So…how you doing out there?
It feels kind of adorable how everyone was eager for 2019 to end and 2020 to begin, right? I mean, I wasn’t, because I know every time one thinks “This can’t get worse”, it is literally about to get worse. I don’t know if that’s purely my anxiety speaking or what, but thus far it’s been true.
There is apparently a Russian expression “we thought we’d hit rock bottom, but then someone knocked from below.” Yes, that.
It’s okay to not be doing okay! The speed of news and information exhausts your brain. It makes you feel like time is slowing to a crawl. I remember by Monday evening it had already felt like the longest week ever, despite only being a day. Now Friday, that feels like a year ago.
First, me: I am pretty okay. I’ve been making jokes about it, but honestly there is a lot that has equipped me to deal with social distancing and emergencies.
- I already have overwhelming, constant anxiety that has me worried about every single worse-case scenario. I keep a machete tucked near my front door in case of zombies, so quarantining in my home for a couple of weeks? OH YEAH, I GOT THIS. I have not been out emergency-buying anything, I’m already covered. The sheer number of purse-sized hand sanitizer bottles I have is fucking WILD.
- I already work from home! I’m used to spending all day inside not talking to anyone but my cats. While I have worry about clients needing to cancel work and not be able to pay me, I’m in a far better position than folks working in other industries AND I’m used to living on very little and rationing groceries when necessary.
- I grew up an only child in an apartment with no other kids to play with. I am HIGHLY skilled at keeping myself occupied and not socializing. If you were giving me Sims 4 traits, Loner would be one of them: I do not get lonely, I regain energy by not having contact with people, and my need-to-socialize bar degrades much more slowly than the average person’s.
- I worked the midnight shift in a convenience store many moons ago. I sold a LOT of porn and I had a lot of customers (men, okay? Always men) cough into their hand before they reached for their money. I learned to wash my hands every ten minutes. I know people–particularly cis men!–are fucking disgusting, and I’m immunocompromised so I’m already pretty good at hygiene and distancing when I go out.
- C-PTSD! We hit a crisis and my brain goes “Oh YEAH, I know what I’m doing here–oooh, and a hit of adrenaline? Oh baby, that’s the stuff!” I’m calm in emergencies because I suddenly feel like I’m at home.
While a lot has been shared with advice for dealing with social distancing, I’ve largely stayed out of it. “Here’s how to be more productive!” “Here’s how to cope with working from home!” Then last night I was talking with a friend who was raised a survivalist and her job was that of morale booster. This is how she was raised and what she’s good at doing.
So I looked at all I have mentioned above–how I was raised, how I live. And what there might be useful to people who are just now getting the level of anxiety I live with on a daily basis.
So here are some things!
1. Give yourself a few days.
Even though I’m not currently in crisis mode, I’ve had to manage others’ anxieties. I check in with friends, I’ve had to make decisions regarding the not-for-profit and storefront I help run, I’ve had to discuss emergency game plans with folks in case the vets shut down or there are pet food shortages, etc. So this hasn’t been a super productive work week for me, but that’s okay.
You have to take a few days. In an emergency situation, that might mean you let yourself cry for a few minutes before picking yourself up; in something like this, you still need an adjustment period. This helps you in the long run so you’re not burdening yourself with all these extra anxieties and trying to work/carry on at the same time. Take the time NOW to freak out a little so it doesn’t hit your harder later when you’re not prepared.
2. Balance having a schedule with forgiving yourself for having issues.
I generally get up the same time every day. I take care of the cats, I make a coffee or grab a meal replacement drink. I put on a bra and change from pj bottoms to yoga pants. I go over my email and my to-do list and put out any immediate fires. I use the Forest app to focus for two-hour work sessions and eat meals at roughly the same times every day.
But I’ve been doing this for years. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I know if my day is too scheduled, one thing that throws it off sends me tailspinning; I know that if I don’t put on that bra, I’ll be super uncomfortable all day; I know that if I sleep in, it’ll throw off my sleep schedule at night and I’ll enter a week of being exhausted.
