So much has changed since the last time I posted here. It’s been less than three weeks, yet it feels like months have gone by. In seemingly the blink of an eye, the whole world is now in crisis. Many of us are mostly confined to our homes and when we do venture out, we’re shrouded by anxiety about an invisible enemy that can potentially strike us all. So much is unknown at the moment and it’s difficult for any of us to predict what may happen in the coming days, weeks, and months. Most of us have never lived through a crisis of this magnitude, and our lives have already been affected in profound ways and our perspectives have shifted immensely.
In my last post, I mentioned that I would be writing about my “enough” theme for 2020. That’s what I’ll be doing today, albeit not in the way that I originally planned. I’ll table those thoughts for a later date, as I have something different to say now. I want to reflect upon a few insights that I’ve gained about “enough” over the past couple of weeks.
“Enough” has taken on a new meaning in this time of chaos and uncertainty in which we find ourselves. This post is divided into several sections about “enough” related to the coronavirus pandemic. I’m not going to focus on the macro, as there are many others better qualified than I am to cover those topics. Instead, I’ll look at how “enough” has impacted my life and how it may also apply to you during these challenging times.
Enough News and Information
I don’t usually watch the news. As someone who struggles a lot with depression and anxiety, I’ve chosen to limit my exposure to this medium because I feel that it may as well be called the “bad news.” When I used to watch television news, I’d feel my anxiety mounting with every doom and gloom story. I also felt increasingly helpless because I knew that I was virtually powerless to impact anything that was being reported on. Watching the news only served to make me feel worse about my life, my safety, and the state of my local area and the world.
That all said, I do like to keep informed about what’s going on with current events and politics. I accomplish this by reading news online and in one weekly magazine, listening to podcasts, and discussing issues with some of the people in my life. I’m sometimes better at keeping up with things than others, and I have to admit that I haven’t been quite as good about it in recent years. However, in the past two weeks, I went from consuming news just minutes each day to many hours. The combination of my naturally curious nature and my mounting anxiety quickly led to news overload. It got to the point where I wasn’t doing much beyond refreshing news sites to read new developments about the coronavirus.
Then this week, I remembered my theme for the year, “enough.” What constitutes enough news and information about something that matters to us? We all have to decide that for ourselves, but I recently read an article from Cal Newport (author of the book, Digital Minimalism, which I wrote about HERE and HERE) that offered two pieces of sound advice. First, Newport suggests that we check just one local and one national news source each morning and then refrain from consuming any other news for the remainder of the day. Second, he recommends that we distract ourselves with lots of value-driven action (i.e. working on tasks that serve our deeply held values).
I’m not sure that I’ll be able to reduce my news checking to just once per day, but I believe that two or three times per day should be plenty for most of us. What I’m going to do is set a timer for fifteen minutes in the morning, midday, and evening and limit my reading about the coronavirus to only those time-frames. This is probably still too much time to spend on consuming news about the pandemic, but it’s a good start for me. I may opt to reduce these sessions from three per day to two after a week or so.
As for the second part of Newport’s recommendation, I have a long list of projects that I want to work on. Some of those tasks are included in my “20 for 2020” list and others have come about more recently, including some decluttering and organizing projects at home. I definitely feel like I have plenty of things that I can work on to occupy my time at home for the next few weeks or months, however long this lasts. However, I think it’s perfectly reasonable and normal not to be ultra-productive during this stressful time, but that’s something that I’ll address later on in this post.
Of course, many of us wonder what we can potentially do to lend a hand to those who are suffering as a result of this horrible pandemic. Because so many of us have been directed to “shelter in place,” there’s not a lot we are allowed to do in terms of standard volunteering. Fortunately, for those of us who can afford to do so, there are many opportunities to contribute financially. Even small donations are appreciated because it all adds up! See this list or this list for a number of options, or do a Google search for donation opportunities in your local area.
Enough Food and Supplies
I don’t know about where you live, but there are a lot of supply shortages in my neighborhood. We’re being directed to clean and disinfect frequently, but most cleaning supplies are sold out and there’s not a bottle of hand sanitizer to be found anywhere. And don’t even get me started on toilet paper and other paper products! I’ve visited many stores and what I mostly see are barren shelves where the cleaning supplies and paper products used to be. The same has been true for non-perishable foods such as soups, pasta, crackers, and the like. Surprisingly, it has also been hard to find eggs, which are a staple in my diet and a key ingredient in many of the items that I like to bake. I guess because so many people are eating at home these days, they’re buying eggs as an easy to prepare meal option.
