I feel like Matt Damon living on Mars growing potatoes. Since August 2020, my human contact could be counted on both hands. That is seven months with text messages, a few video calls, five distanced lunches outside, and the occasional “I forgot something” in/out visit from my son. I am living with cancer, one lung, and trying to stay alive. My days pass in quiet, living in a small apartment sheltering from the pandemic.
Over the years, I have been asked by several people “How do you do it?” And “What is your secret?” I know what they are really asking. How do I handle the daily pain of cancer without drugs? How did I survive a difficult marriage and divorce? How do I manage with crippling PTSD? And on and on.
There is one big tip for everyone who has asked. It’s a mental game.
So here are five lessons I learned to stay sane while living in solitude. Let’s face it, it will be several more months before we resume a social life. You never know when you will face quarantine.
ONE - Embrace the Solitude
Let’s face it, now is the perfect time to lean into living completely on your own. No need for grooming, dressing for work, or worrying about burping/farting, etc. Lean into it if you like and let go of the guilt. Who’s to know if you haven’t changed out of pajamas for 24 hours? Who cares if you finish that report at 2 am instead of 2 pm? Believe me, there will be a time when we will move back to a social society and it will be here sooner than you realize. Now is the time to take a moment and embrace solitude.
Pro Tip - Know yourself - If you need people to keep up your energy, don’t hesitate to call a friend. If you need solitude, then don’t hesitate to say no to a call and ask to ring them back later. No need for guilt. You are doing your best.
TWO - Lean into the Self
Now that we have baked bread, puzzled, read, and binged all of the Netflix catalog; what else is on your to-do list? I am learning to meditate; started my own business; knit countless blankets and finished several dollhouses. So I am moving down my wish list. Tackling projects that I put off for decades like cleaning out that drawer on the bottom of the cupboard in the hall - you know the one with the discarded electronics and old batteries. I am digitizing thousands of photos and creating an electronic picture frame. All those projects that I dreamed of doing and never really had time. The best part - I harbor no guilt if I don’t finish. I am also leaning into self-care - being kinder to myself when I don’t meet the lofty goals that I wake up every morning listing. I am no longer a superwoman - working wife and mother - I am just trying to survive and enjoy my life now.
So discard your guilt and lean into yourself. This is not the time to worry about selfishness. This is your time. Take advantage.
THREE - It's OK to Talk to Yourself
There have been many days (many many) that I just want to hear a live voice. A real voice. I find myself talking out loud just to hear a human voice. Don’t worry I‘m not answering myself back - yet. There is one thing I have noticed in isolation is that mechanized voices like the television and radio do not supplement a real voice. Just speaking out loud helps to ease my loneliness.
Don’t worry - I’ll get help before I start to answer myself.
I also understand that underneath this desire is anxiety. Recognize it. Take the time to put in place those activities that relieve the anxiety. For me, talking out loud. Rereading favorite books and re-watching favorite movies. I reread the entire Harry Potter series when I underwent leg reconstruction surgery. It happened weeks after my divorce was final. Just before the first lockdown. I had a few friends who rallied but no family. So I listened on audiobook to the entire series again reliving that feeling of reading the books with my kids. It brought me great comfort during a very stressful time.
FOUR - Rebrand
It’s not isolation. It’s simplicity.
It’s called rebranding in the marketing game. Reframing in psychology. Whatever you call it, just look at it differently. And believe it. Simplicity. I used to cook large dinners for a large family but now instead of mourning the lack of company, I am learning to cook for one. Cleaning only takes an hour instead of days on end. Finances are easier. There are many moments when my mind does what I now call “down Alice’s rabbit hole” and the thoughts spiral. When it happens, I wrench myself away and reframe. The idea of simplicity is appealing. A calm takes over and I find myself enjoying those tasks.
If there is one lesson we can all take from this pandemic, life can change quickly. Now is not the time to spend on regrets. Change the frame and enjoy the simplicity.
FIVE - This too Shall Pass
Ok, the nerd in me reads that in a loud booming voice like Gandalf.
While I sit at the window and watch the seasons change around me as the television drones in the background, I know that it will all end. And when that end happens, I will miss some of these moments. This pandemic will end and we will eat in restaurants, drink in bars and enjoy meals in our friends' homes. We will hug each other and see our grandparents or in my case, my grandchildren.
So print out that phrase “This Too Shall Pass” and tape it to the cupboard door where your coffee cups rest. Or anywhere you look at frequently. Read it often. Take comfort in it. This will pass and in the meantime, we will be fine.