Social Distancing: Indulging my introverted side, FOMO-free

It was for mostly selfish reasons that, when I heard that schools would be closed for an extra two weeks after March break, part of my heart – through the worry – was full of joy. It wasn’t the joy of knowing that the closures are the right thing to do, even though that’s true. It was the joy of a borderline introvert with an extrovert job. It was the prospect of a situation I could happily envision, even before “social distancing” became part of the public lexicon.

Honestly, hanging out at home with my family is one of my favourite things to do, period. There has been no moment at which I’ve said to myself, “What are we going to DO with ourselves?” All four of us are well-suited to the current state of affairs. On a normal weekend day, if we don’t have plans, we tend to be quite contented.

The hard part on those lazy days – under normal circumstances – has sometimes been the Fear Of Missing Out, or the sense that I’m not giving my kids all the expected social stimuli that a good parent should, or that we’re shirking some kind of obligation. There’s a feeling that society thinks we should be out and about. Right now, I feel a sense of relief that social distancing is my obligation right now. DON’T BE OUT AND ABOUT. Everything is cancelled anyway. Zero FOMO!

All this being said… We’re a week in, and even for us, it’s not paradise. By now, the message has hit home that we don’t get to fill our time with play dates, and E and AB are bummed about that. (I have my social side too – I love visiting with friends and am sad that we won’t get to do that.) The kids are also absolutely off their routines, which makes all of us a little grumpy and aimless. We’ll be starting up a schedule tomorrow to get some structure back into our lives.

But what I notice is how many small things I can do, that I normally do rarely or not at all – both with the kids and without – because I am constantly saying “I don’t have time right now.” At the moment, I do! So I can bake with AB because we have time for her exacting slowness. We can play Streaking Kittens whenever the mood strikes, as opposed to saying “Maybe on the weekend…” I can mend or untangle or find those things I’d normally leave for the elusive “later.” There is no place we’re trying to get to on time. Nothing is pressing. (Other than hand washing.) It’s such a weird feeling – disorienting but also soothing. We spend SO MUCH TIME getting ready, rushing off, doing what’s immediately urgent, and having barely enough time to finish things.

There has never been a better opportunity to lean into those at-home activities that I love. Such as:

  • making lots of lists 😉
  • getting all my current marking done (okay, I don’t love this one, but it’s satisfying)
  • cleaning things deeply in a way one so rarely has time for (ditto)
  • actually getting out the messy crafts that we so often don’t do because it’s almost dinnertime or whatever
  • taking family walks and hikes
  • unpacking and organizing the contents of the boxes in our office which have never been dealt with since the Great Plumbing Repair of 2019 – this is already almost done!!
  • wearing my comfy pants ALL THE TIME
  • practicing dance
  • reminding myself how to sprout some sprouts
  • playing piano and ukulele
  • reading
  • sleeping
  • blogging
  • watching movies
  • engaging in some specific artistic endeavours I have been putting off for literally years
  • doing a whole jigsaw puzzle – maybe two!!

I once started a blog post that, for whatever reason, was never finished or published. It was called “Happiness is a Jigsaw Puzzle.” When I stumbled upon the file, at first I thought I’d meant that happiness is like a kind of puzzle with lots of little bits that you have to fit into each other… but it was actually nothing that profound.

What I meant was, it’s a blissful luxury – to me – to have enough time to sit and just contemplate colour and shape. To piece together, very slowly, a big picture with lots of interesting details. To listen to music and just enjoy the mini-hits of dopamine when a piece finds home. It is a calming, comforting activity for me. But there have been years that go by where I don’t do any jigsaw puzzles, because there simply is not enough time – always a To Do list too long. The pleasure goes out of puzzles when there’s guilt involved. And when things are pressing, there’s always guilt. So… enter social distancing! The perfect excuse for puzzle-working!

(I did this one in about 3-4 hours, over the course of two days. It was a fun one! Charles Wysocki never disappoints.)

Of course to some people, sitting and working a jigsaw puzzle would be agony. I know this whole social distancing phenomenon is really hard for the true extroverts. I feel for those people – I know what it’s like to need a recharge that’s hard to get. And I’m claustrophobic, so I can imagine that being alone a lot would feel like the emotional equivalent of claustrophobia. The loneliness plus anxiety is a rough combination. Thankfully, it’s been heartwarming to see the extroverted survival guidance happening on our local Caremongering page.

As we all know, over the course of this week, the news has gotten more and more grim. I feel sure that it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. So here we are, at home, holding onto the personal status quo.

I have so many reasons to be grateful right now.