I’ve read that there hasn’t been a disruption to the supply chain for any of the items I’ve mentioned. The issue has been that many people are panicking and purchasing these products in much larger amounts than usual, which leaves many of us scrambling to find enough to cover our basic needs. It’s been said that times like these bring out the best or the worst in people. While some are thinking about how they can help members of their communities, others are only looking out for themselves.
A friend of mine had major dental surgery done shortly before our nation went into a state of panic. She was told that she could only eat soft foods for the next three weeks. Although she had purchased enough for her to eat for the first few days, after that she was hard-pressed to find anything that would meet her needs despite driving around to multiple stores while still taking heavy painkillers. When she contacted me, she was in tears and worried that she wouldn’t be able to feed herself for the coming days and weeks. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to locate enough staples for her to use to get by, but we pretty much just got lucky by visiting a few stores late at night (this was before most stores switched to shortened hours last week).
How do we know when we have enough food and other supplies to meet our needs during a crisis? That’s the $64,000 question that no one truly knows the answer to… But we need to remember that we’re all in this together! If we take too much, someone else won’t be able to meet their needs at all. Luckily, many stores have instituted maximum purchases when it comes to particular items. Also, I suspect that most of the hoarders probably feel that they have enough now, so the rest of us will gradually be able to purchase toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, soup, pasta, eggs, and other staples.
I’m an extreme introvert who spends the bulk of my time alone. I’m usually fine with the level of social interaction I have, which is typically just once or twice per week beyond spending evenings and weekends with my husband. For me, a little interaction goes a long way and I aim for quality over quantity when it comes to keeping in touch with family and friends. I interact with the people in my life to varying degrees, but it’s never been what I would call “frequent.”
But since the coronavirus crisis started, I’ve actually found that I’m touching base with loved ones more often. However, all of this interaction has been through text messages, email, and phone calls, and I’m definitely finding myself missing in-person time with people. I even miss just being out and about around people when I’m not talking to anyone. Sometimes it’s just nice to be around other people and to feel like I’m more of a part of life and the social fabric of society.
This “new normal” has me pondering what enough connection is for myself and for others. I know that what I’ve been experiencing lately isn’t really enough. Just before all this started, I joined a few new Meetup groups that I was looking forward to checking out despite my fear and trepidation about meeting new people. But just when I was ready to expand my world beyond the small bubble it had become, I was forced to contract it even smaller than it had been previously. I guess my efforts to make more friends and face my fears about social interactions will have to wait.
We’re all different, but I know some people are having a much harder time being home alone than I am (my husband is still working, as he works in an “essential” business), particularly those who are used to working in an office and/or engaging in an active social life. My mom is one such person. She’s been retired for over ten years and lives alone with her cat, but she regularly goes to exercise classes and enjoys sharing coffee or lunch with friends and spending time with her two grandchildren.
That has all changed since she started sheltering in place by herself a week and a half ago. Since she’s in multiple high-risk groups due to her age and health status, she knows she shouldn’t risk being out and about or getting too close to others, but she’s also a highly extroverted “people person.” She’s keeping sane by having more frequent phone calls with loved ones, but I worry about her sense of well-being if her solitude needs to extend as long as some people are predicting will be necessary. Loneliness may not be as lethal as the coronavirus, but it also poses a risk to our health and vitality. We’re going to have to think outside the box to make sure seniors and other at risk populations don’t suffer from loneliness and depression while we’re protecting them from the virus.
As I mentioned in my 2020 wardrobe, shopping, and style goals post, I’m tracking the number of days on which I get dressed in “out and about” clothes each month. In January, it was just nine days (29%), but I was also sick with a cold and flu for close to half the month. My February number was better at twelve days, which represented 41% of the month. I was on track to wear “out and about” outfits on at least half of the days in March, as my count was up to seven mid-month, but now I’ve been solely wearing at-home clothing since March 14th. I haven’t counted the items I’ve been wearing at home, but I’m sure it’s well within the realm of the rules of Project 333 (by the way, there’s a new book out about that challenge, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s interested in dressing with a capsule wardrobe).
