However, the viral meme stating “it has never been so easy to save the world” is probably not that correct after all. It’s nothing like easy to be left all alone with your fears, hopelessness, disappointment, and anger, having no idea when this all will come to end. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Every one of us is confused now, trying to learn how to live in a new world we suddenly woke up in. We – others, are also terrified by this unknown guest, taking hundreds of lives away daily. We also are angry by seeing that our personal freedom, comfort, all our plans and schedules seem to be nothing more than a distant illusion now. We, too, embarrassingly find ourselves imagining different death scenarios. You’re also not the only one fearing that you might end up sacrificing your sanity to this virus, harming not only our body but also our mind, because doubtlessly, way more minds will be damaged by COVID19, than bodies. But, important to know: It will pass.
So, what to do, how to deal with this hard mission to save the world by staying home? Is there anything that would comfort us – the desperate, heroic prisoners?
Let’s reflect a bit. The biggest struggle in being isolated is to forcedly be alone. No matter if you’re actually alone or with another person, you’re still isolated. You realize how much you miss people. Not only your friends and family but also some random people you used to meet in the street or in the subway, crowd, it’s sound… You feel lonely. It’s not a surprise – throughout the life, we, 21st-century people, put a lot of effort to convince ourselves how singular we are – but we often forget that we are humans, which means being a social animal. Communication, as well as the desire for communication, is one of the key reasons why we developed higher than other species. You can’t deny it – you need others.
  • What you can do is to use the immeasurable advantage of living in the 21st century and having internet. Keep daily contact with your family and friends. Share your thoughts and concerns with them and listen to theirs. You do this not only for you but for them as well – remember, we are all in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band now.
  • Another great thing which surely will make you feel good is to contact people you haven’t been in touch with for a while. By doing this you’ll make a nice surprise to them and perhaps make their day, which, in return, will make yours.
But it’s hard to be in contact with someone 24/7. Also, it’s not really clever to seek salvation in others. So, how to deal with being isolated for the whole day?
  • It’s the right time to appreciate the benefits of living in the information era. You can access any information from your phone and computer. You could use this opportunity to learn something new or just entertain and distract yourself. There are thousands of free online courses, YouTube is full of interesting channels, you can download free e-books, listen to the albums of your favorite band, watch movies, etc. Actually, this is the opportunity to do things you never had time for. Yes, I know, it sounds annoying, who cares about personal development, we’re all freaking out here! But actually, it is a chance to keep your mind sharp and bring some balance into your isolation-routine.
  • You undoubtedly have a list of books you wanted to read one day. Congrats, this day is today! Actually, the only way to get out of your “prison cell” right now, is reading. Go, travel the world, travel through time and space, enjoy your adventure, now is the best time for it.
  • Keep yourself updated, but don’t over-watch the news. Maybe check the news every morning and evening. No need to learn all the numbers and details by heart – it’s useless, it occupies your brain, scares you more and doesn’t leave a free space for anything else. 
  • Write a diary – monitor your thoughts and feelings. Maybe you can find a pattern of your emotions? I, for example, found out that late evenings are the hardest for me, I might remember all the problems of the world at once and get desperate and panicky. So I decided to distract myself and avoid watching the news at that time of the day – which are very likely provoking fear. Besides, the diary will help you get to know yourself better and your future self will surely thank your present self for preparing “cheat sheets” for difficult times.
  • Don’t check social media before sleeping. Actually, if you want to sleep calmly, finish any screen-exposure an hour before bedtime. Screens, no matter what content they show, irritate your eyes and trick your brain with bright light – which can lead to sleepless nights and other complications. This has physiological reasons – our genius/stupid brain interprets screen-light as daylight and postpones melatonin secretion, which disorganizes the whole circadian rhythm, or your „biological clock”. The content of the screen is also important – I, for example, get very anxious by reading some virus-news and posts in social media before going to sleep and the nightmares are guaranteed.
  • Cook – or learn how to cook, improvise, create your own restaurant dish – this is one of the most pleasant and creative activities. Don’t think that you shouldn’t cook nicely or serve beautifully just because you’re alone. Serve yourself, you deserve it. Prove me wrong.