  • There are so many different ways to stay in touch without touching!
  • Sean had this week off, so there was lots of family time.
  • My parents are relatively healthy and live in the woods.
  • One set of parents-in-law are back from Florida early.
  • My other father-in-law is no longer in hospital (which he recently was, recovering from a broken femur and then an infection).
  • The various levels of government here have been prompt in taking measures to flatten the curve while (we hope) we still can.
  • Sean and I are not yet having to go on EI.
  • My kids are mostly really good at entertaining themselves – read-to-self is a favourite activity.
  • They are both old enough (and have the attention span, mostly) to play strategic board games.
  • I genuinely enjoy their company (when they’re not screeching at each other or me, or whining, or repeating strange sounds or random words over and over…).
  • We have a good yard to play in, and a safe neighbourhood to walk in.
  • The weather is warming up, slowly but surely (?) – and it’s finally technically spring!
  • My home has wonderful woodburning fireplace (since you know winter will keep sticking its head back in, like “you’re SURE you don’t need any more of this?”).
  • My city has so many people reaching out to help those in need.
  • In our community, it really feels like everyone is sincerely trying their best to distance themselves properly.
  • I’m grateful that we can still get groceries and mail and various other things – and grateful to the cashiers, bank tellers, postal workers, delivery people, garbage collectors, etc. etc. etc. who are doing their jobs as usual under these crazy circumstances.
  • I’m also really, really grateful to all hospital/medical staff who work at ground zero and are not able to distance themselves. The worst of this, which looms ominously, is going to be theirs to deal with. They will save lives as usual, in spite of what must be astronomical stress. 

I am especially, fervently grateful that this particular disease doesn’t seem to be dangerous to healthy children, and also that my children are not immunocompromised. My heart goes out to those parents who have children who are, and/or who are themselves, immunocompromised; they must be feeling enormous anxiety. I can only imagine how it must have been during widespread outbreaks of measles or whooping cough, diseases that killed children in large numbers… The fear would be overwhelming, engulfing, inescapable.

Basically, I am feeling thankful for all the things that resemble normalcy. Besides jigsaw puzzles, there have been quite a few games – Sean and I alone have played three games of Trivial Pursuit and seven games of Cribbage (of which I lost seven I won’t say how many). We’ve watched several movies, including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Frozen II, and live-action Beauty and the Beast. The kids are finally learning to experiment on the piano. We had a virtual family date with friends yesterday, and today we had an impromptu socially-distant sidewalk-chalking session on our street with Skye’s family. The other day, Sean got AB on the walkie-talkie and taught her some lingo. (We used the pegasus names AB gave us as our call signs and she got right into it: “Phoenixtail, this is Moonwing. What’s your twenty?” and “Ten-four, Midnightfrost, over.”)

I hope you are all managing so far, lovelies. What an extraordinary thing, to know that no matter who is reading this, and wherever you are, you are part of this with us. We send you love.

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An Average Person’s Advice about COVID-19: Vegetation and Self-Deprecation

The news just came out yesterday in Ontario that, after March break ends next week, there will be two more weeks of school shutdown in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. This makes good sense. Schools are places where social distancing is just not possible – it’s a crowd situation every day. So the decision to follow the advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is probably the best one this government has made so far. (Perhaps next Ford will follow the advice of other trained professionals, who knows? We can dream.)

This is happening while basically all of Italy is shut down, travel bans are popping up all over the world, the stock market is plummeting, and China has used massive quarantine measures to claw its way to the downward curve of the disease’s exponential growth in that country.

It is overshadowing stuff like railway roadblocks and oil price plunges and educators’ strikes – not to mention Democratic primaries and Harvey Weinstein going to jail and all kinds of other stuff that is important… until you compare it to the prospect of having to cooperate with the entire world. Even the climate emergency hasn’t spurred the species like this one virus has.

So that’s it. I’m calling it. We’re officially in trouble. We have arrived at the precipice, and now we are the special humans who get to witness the transformation of our society as we know it. I say this because, from my vantage point, this transformation has already started.

I’m not saying that our species is doomed. I’m confident that we’ll make it through this. And the planet will bounce back, as she always does. But Mother Earth is showing us that we’ve gone too far, and now we have to face some serious consequences. Some of us have been getting off scot-free this whole time, but she is going to make ALL of us sit up and shape up.

Meme by Dilovely

Go be by yourself and think about what you’ve done.

We have earned this punishment. I think most of us believe that we’re good people, but let’s face it: as a group, we have not been responsible.

You know how we’ve been hearing many young people, frustrated by climate change,  saying to older people, “Stop stealing our future!!” Well, that is how I felt as a 10-year-old. I knew that we were screwing things up, and most of the world seemed not to notice. I was frustrated then, and I’m still angry now. So many people have treated this planet and the creatures on it – including each other, and even ourselves – as expendable and basically worthless.

Our track record is one of carelessness: dirtying our habitats, overusing our resources, and treating each other like crap even when we know better. Oh, and filling our bodies with junk. (Seriously, beyond this virus business, I believe that humans have never been sicker. Mental illness alone is a plague.) And now, I believe, all of us alive at this moment are going to participate in major shifts in the ways that we live our lives. I may be past forty, but it’s my future too, and I still care about it.

