I’d like to alter the lyrics of Paul Simon’s infamous song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, but I’d have to get permission and you probably wouldn’t be too fond of my voice. So, this article will have to suffice. Imagine Phoebe Snow as my backing vocalist hopefully drowning me out. In any case, this is how I am continuing to cope with quarantine and the inevitable anxiety associated with living during a global pandemic.
Back in March, when I started hunkering down – before any official mandate – my first concern was how I would exercise. I attended at least three weekly exercises classes pre-COVID. I posted in the Accessible Yoga Community Facebook group to get referrals for accessible online yoga classes which led to my ever-growing list of online exercise resources. Toward the end of the month I was delighted to see that BORP (Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Programs) began transitioning their in-person adaptive fitness classes to Zoom. You do know what Zoom is, right? It’s the COVID-19 Killer App. Well, maybe not the best phrase but Zoom is making my self-quarantine manageable. (Zoom is my choice but there are other ways to have groups meet online such as Google Hangouts or Facebook Meeting Rooms.)
Coping 101, for me, has included yoga, strength training, and lots of dancing. My weekends are filled with Rumba with Tina and Salsa Sundays. Adaptive dance classes are also available from Dance for all Bodies and Wheelchair Dancers. Not only do I get to do different styles of dance but I’m learning about them as well. Dance for all Bodies originated with UC-Berkeley graduate dancer, Yagmur Halezeroglu, less than two years ago. Yagmur and her team have brought international dancers to Zoom teaching Salsa, Urban Jazz, Wheelchair Hip Hop, Flamenco, and Brazilian and Diaspora dance. Dance is for everyone, no matter what your abilities are.
Almost every day, and usually before 12 p.m., my partner and I take a 30+ minute walk around the neighborhood. We’ve altered this a few times by driving to a local park or by the San Francisco Bay for our walk but often there are so many people on bikes, skateboards, and joggers, it’s hard to maintain 6’ distancing. We get a good dose of Vitamin N (nature) and have discovered all types of interesting things.
Some of our discoveries include fairy villages. When I bring my phone along on the walk, I make sure to capture photos of the villages and over the past few months I’ve seen some of the villages grow and a few deteriorate. On my list of things to do is create our own fairy door village at the liquidambar tree in front of our house.
I’ve also encountered several mini libraries. We’ve yet to borrow or donate books but it’s now on my list of things to do when I run out of things to do. I’ve got piles of books to donate and since it’s no longer safe for our local library to accept and process book donations, this seems like a great way to handle it. The Little Free Library has building kits available for sale but this may be a project we can DIY at a less costly price.
One DIY project we have mastered is a Victory Garden. We have actually talked about this possibility pre-pandemic but once we started having food shortages (okay, only flour and a few other items) we decided to forego the driveway and build some vegetable beds. Not all of the plantings were successful but we’re learning more along the way. Now we’re working on an herb garden box.
Other Outdoor Activities
We have been reluctant to go far from our home for a few reasons, but I’d say access to a clean bathroom is the primary reason. I am not the squatting type, but I am experimenting with a few tools, shall I say, that may help in my quest to get a little more nature outside of my daily walks.
I am a tad envious to see Facebook posts about friend’s camping trips. I haven’t camped in several years, but I am dreaming about renting a camper (with toilet, bed, and kitchen) for a trip sometime in the future. On the NPR website, search for an article “From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities.” (I can’t link to it.) The article evaluates several summertime activities for their level of risk. You’ll note they use the terms: low, medium, and high risk. Personally, I’m opting for NO risk. I am adverse to risk pre-COVID-19, during the pandemic, and post-COIVD-19.
Our neighborhood began better communication a few years ago when one neighbor invited us all over to her house for doughnuts and coffee. Since then we meet, at least annually, on National Night Out. We have shared contact information and communicate when something amiss happens on the block. Since the pandemic, we started a Facebook group and often gather in front of our homes at 7 p.m. to make some noise for the frontline workers.
One neighbor is a musician and partakes in the community’s weekly porch concerts. Another neighbor baked and distributed zucchini bread to everyone on the block. Ironically, we’ve talked with our neighbors in person – at least six feet apart – more frequently than we’ve seen any friends in person.
If you can’t get outdoors, you can always try to capture that inside. For the past several weeks I’ve attended bird webinars by a noted birder in Half Moon Bay. What’s interesting is that I’ve attended several in-person presentations by the Coastal Land Trust with the follow-up bird walk by the beach. I think I’ve learned more about the birds from the webinars because I could see the details much better on the screen 12” in front of me than being in an audience with some human necks and heads in my way. Other virtual hikes and nature experiences are also available.
Getting outside your comfort zone
There’s a local arts organization, Rhythmix Cultural Arts, that I’ve become fond of over the years. Last winter I started attending a monthly Community Circle Sing which essentially is a group of strangers standing in a circle making sounds as directed by a professional a capella performer. Vocal jamming or improvisation. No professional experience required and singing with a group is safe for someone like me who only sings at home with a small audience of one human and five cats. The experience was exhilarating.
