Ghost Hugs From Exile: Self-Care, Solace, And Sanity For Shut-Ins

Johann Georg Meyer, Young Woman Looking through a Window

Johann Georg Meyer, Young Woman Looking through a Window

Ok, so if we’re being honest, I’ve been self-isolating since the late 70s. And it must be noted that I wrote that sentence last night and in opening this draft again early this morning, I misread that as “…self-loathing since the late 70s”. Also true. But not why we’re here today.

It’s a scary, lonely, and possibly boring time for a lot of folks right now if you’re keeping your distance from others, working from home, and just hanging around your house, waiting for this madness to pass. No happy hours with co-workers, no bookclubs or yoga classes, possibly no trips to the library or the grocery store (if, like me, that’s about the extent of your social interaction right there.)

I know a lot of us think–hey, 24/7 home-times and zero amounts of human contact is basically my life, anyway! No biggie! But it’s one thing to want that for yourself…it’s something else entirely not to have any choice in the matter. What once felt safe and lovely in the cozy confines of your home may begin to feel like a sentence of stifling, smothering imprisonment. After all, no one wants to be told what to do! There’s nothing like being informed that you can’t do something, to flip that contrarian switch in your mind that makes you suddenly want to do that thing more than anything in the world. So I absolutely understand how frustrating it can, even for an introvert, not to be able to leave the house, let alone see the places and do the things and hang out with the people. Or just…you know, go to your place of work and put in the hours for a paycheck. Or maybe you are immunocompromised, or you deal with the daily experience of living with a chronic illness, and frequently must turn down invitations or reschedule appointments for things outside the house while you tend to your own health. During this strange time of isolation and quarantine it’s possible you may be feeling well enough to spend time with friends, but…you can’t. And let’s not forget our extroverted friends! I know that I personally feel drained from being around people and am happy to avoid it entirely, but I have plenty of friends who find interaction and conversation energizing and invigorating. The friends who are always moving, going, doing! I can think of any number of reasons we are worried and anxious and the possibility of stir craziness and cabin fever looms.

Me, well. As someone who already works at home and has for almost a decade; who has maybe only one local IRL friend; who is very much an introvert anyway…I believe I am doing OK. For now. I don’t think I am likely to get bored (in my childhood, someone once told us, “if you’re bored–you’re boring!” and that is a sentiment that has always stuck with me, and has instilled in me the idea that to be boring is maybe the worst personality flaw one can have.)  My youngest sister explained our temperaments quite well when it comes to being okay with being home, and alone:

“My early years of being a socially-awkward, friendless little freak have served me well: I’m comfortable in my own company, and my internal landscape is rich and well-supplied with my own interests and curiosities.”

Wow, you can’t tell we’re related or anything.

I’m still working full time at my day job–not much has changed on the surface with regard to what I do for a living. But it’s an industry that will no doubt be affected by what’s happening now, and I have a feeling that these are effects that may be felt soon. So I’ll be grateful for my job while I have it!  For this period of quarantine and captivity, things at work are no doubt going to be a little slow, so here are a few of the things I will be doing. Or thinking about doing. Or some ideas for you!

tidy

Clean and tidy and organize my environment. When you have to look at the same walls and shelves and surfaces for days on end, dust and scraps and piles of random things where they don’t belong can start to make your space feel annoying and gross–and this feeling can naturally affect your attitudes and motivations for doing other things.

Block out some time to make the bed, to vacuum, to put things back where they belong, at the very least. Catch up on some podcasts while you’re doing it! For me in particular, that means organizing the stacks of stuff that end up on top of the captain’s bed in my office, a spot which has become sort of a catch-all for everything that enters my home that I don’t have immediate plans for. And because I work in my office, I always see that mountain of yarn, or perfume samples or whatever, looming and mocking me from the corner of my eye. It’s distracting. I’m going to take some time to find homes for these things and bring my office back to a nice, functional space.

books

Read! Now is a great time to make a dent in those stacks. You know the ones. The library stacks. The purchased-from-amazon-for-summer-reading-in-2015 stacks. The Kindle Unlimited backlog digital stacks. The poetry-section-at-Powells-from-a-previous-trip-to Portland stacks. Have a nice beverage, kick up your feet and put on your funny socks so that when you look down you see your silly toes and it makes you laugh. Post a photo of that on Instagram. Or maybe listen to some free books! Right now I am finally reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, catching up on Monstress. What are you reading during these strange, unprecedented times?

ukelele

Catch up on personal projects, hobbies, or creative activities–finish that knitted shawl, make that pelmeni that your friend gave you an excellent recipe for, KonMari your tee shirt drawer; redesign an awkward room, fix those wonky, squeaky, creaky things around the house, throw out all of your old crusty makeup, do your taxes. Tune that ukelele that your partner bought you for Christmas in 2014 and you’re afraid to even look at, update your resume/portfolio and refresh those skills that might give you a leg up on the job market, unsubscribe from all of the stuff clogging your mailbox, unfollow all those boring people on Instagram who never update anymore …though if you were close to them you may want to reach out and see if they’re ok, of course! Create a budget for yourself and make some plans to be more financially solvent. Do some end of life planning! (this is not morbid; this is practical.)