Sure, I’ve missed wearing the rest of my clothes since all of the chaos began, but I’ve also haven’t thought about it all that much. My perspective on what constitutes enough clothes has really shifted during this short time frame. Clothes just don’t seem all that important in the grand scheme of things. I look in my closet and think, “Why do I have all of these clothes? I don’t need them!” I’ve pared down my wardrobe significantly since I started my “half project” (an update on that soon…), but it still feels like much too much for me. I feel more ready than ever to have a streamlined wardrobe and I’m angry at myself for letting it get out of hand for so many years.
I still want to look nice and presentable, even if I’m just going to be at home by myself. I still make an effort to shower, do my hair, and put on makeup most days because that helps me to feel more confident, attractive, and ready to face the day. While I opt to wear comfortable pants and slippers at home, I still wear colorful and fun tops that are sometimes worn outside the house, too. I know that some people still get dressed in smart casual or “work clothes” when they’re working from home, as that helps them to be more productive, but that’s not me. In fact, I’ve been making an effort to have all of my “out and about” clothes be just as comfortable as what I wear at home, so there will likely be more crossover in time.
All of the malls and shops are closed, but online shopping is still available. Yet, I don’t feel like adding to the chaos of my closet. In this time of uncertainty, I find myself craving simplicity even more than before. I want to pare my belongings down to what truly matters to me, and that includes my clothing. I’d like to feel less anxiety and overwhelm when I look into my closet because the outside world and all of the uncertainty around us already produces an overabundance of those feelings in me. Hopefully, I will pare my wardrobe down more in the coming weeks and will be able to pass my excess clothing on to those who are struggling financially during these trying times.
Productivity is my Achilles Heel. No matter what I do, I never get as much done as I think I should and I frequently compare myself to others who I feel are more productive and more successful than I am. When things got crazy and my entire state (and much of the country and world) was ordered to stay at home, I thought that I should be much more productive since I didn’t have much else going on. Unfortunately, however, I felt even more stuck and mired in quicksand than I usually do. Everything I tried to do just felt like it wasn’t working and I was getting even less done than before.
I felt even worse about myself than usual until I saw the following statement posted on Instagram by Julie Markowitz, a therapist who works with chronic pain patients (I’ve been on a lengthy social media break except for a bit of scrolling on Instagram here and there – I will write about that soon):
“You do not need to be productive during this time. You do not need to learn a new language, write a novel, take a course… Please be kind to yourself. Your only job is to get through this.”
The above was the text of the actual post, but Julie also added some additional feedback below it for those who are struggling with depression and other mental health issues. She stated that although suggestions on how to be more productive during this time of distress can be helpful for some, it can also feel like shaming for those of us who are having a hard time getting things done because of our anxiety. She stated that some of us just need permission to rest and engage in fun activities that will bring us joy.
There will be plenty of time for productivity. If what you need now is to just let yourself “be” and feel your feelings, please honor that. If you need some downtime to take more naps and binge watch shows on Netflix, that’s okay. I didn’t get much done last week (I also had yet another cold – need to boost my immunity!) and I chose not to beat myself up about it. I also didn’t set too many expectations for myself this week, but I was inspired to write this post, so here I am! I’m sure we’ll all experience a lot of ups and downs in the coming weeks, so we need to do our best to be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we would be to a beloved child or friend. It’s fine to have a “Pandemic project list” to look to when you’re feeling inspired, but try to give your inner critic some time off for a while.
In the moment, it’s enough for me that all of my friends and family are safe. I know that my little family (my husband, our two cats, and me) has everything we need to keep us going for a good long while. I delight in the daily walks that my husband and I take, which is often the only time I get outside each day. I have slowed down and I’m taking more pleasure in the little things of life that we so often take for granted. I don’t know what the future has in store, but I’m trying to live in the moment and know that I have enough and I am enough right now today.
My heart breaks for those all around the world who are suffering with this horrible virus. I know there will be many more tragedies in the days and weeks to come. I hope upon hope that the havoc the coronavirus will wreak won’t be as horrible as many of us fear. I also hope that some positive will come out of all of this. We don’t know what it will be just yet and it may take a while for us to fully realize all of the implications of the deadly virus and its aftermath. I hope that many of us will get more deeply in touch with that which truly matters. I also hope that people will slow down and stop being so addicted to busyness and being “on” all the time. Finally, I hope that families and communities will grow closer together and recapture their love of sharing time with each other in person. Connecting online can be great, but there’s nothing like looking into a loved one’s eyes and giving him or her a big hug. I’m looking forward to the day when there will be more hugs and love than fear and devastation. Wishing you all much strength during this challenging time and sending you love.