Of course, this type of event would be difficult to do with social distancing and mask wearing but the teacher, Bryan Dyer, began offering Music Sight Reading classes at Rhythmix. I have never been exposed to this, so I thought, what better time to learn something new? I have no aspirations to be a singer nor a musician, but it was fun learning a new language – the language of music. I barely got my feet wet, but I do have a better understanding now.
I attempted another new world – poetry. Unfortunately, this class was self-paced and didn’t include any type of live interaction with a teacher or other students. I never finished the class. I could…it’s still there for me. But I do appreciate some human interaction.
Once I meet a few of my self-imposed deadlines, I’m planning to continue my exploration by taking a few art classes. There are several free options I’ve seen such as SIP (Shelter-in-Place) & Sketch and a few craft classes offered by Shared Adventures. But as a treat for myself, I’ll likely dip into my pockets for an online class at the Mendocino Art Center. Mendocino is a coastal village about 3-1/2 hours north of where I live. It’s a magical place that I usually visit at least once each year. But that won’t happen in 2020.
I signed up for an event called Sci-Fi Bingo which was a fundraiser for the Rhythmix organization previously mentioned. I did not know what to expect. It was the quintessential creative use of the Zoom platform. Most people wore varying degrees of themed costumes and selected extra-terrestrial virtual backgrounds. Throughout the ten rounds of Bingo there were dance breaks with appropriately themed music. Think David Bowie. Many prizes were awarded though I was not a lucky recipient. I did have a whole lot of fun and laughs.
An activity my partner has undertaken is helping to get out the vote. Through a local organization she is writing letters to registered voters throughout the country that have not voted in the last several years. She can do this at home and drop off the letters at another organizer’s home – all without any exposure.
Social Support (Family)
My partner comes from a larger family than I do. I have no siblings and my father lives on the East Coast. Phone calls with him have increased during the pandemic but attempts at a Zoom event didn’t work out.
We started the Zoom family reunion with an afternoon tea party. Families from New Mexico, Minnesota, Virginia, and North Carolina were the guests. Each Zoom call had a specific food theme and we shared our recipes. Since afternoon tea we had a pizza party and a make your own ice cream sundae. Did I mention there are six children of varying ages involved? Once everyone gets their phone, tablet, or laptop properly situated; you know, so we don’t see their hairline and most of the ceiling, the kids are finished eating and running around making noise.
Social Support (Friends)
For a few years I attended a weekly yoga class at a local gym until the poses became too much for me and I graduated to a more adaptive or accessible style of yoga. But I kept in touch with a group of women from the class and we’d meet monthly for lunch at a local restaurant. I invited them to join in on a weekly Zoom call BYOL and we’re still meeting. We don’t do yoga; we just eat lunch and catch up.
Another weekly fixture in my quarantine life is a Happy Hour with high school friends. This is the year of our…ssshhhh…40th reunion. Someone started a Facebook group last November and we’d been discussing how we wanted to celebrate. In March, after I began subscribing to Zoom (they are not paying me for all of this promotion!), I suggested to my cohort that we do a Charger (our mascot) Happy Hour…and…it’s stuck. Each week anyone from our graduating year – plus or minus a couple of years – joins in for a couple hours of chat. We’ve had many one-timers, but a core group developed.
What I most like about this surprising occurrence is that I am getting to know some of my peers that I didn’t know well, or at all, during high school. I am guilty of judging and stereotyping people back then – nerd, cheerleader, band person, etc. It’s been a very refreshing and fun experience. We laugh a lot on these calls.
A few weeks ago, I organized a Zoom call for friends with cats and called it Catty Hour. Participants were requested to costume themselves as a cat and find a thematic virtual background. I created a cat trivia poll and we held a meow contest. With 9 cat ladies, we had a blast. Two months previous my first themed Zoom event was not a success. It was a Clown Happy Hour and only two friends participated with me. Apparently, a lot of people find clowns scary.
By attending other Zoom events, and watching tutorials, I’m learning more about the platform’s features and how I can be creative. Soon to launch will be my next iteration with a Decades Happy Hour starting with the 50s. Beware, if you’re my friend, you may be invited to a costumed, musical, trivia-laden 50s party.
Celebrating nine years of meeting as a monthly book group and potluck, I wasn’t about to let this fixture in my life disappear. Always open to new members, our core group of 10 or so women enjoy the intellectual stimulation, the laughter, and the great food we share with each other. Using Zoom we’re able to capture at least two of those features. We’ve even added a few new members, virtually, since self-quarantine began.
Since COVID-19, my friendship network has changed a bit. I’ve noticed a few friends who were monthly regulars at our in-person book club potluck parties have chosen not to participate in our virtual meetings. I’m not sure why.
I haven’t been much of a talk-on-the-phone kind of friend since my high school years. I spent so much time on the phone then, maybe I reached a quota? I am making an effort, though, to maintain a few 1:1 friendships either through telephone or my more preferable mode, Zoom.
Additional Emotional Support
As a support group facilitator for adults with neuromuscular disease for 22+ years, it was a no-brainer that I try to foster that safe space virtually.