  • Don’t be ashamed to talk to yourself loudly – “truth is born of arguments” – so, if you have no one around to argue, why don’t you argue with yourself, who knows, what truth you’ll unfold in this strange times. Seriously, keep talking.
  • Trick your brain. Again, our brain and body are the masterpieces of nature, they are brilliantly genius. However, they allow us to trick them sometimes. Remember about your animal self (Please do not be humiliated by me calling us animals, but we are), which needs water, sunlight, fresh air, etc., shortly, nature, where it actually belongs.
    • Chase after sunlight – try to charge yourself with vitamin D as often as possible. Just go to the window, and expose your face and hands to the sun.
    • Drink water – Nothing is more effective to reduce worries immediately, than a glass of cold water. Keep yourself hydrated – it clears your mind and energizes your body.
    • Breathe fresh air – open the windows, you need oxygen to live and to think clearly. Take a deep breath as often as you remember – maybe it’s also worth setting a reminder every half an hour or so – because very often we fail to realize that we’re out of oxygen (at least me), ending up drowsy and in a bad mood.
    • If you have plants at home, embrace them, touch them, hug them, observe them – they are your priceless company in these days.
    • Listen to the sounds of nature. Open the window to let in all the sounds. For those living in a city, like me, enjoy the sound of birds – I think because of less traffic, they’re coming back to us. For those with no birds and backyard, there are some apps with nature sounds, which I love. Yes, it might be funny, but sometimes I find myself listening to frog croaking in my phone, smiling like an idiot. Ridiculous, right? But if it makes you feel good, why not?
  • Whenever I hear someone saying “think positive”, I want to punch them in their face. This is probably the most superficial thing you can say to a person that is sad, or, the best way to show them that you don’t give a fck about them. Instead, what I want to tell you is that you can think negatively, this is human nature and part of our daily routine right now. Just try not to spiral on negative thoughts. Train yourself to detect when they’re coming, accept them, but learn how to switch the topic. Maybe you can choose a nice memory from your life as a “shelter” from the scary thoughts and panic. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and imagine you being there. For me, this place is a park in Amsterdam, where I fed the seagulls once. This memory, me, surrounded by seagulls and hearing the sound of their wings from very, very close, brings me back to serenity, whenever I start being panicky. But it’s important to remember about doing this at the beginning of the spiral. You can do it later as well, but it’d cost you more effort. It works exactly as “Expecto Patronum”, you know what I mean.
  • Meditate, if you can. This is also a good way to get away from your routine and travel a bit in the depths of your mind. It always does you good.
Always remember to take good care of your body. The mind won’t feel well if you neglect the body.
  • Feed it healthy. In our everyday life, we have a chance to compensate for eating junks by walking, exercising, going to fancy hipster place to get a detox smoothie. Well, it’s not that easy to do it from home. And It’s not the best time to compromise your health.
  • the important thing, for those who are allowed to go to the grocery shop. Don’t run only for long-lasting survival foods like rice, pasta, cans, etc. You probably already have some at home. Take your chance and grab some fruits and vegetables to relatively enrich your meal with healthy substances.
  • Drink water and remember, it can’t be replaced by tea or coffee. No matter how much tea/coffee you already had, you should still drink some water to keep your body and mind active.
  • One of the biggest struggles is movement. Already forgot about it, right? Well, I’m sorry, but we need to move. Anything would do – from 10 minutes cardio to 1 hour Pilates or Yoga. It’s important that you do move and that you do it regularly, which means every day, or, okay fine, maybe 3 times a week, or two?… but regularly. Check thousands of Youtube videos and pick one.
24 hours have never been this long, right? Will today ever end? What to do with all this time? When is the best time to work? We need to bring some discipline and organization in time and our behavior, which will lead us to some stability.
  • Set the waking time. Don’t wake up or go to sleep too late – don’t lose the track of times of the day.
  • Set the working time if you work from home. If you usually have 8 hours-long working days, stick to this routine, start working at 9, for example, take a lunch break at noon, continue at 13 and finish at 18. Learn how to finish working, this is important. And enjoy the end of your working day.