If you’re suddenly working from home, or you’re unable to work and just self-quarantining you don’t know yet what’s going to work for you! So you can take some suggestions folks are throwing out right now, but don’t worry if it’s not working for you. If your only experience being home all the time is weekends or holidays, you’ll need some trial and error to see what is going to work for you.
3. You have to drink water. And eat. And sleep.
You’d be surprised how quickly those regular habits fall to the wayside. Last year when I was hand-raising my kittens, everything revolved around taking care of them and I’d easily go a full day having not eaten anything myself, or going twelve hours without water. I implemented a rule where every time I fed them, I had to drink some water myself (every 2-3 hours).
If you have pets or other dependents, make sure you feed yourself when you feed them. Or keep a bottle of water by your bedside and drink some when you first wake up (it makes a HUGE difference to start your day, I promise). And the reason why you’re exhausted following the news every day, even if all you’ve done is lie in bed in your pjs, is because the brain uses so many calories to run. You have to feed your body so it can function.
There are a bazillion videos out there with pandemic meal ideas, so I leave it to you to figure that out. I always keep packs of Ensure and Boost on hand because of severe depressive episodes when I stop eating, so that might be a good idea. Also take your vitamins! Again, you will feel a lot better with even a once-a-day multivitamin.
Pick up some melatonin. And Benadryl. Knock yourself out medically at night if you have to. The better rested you are, the better you’ll handle things. Print out and frequently check the Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay checklist.
4. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
There is still a lot of joy to be had.
There is Jennifer Ehle reading Pride & Prejudice. There is Anthony Hopkins playing the piano for his cat. There are people having distanced neighbourhood dance parites. There are Christmas lights being put back up.
There’s a quarantine love song.
There are opportunities for free streaming services, free books (you can still get Solomon’s Seal), discounted games. Last night at midnight I went for a half-hour walk around the canal near my home. Every time some wholesome or pure thing (often involving pets) crosses my feed, or even some gallows humor, I let myself laugh aloud and RT it for others. I think it’s important to be informed but right now the focus is survival, and you have to laugh at something.
Eat that favourite food from childhood. Have a glass of wine. Pick up that hobby again (knitting, guitar, drawing).
5. Check in with people!
I find it’s good practice anyway to check in with trusted folks, but especially so now. I have a handful of people I check in with both privately and as a group.
What’s also pleasantly surprised me is the number of friends who checked and ensured I was stocked up, with reassurances that they’d help if I needed groceries or anything. I’m in a good position right now, but I haven’t always been, and the genuine concern was really appreciated.
What I’m saying is, there’s a reason all my books featured Found Family, y’all. So take a few minutes to ask those you’re close to “Do you have enough food? How are you handling everything?”
6. Predictability will soothe your anxiety.
I know a lot of folks who have talked about feeling badly they haven’t been able to read/watch anything new the past couple of years–they find themselves rereading the same books, rewatching the same TV shows or movies.
That is because a lot of your anxiety comes from not being able to predict what will happen on a day-to-day basis in real life, so what’s going to give you comfort is something where you know what’s going to happen.
My beginnings as a storyteller came from childhood. I used to write stories in my head from my earliest memories–it’s how I fell asleep at night. I made my own worlds where I had control, where I created my own safety. Storytelling is how I have survived.
During times of high stress now, I rewatch the same things I’ve seen over and over. It lets my brain rest so I’m not over-analyzing or getting tense. I go back to comfort reads. I replay the same games. (Below I’ll post my top comfort reads/watches/games!)
If you find yourself really anxious, go look to your shelves or your past Netflix watches and find some things you know really well. Try reading/watching them again.
7. Make plans for emergencies.
I genuinely don’t get folks who find it more stressful to think of and plan for worst-case scenarios, but I get that it’s true for some.
Still, if you have plans, you can ease back a bit of worry.
If you get sick, what needs to be taken care of at home? Who has authority to make medical decisions for you? Do they know what your wishes are? Who will feed your pets if you end up in the hospital? Do you need to leave instructions for medications and that?