Learn something new! A yoga pose, a fancy nail design manicure, a Skillshare class on whatever, I don’t know, maybe one about being a social media guru or taking nice photos of your coffee in a hipster cafe. Listen to that one TED talk on empathy; learn to make a classic cocktail. Learn origami, watch some youtube tutorials for making cold process soap or wax candles, or herbal tinctures and decoctions. Read up on some eco-sustainable solutions for your home to begin implementing when you’re comfortable enough to think about things like that again. Look at some beautiful art for your eyeballs in a virtual museum tour. Finally begin reading up on the Tarot! Take your cue from The Hermit, and use this introspective, reflective time to learn about the things that excite your soul. Like crochet! The Hermit is totally crocheting some amigurumi dolls right now.

Are both you and your partner working at home? Take lunch together and do something absurd and ridiculous like rewrite the words to a popular song; I’ve started with the lyrics to the Eagle’s Desperado–my version is called Death Burrito. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I mean… I haven’t even learned to play the original on my ukelele.

Talk about something silly and fanciful. Plan that pie-in-the-sky-vacation you’ve been thinking about taking. Daydream together. My partner and I both work from home and have for years now, in our very different jobs. We have separate offices, luckily, and we’ve worked it out so that we don’t get in each other’s way, and we understand that we are at work between the hours of 8:30-5:30. But if that’s not your situation, this may be a good read right now: Surviving Quarantine Without Killing Your Partner.

grow

Get outside if you can. Walk around the neighborhood, peek in your neighbor’s garages (why do so many people leave their garage doors open all day long? Guy with the confederate flag hanging over your mossy old sofa…do you really want people to see that?) Go to a park, I mean I know it’s only a quarter-mile walk around a craggy retention pond, but use your imagination. Hang out in your backyard and garden, plant some seeds, grow something. Have a little picnic on your back porch. Squat down and look at some bugs. Lean your head back and look at the sky.

If you’re able, do your best to move around and don’t turn into a fossil! Little micro-workouts, gentle stretches, strength training, learn a K-pop dance, dance with Debbie Allen!; hula hoop in your backyard, do one of those crazy VR games, use your treadmill or stationary bike, try yoga apps or youtube videos, use that zombie running app that you downloaded once and promptly forgot about. If any of my DDR PS2 games worked with our PS4 I’d be hardcore Dance Dance Revolutionizing right now. I am actually the worst at this, so if you’ve got any tips of things tried and true that work for you, please let me know!

planner

Planner layout photo courtesy my baby sister, who suggested both #plandemic and #plandemonium as hashtags for current social media usage.

Plan and organize and make appointments and schedule things! I know it’s tough to book mammograms and hair colorings right now. Who knows when it will seem like a smart idea again to see our doctors for non-crucial issues and book appointments with the folks who make us look good? I don’t know! But if you’re suddenly working from home (or you’re at home because you’re suddenly not working) it’s understandable that you might be floundering and adrift because your regular routines have all gone out the window. Make a plan for yourself even if you’re just scheduling the stuff you do around the house. 6:30am wake up. Make bed. Drink water. Wash face. Do laundry. Email friends. I know these are just dumb daily things that you are going to do anyway, but when you don’t have anything else going on and your whole day boils down to these quotidian activities, it can feel like a big deal crossing small wins off your list.

Communicate with friends and loved ones. Keep up with your Facebook group chats, Skype with your sisters, text your best friend, send out emails to folks you haven’t heard from in a while. (If you’re me, don’t take/make any phone calls because why don’t people get that you are on the phone from sundown from sunup for your day job and you would rather throw yourself into a woodchipper than talk on the phone in your free time?) Play online games or apps with your cousins, watch movies with your coven over facetime, do book club discussions over coffee or cocktails together via Skype. Create a shared playlist with your buds on Spotify. Write some actual letters with that fancy stationery you never use, for pete’s sake

Soup

Cook! Experiment with a new recipe (make one of those technical challenges from the Great British Baking Show! Pretend that Paul Hollywood is going to give you that famous handshake if you get it right!), make a comforting classic; perfect one of your granny’s recipes, do some nice, relaxed, non-rushed meal-prep; see what kind of dreamy charcuterie board you can come up with what you’ve got on hand. If what you’ve got is string cheese, salmon jerky, and Cheez-Its, that’s a good try! The unattractive photo above is a barley and lentil soup I made with some dried goods that had been in my cupboard for maybe 5-6 years. I don’t know if it’s because I sauteed the veggies in bacon grease, but this was really an excellent-tasting soup for having used such humble ingredients.