For the last few months I’ve held a Zoom support group for my patient community every two weeks. We’ve had 2-7 people show up each time. We check in, share some resources, and have a few laughs. Thankfully none of us are aware of community members diagnosed with the virus but we’re all used to laying low and taking health and safety precautions. Mask wearing? No problem!
Personally, I’ve worked on emotional support and building additional resilience by attending online events sponsored by a few different organizations. The most significant one was a series of webinar presentations by the University of California, San Francisco School of Psychiatry. All ten of these presentations were recorded.
I’ve made death talk something of a constant in my life. The more openly we discuss the various aspects of death – pragmatic, emotional, and spiritual issues – the more fully we can embrace our life. You know that adage, nothing is certain except death and taxes. (Ben Franklin said it, if you’re wondering.) This pandemic has brought the fears and anxiety associated with one’s inevitable death to the surface for all types of people, not just those with chronic health conditions and the elderly. I’ve attended intimate online gatherings organized by Death Café, Let’s Reimagine, and the Zen Caregiving Project. I highly recommend checking out these organizations if you want to confront some of these otherwise taboo topics. If you don’t have an Advanced Directive, here’s a list of what’s accepted for each U.S. state.
If you’re not a frontline worker, you are probably spending a lot of time in your home. If you’ve got the energy, it’s a great time to do some organizing. For being such a keen organizer, you’d think I’d really have my house in order. But we have a garage and stuff inevitably gets tossed out there awaiting the annual garage sale. That’s certainly not happening in 2020.
So far, we’ve found someone who works with a homeless coalition and took several bags of our toiletries and food to distribute to encampments. We found an organization that accepted donations for women’s shelters, and we’ve put out a few boxes labeled Free at our curb. Within a day, everything found a new home.
I’ve got lists of various organizing projects. The list grows but I make progress every week. I figure by the time the pandemic diminishes, I will have such a fine-tuned, functioning household.
Organizing my environment is a type of self-care. A cluttered desk speaks to my cluttered mind. It gives me a sense of accomplishment as well as a degree of control in our current, seemingly uncontrollable society.
Self-care is everything and anything I do to bring some relaxation and quiet to my mind, body, or spirit. Self-care includes everyday activities like eating, exercising, and interacting with others in a healthy and mindful manner. Many of the online exercise classes I’m participating have a breathwork component. I try to do some deep breathing throughout the day. I can do this with an app on my iWatch or by listening to guided meditations and mindfulness meditation.
Each night I find myself in a tub of hot water (with a little lavender essential oil). This has been a staple in my self-care routine for many years but now it’s even more meaningful. The evening ritual bath settles my mind and body. A sense of gratitude fills me as I realize I am safe and healthy. I miss many things from my pre-COVID life, but I accept this new normal. I try not to dwell on the past or future.
I am fully aware there are people struggling with the new normal. Whether you feel fettered and/or fearful, it may be more challenging to come to a place of acceptance. For caregivers who may have additional responsibilities and no opportunities for respite care, there are online resources. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a working parent and have your children home with you 24/7. To help her siblings, my partner has spent time reading books via Facetime to her young nephew.
When I can feel a deep sense of gratitude for my health and safety, I am better able to reach out and help others. This can take the form of so many things. Maybe it’s just checking in on single friends with a phone call, Zoom call, or sending a letter or card in the mail (you can buy stamps online).
Several times I’ve put together little goodie bags and dropped them off at friend’s homes and texted them once I’ve returned to my car. Every other week we drop off groceries to an elderly woman who lives alone and doesn’t have the ability to place an online grocery order.
In March I decided to start a vlog (video blog) and record my nearly-daily meanderings and experiences as a person with a chronic health condition dealing with self-quarantine. I have 34 short videos and stopped short when my 7-year old computer died. It took a month to replace the desktop. I could have continued using my laptop, but it would have been a longer and more tedious process. I might start doing it again. Or not. You can subscribe to the Glass Half Full YouTube channel and be one of the first to discover when I relaunch.
I haven’t really discussed food and nutrition. I have not made any sourdough bread, but we did give a friend wild yeast to start baking her own sourdough bread. I don’t do much cooking because of weakened hand and arm muscles. My partner does a lot of prep cooking for me which meets my dietary and dysphagia needs.
I’ve continued to eat well – which is vital for my self-care routine – and I’ve even had the opportunity to share my experience of eating well with two audiences – the myotonic dystrophy community and the Canadian community of people with neuromuscular diseases.
As I’m five months into this quarantine and have avoided entering a building other than my home and being within six feet of anyone beyond the human I live with, I feel safe. But I am getting antsy. I long to smell the ocean air and have contemplated a trip to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. I have intermittent memories of my urban retail hikes which involves going to different San Francisco or East Bay commercial neighborhoods. We could do this – wearing masks – but I think the inability to go into stores and restaurants would depress me.
That’s why I’m putting my creative hat on and trying out different silly and playful ways to be. So, Friends…start doing your 1950s history homework, work on your attire, and get ready for the Decades Happy Hour!