You don’t have to plan out everything in case of your death, but making some preparations for a hospital visit is a good idea. Do you keep a list of medications in your wallet? Do you have any allergies the hospital would need to now about? Control what you can. This is one small step you can take that will cut down on the burdens anxiety places on you.
8. This is all temporary.
Human beings can handle anything when they know it won’t last forever.
I can’t tell you whether things will get better or if they’ll get worse. I mean, probably worse, but all of this is temporary. Even if it feels like there’s no end in sight for now, the one constant in life is that everything is always changing. Every bad feeling, every bad circumstance, can and will change. I would not have survived suicidal thoughts since I was thirteen if I didn’t know this to be true.
9. Now’s a great time to become a socialist!
None of this would be half as bad if we:
- had universal basic income
- did not tie healthcare, medications, food, and shelter to work
- did not put profit over safety
- had protections for workers including mandated paid sick leave
- abandoned the unregulated capitalism and serfdom that we currently live under
While a virus itself is not political, the way it is handled is. There are better ways to live.
How is this a coping mechanism? Because when you go through hell, you see how things need to be changed, can be changed, and it can give you back a feeling of control when you have something to fight for. Hold onto the belief that we can have a better world, one where you don’t have to fear losing your home when you’re sick. And fight like hell to make it happen.
Okay, finally, here are some of my comfort entertainment choices. They might not be yours, but that’s okay! And if you aren’t familiar, you may want to check them out.
- Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. I have the ebook and the audiobook. It is the ultimate satisfying read for me.
- The Rockton series by Kelley Armstrong, starting with City of the Lost. I reread the entire series leading up to the new one every year. My greatest wish is to go live in the Yukon isolated from the world, and these books scratch that itch for me.
- Dirty Dancing. It was my favourite movie as a child and I can recite all the dialogue three seconds before all the characters still. Unlike a lot of childhood movies, it really holds up well.
- Aliens. Movies where women take on monsters and live are definitely my jam (as much as I also identify with the alien queen).
- Pride & Prejudice. I debated whether this should be a series or not, but I’m sticking it under movies. The Ehle and Firth version, no others exist to me.
- Wonder Woman
- The Scream series. I find murder comforting, don’t judge.
- Death Proof if only for the last twenty minutes.
- Destination Wedding
- Captain Marvel
- 28 Days Later (with the happy ending, even though I think the darker original feels like the right one)
- Ninja Assassin. Mostly because of this.
- Psych (SHAWN AND GUS)
- Pretty Little Liars – I LOVE soapy, trashy, predictably bonkers stuff, and it just gets more and more ridiculous the longer it goes on.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (I dare you to not find total joy in the reboot series)
- The Good Place
- Jane the Virgin
- Good Behavior (first season only–I think it ends perfectly and should’ve been left there)
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine has comparatively low stakes than a lot of things, doesn’t punch down, and is overall funny and relaxing to binge.
- Tomb Raider. All of them, but particularly the reboot trilogy. I like that it veers more towards stealth options for killing men–I find it very relaxing to just wait in a tree and then leap down and stab people in the throat. I’m a rogue at heart.
- Portal and Portal 2. I find problem-solving relaxing.
- Stardew Valley. I just started a new game and it will probably go exactly like the others: I will seduce all the bachelors and bachelorettes in town and then marry Sebastian.
- The Last of Us. I never thought it would be a relaxing game given how stressed I was the first time I played it, but I know it well now and can predict things. More stealth killing.
- Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. I loved the Uncharted games, but I would like a hundred more with Chloe and Nadine as the leads.
- Skyrim. I confess I’ve clocked hundreds of hours and never finished the main quest. I just rise to the top of the guilds, build a house outside Falkreath, marry Farkas, adopt a couple of orphan girls, rescue Meeko the dog, and take care of my family by murdering people for the Dark Brotherhood.
- The Long Dark. Look, sometimes you just want to…walk. And walk. And walk.
- ARK: Survival Evolved. And sometimes you just want to punch dinosaurs.
- The Sims 4. I have adult mods to allow drugs, prostitution, and murder, so my games are super fun.