BATH

Step away from the media that’s fueling your anxiety; draw yourself a bath and use some of those potions and lotions and oils and balms you have on the shelves in your bathroom– bath salts, bubble baths, fancy soaps, bath bombs, bath melts, etc, etc. Give yourself a manicure, a pedicure, a hand massage, a foot soak (or if you’re like me, you’re too lazy to draw a bath so instead you put all of those things I listed above into a tiny foot soak tub instead); do a facial, a mask, a peel; do some gua sha, light some candles, listen to some ASMR for tingles and relaxation. Lisa-Marie Basile has got some really wonderful rituals for troubling times such as this in her gorgeous book, Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the perfect time to dive in.

Write it out! Do some journaling (keep a plague diary!) work on your essay, your article, your interview, your poetry, your great American novel; meditate on and document what is happening right now, scribble and ramble to work through your fears and your feelings during these chaotic times. It’s scary to sit with these worrying thoughts, but if you’re up to it, you may find it helpful.

Follow your heart and see what it wants to do…and if that’s exactly nothing, then go with that for a while, too. It is OK to be still. I think the idea of “keeping busy” and the hustle/grind/etc–these types of relentless toil have been glorified in our society, and listen, you don’t have anything to prove right now. We place unbelievably high standards on ourselves, and that pressure is untenable on any given day, let alone in circumstances such as these. Listen to that small voice within and to the messages your body, instincts, spirit give you. You don’t have to “think positively.” Be worried, be anxious, be scared. Lean into those feelings and let them have a voice.  If that’s too much right now, and stillness doesn’t feel like something you can handle, to do those things that make you feel safe and cozy and let you tune out for a while: movies, puzzles, knitting, looking at pictures of corgi butts, napping, whatever.

If your heart is moved do something else, maybe consider donating to or buying a gift card from local businesses that you support; purchase a gift card or two from some of your favorite artists, or contribute to their Patreon, or buy them a Kofi. Support your local mutual aid network. If we’re at a point where you can still do this, run errands for someone who needs to stay indoors. I am sure there are lots of helpful and good things that I am not even thinking of, so please feel free to comment with ideas and practices of your own.

And I get it, we’re not all on vacation here. Some of us are still working– I know I am. (And there are some lovely, gentle work from home tips in this article at Luna Luna Mag!) It’s not like all of this magical free time just opened up for me! Some are not working and currently without income. Some of you have kids and can’t just take up crocheting or a new hobby or whatever. You’ve got diapers to change or kids out of school who need wrangling. Some of you live in apartments and maybe don’t have a park or a neighborhood to walk around. We’re not all in the same situation, and we don’t have access to the same things. The circumstances look different for all of us, and I wish I had more answers and ideas for everyone. But these are some things that I’d like to try to work into my schedule because now seems like a good time, I mean it’s got to be good for something, right?

Ghost hugs from exile, friends. Be well and stay safe.

2 Comments on Ghost Hugs From Exile: Self-Care, Solace, And Sanity For Shut-Ins

  1. Ekho
    March 18, 2020 at 5:40 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Great post. I am a massive stress head right fucking now. I still have full time uni & a 15,000word thesis to write.
    I still have part time work which might close any day now. My family are all working from home + its hectic af. So will read the link you left (even though its for partners, what ever, Im sure its relevant).

    What I have been doing when my brain feels too much is cooking – while I do that anyway I have been working on balanced meals as comfort food. Today Im going to make bickies (cookies in American) with cranberries, dark choc & pecans. I have been walking my dogs while desperately missing gym.

    I WANT to get back to weight lifting at home. & yoga. I want to concentrate on reading. I need to finish editing my novel. I will take your tidying up advice & do it. My study/work space is driving me crazy.

    Reply
  2. Deirdre
    March 18, 2020 at 6:31 pm (3 weeks ago)

    “The Hermit is totally crocheting some amigurumi dolls right now.” You have described my boyfriend so accurately that it is creepy. Are you bugging my house? 😀

    Seriously, this is a lovely post with some excellent suggestions.

    Reply

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