  • Schedule your meals. I know this is a big challenge when you are locked in with a fridge within reach! But try your best to separate your meals. You don’t want to lose your shape in quarantine. Well, this is most likely to happen anyway, but, at least, try not to contribute.
  • Keep to your self-care routine. If you’re used to showering in the morning, then shower in the morning, even though you have the whole day for it.
  • Dress up. Don’t walk around with Pajamas. This is another way to deceive your brain. If you work from home, this will increase your productivity. If you don’t, it’ll just give you the sense of being in an active and productive phase of the day. Besides, you shouldn’t forget about esthetics, right? Go ahead and walk around with your fanciest clothes, why not?
  • Don’t work from the bed/sofa/kitchen table. If you don’t have a desk, create a workspace that would look like one, again to trick your brain that you’re at work. Sofa, bed, and kitchen table have their own purposes and working definitely doesn’t belong to them.
  • Organize your wardrobe, your desk, rearrange the room, maybe the desk would look better in another corner? Think how you can make your cocoon more comfortable and make changes. This does good.
  • Wash the dishes daily, don’t stock them. Spare yourself from a terrible view of dish piles.
  • Don’t forget, we’re adaptive animals (Again, sorry not sorry) – you’ll feel better in several days, just give it time and train in your new (temporary, I promise) lifestyle.
But what if I’m in quarantine with others?
The thing is, I never allowed others to stay on my island for a long time. Yes, I liked their company, but I liked it limited. It’s hard to say that there is a person who can perfectly match with you for a long time. Even with your soulmate, you always need a personal space. This is another issue with isolation – being locked up with the other. I have encountered numbers of articles shared in social media about increased number of divorce cases as a result of quarantine in China. I haven’t checked the truthfulness of these news, but this tendency would make sense either way.
Being locked in with a person, no matter who this is, definitely is challenging. It’s not only you and your worries anymore, additionally you should deal with someone else being everywhere! All over the place! All the time! I don’t think there is a person in the world who wouldn’t make you lose your mind in this scenario. They don’t need to put a lot of effort to do this. They just need to… exist. Well, this is part of our nature. We need others, and at the same time, we need personal space. Being human is complicated.
So, what to do in this case? You can’t run away or kick the other one out. You just need to coexist. There are two possible solutions: communication and self-reflection. Start with the second one.
  • Before getting mad, try to reflect a bit. Are you mad because this person did something wrong? In the most cases, the answer (the honest one) would be negative. What’s wrong then? Try to ask yourself following questions:
    • What exactly irritates you?
    • Is it coming from the other one?
    • Yes – take a deep breath and figure out how to talk with them as calm and constructive as possible (if you’re forgetting that the other person suffers exactly like you, don’t) and start communication. Don’t blame, don’t judge, just tell them what it is about them that upsets you and how you would like it to be changed. Most likely the other one will try to change it. Nobody likes living in a battlefield.
    • No – In this case, logically, the reason is in yourself and what you should do is to take a deep breath and have a dialogue with yourself about the real possible reason of your madness, which actually is the fact of being locked in, not the fact of being locked in with them.
  • Try to put yourself in their shoes – you’ll probably see that they are struggling similarly. They are locked in with you! You are everywhere! All over the place! All the time! What a horror, right?
  • Try to have some limited time for interacting – you both/all know that you’re accessible all the time, but you don’t have to be actively communicating at all hours. You can schedule, like – having meals together and watching a movie or playing a board-game in the evening. All the other time, both/all of you have separate lives and individual schedules.  
  • Don’t forget to take a deep breath and drink a glass of cold water whenever you see the anger coming. They can magically extinguish the fire of rage inside of you.
So, now you might think that you’re reading a blog post of a highly-organized superhuman, who never cheats on her plans and timetable, uses every second to develop herself and doesn’t allow her emotions take over her. Nope, I’m just an ordinary sloth like you, I wake up at 10, I look into the fridge 50 times a day, I work while watching movies and I don’t believe in timetable. But this is what works for me so far. At least, I have this first aid kit within reach –this calms me down and makes me feel prepared for harder days.
The point is to have a choice of activities. Take the ones that work for you and remember, this will pass.

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