To be honest, there’s a part of me that finds all this rather fascinating, wondering how we’re going to manage. “IN A WORLD… Where humanity has lost its way… And everything is at stake… WHAT WILL THEY DO??” Will we finally use our considerable ingenuity to find ways of turning our worst problems upside-down? Will we simply descend into the abyss on the spiralling waterslide that is denial? Will it be a conscious redesign of society, or a simple unravelling? Will it come down to a matter of our attitudes?

Maybe this is exactly the kick in the pants we need. Look at how carbon emissions have plunged in the places under quarantine. Nothing else EVER since the Industrial Revolution has forced us to prove that we can make carbon emissions plunge, but look! We CAN. When people cooperate (even if that’s just out of fear of death), amazing things can happen.

Consider for a moment the fact that every single one of us is descended from the original life forms on this planet. In primordial terms, we are all literally related. It’s time to treat humanity as the family it is – right now and in general. We need to be open-minded and open-hearted – even while we are closed-doored. I think that will be the deciding factor in whether our transformation is beautiful or terrible.

Here in Ontario – and everywhere, I guess – we are being bombarded with advice about how to avoid transmitting the virus. And we are also told that there is no treatment for the disease itself – only for the symptoms. A vaccine is probably a year away. And the most at-risk populations are, of course, those with pre-existing risk factors.

Image via ourworldindata.org.

 

We have been told that if we’re relatively young and healthy, we’ll most likely be fine. But I love a lot of people with other risk factors, including age. It’s very likely that our medical system in Canada, which normally runs more or less at capacity, will be overburdened by this at some point – maybe for a long time. So is there anything that an at-risk person can do to avoid the dying part?

Tip #1

Here is the one actual piece of advice I have about resisting disease.

Sean and I have done oodles of research about risk factors in the past three years, since he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. We always end up at the same information about how to decrease all-cause mortality – and especially in relation to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer – and even certain respiratory conditions asthma (and countless other health issues). It’s EATING PLANTS.

The further you can tip your dietary balance away from animal products and toward plants, the lower these risks get. Study after study after study corroborates this. (It’s also all laid out in How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger, and The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall. Not to mention the documentaries “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health.”)

Like Mom said, eat your veggies. Like school kids have said for years, beans, beans, they actually ARE super-good for your heart. (And in reality, the more you eat, the less you fart, because your body gets used to processing them.)

*It may also be worth mentioning at this point that many diseases, including bird flu, swine flu, salmonella, E. coli, mad cow, and COVID-19, have been given their start (and opportunities to thrive) by the unsafe and unsanitary – and frankly monstrous – conditions in animal factory farming. We may think that’s China’s problem (and when it comes to wild animal farming, it might be), but factory farming is everywhere. I have always tried hard not to push my vegetarian perspective on others, but for many humans (and all the animals involved), we’re talking literally life or death here.*

That sums up the best advice I’ve read for humans most at risk of dying from the novel coronavirus. I am not a medical expert, but I want you to live!

Tip#2

I have one more piece of advice, and this one’s for ALL the people: humility.

It sounds like kind of an old-fashioned concept these days, what with “me” culture being so prevalent. But growing up Quaker, it was just part of life – don’t take more than you need, look out for the people around you, withhold judgment, be generous with compassion, don’t be arrogant. Your life is valuable, and so is everyone else’s.

In reading about the Seven Sacred Teachings (or Grandfather Teachings) that are common across many First Nations, Métis and Inuit societies, I always latched onto the idea of Humility being represented by the wolf. I don’t have expert knowledge of these deep teachings, but I relate to humility as knowing your role as part of a pack. Recognizing that, while you are a sacred and important part of the whole, you are no more important than the other sacred parts.

By this token, you are no more or less important than the city bus driver, the cashier at the supermarket, or the kid selling popcorn at the movies. You are no more or less important than an NBA star, an Oscar-winning actor, or the Prime Minister’s wife.

If we are being humble, we are treating handwashing as a service to humanity. We are being vigilant about symptoms for the sake of everybody’s families, especially their elders. We can sagely understand why we must stay away from crowded events. We are not price-gouging people for hand sanitizer, and we are not taking all the toilet paper. (Plus that is just a weird strategy to begin with.)

Humility may become even more difficult in the near future. If or when Canada’s hospitals become overburdened like Italy’s, we will have to trust the medical professionals to decide who gets help when. They are the ones with the big picture. They make very difficult decisions with the best of their knowledge, and they will already be making untold sacrifices to help other humans. We will need to be humble about our places in that situation. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.

In the meantime, we also need to listen respectfully to – and follow – the advice of medical experts about what to do as we make our way through this. And if that advice changes daily, so be it.

It’s an extraordinary time. Just like during wildfires and floods, but worldwide and simultaneously, we are putting aside our normal priorities. Cancelling everything from sports to parliament, and getting down to the nitty-gritty of our humanness. Where I live, traffic is already noticeably less. People are looking at what to do with themselves and their families, with social distancing – how best to spend time with the small groups that they can.

Let’s read stories, take walks, draw pictures, cook food, get lots of sleep, and stay in touch. When things get really rough, I hope that we, like folks in Wuhan and Italy, will end up singing.

Meme by Dilovely

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