Distraction in the time of COVID-19.

Image courtesy Pixabay.

How are you holding up, dear friend?

Our lives are all in such different places lately that the continuum of potential responses to that question seems to get longer and fatter each day.

Some of you may be bored, reduced to cleaning out closets and old email messages. Others of you may be swamped, like my husband, who is trying to manage the needs of his staff and unit from home. Others are surely crazed with fear and worry and grief, either because COVID-19 has hit too close to home, or because you are on the frontlines fighting it.

Whatever your experience, I’m thinking of you.

As for me, I feel driven. Overwhelmed. On edge.

I’ve been doing a final read-through of the memoir manuscript I “finished” last fall, expecting to have a little tweaking I might want to do. I’m now on day four of dedicated tweaking–no other writing, very little social media, and, of course, sheltering in place. I’m up to chapter seven of twenty-seven chapters and I am obsessed with finishing.

When I get absorbed in a project, if the end is anywhere in sight, I want to ignore everything else, put my life on hold and GET. IT. FINISHED.

At first, tweaking was a good distraction from coronavirus news. But chapter seven covers the year before my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age eleven. It got to be too intense. I didn’t know if I was crying more about the memories, or about what’s going on in the world today.

Then, yesterday, it hit close to home. I got the news that my friend who is infected with COVID-19 has taken a turn for the worst.

My emotions are so close to the surface, I can’t even watch or read happy and uplifting stories without crying because they remind me how much is at stake.

So I’m reaching out to connect with humanity. I need a distraction.

My son, Matt, is going stir-crazy working at home alone. I wanted to do something every day to let him know I’m thinking of him. So yesterday, I texted him some silly riddles and knock-knock jokes. (Writer’s Digest has a good collection.) They weren’t even funny. But sometimes what’s funny isn’t the joke, but how bad it is.

Here’s one:

I took the shell off my racing snail thinking it would make him faster. It only made him more sluggish.

(It’s OK to groan, really.)

It’s such a little thing, but I already know this will be a memory Matt and I will have forever. When I’m old, we’ll laugh at our attempts at comedic relief. It’s simple. Literally, right at our fingertips.

Next week, I’ll have more distractions to share–three essays coming out. Their deadlines so close to each other kept me driven at the beginning of my social isolation and I was glad to get them behind me.

What about you? Do you need a distraction? Do you have a distraction to share? If you’re hurting, I’m listening.

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The best self-care: giving to others.

A few years ago when I was visiting my parents, my dad came back from shopping with this. I said, “Dad, that will never be enough for me! And what are you and Mom going to use?”

Are you coronavirus-ed out? Have you had your fill of worry and fear and depressing news? Are you tired of suggestions about what to do as you shelter in place, and reminders to practice self-care?

Me too. It’s why I wasn’t going to write anything about pandemic life. What can I say that hasn’t been said ad naseum?

But here I am, so obviously I’ve reconsidered. I realized I didn’t want to be the writer who doesn’t write at a time when there’s so much to say.

My life these past two weeks isn’t much different than it’s been for the past three-and-a-half years. My gut disorders have kept me sheltered in place pretty much every day. I love my solitude, so isolated life is easy for me.

The biggest change was that my husband Michael worked at home last week. Good news–we didn’t strangle each other, as I feared! The only surreal thing was that a few times he’s run out at the crack of dawn when stores opened to hunt down toilet paper (which I use at a rate of about ten to fifteen times the average. No exaggeration.) Twice, he came back empty handed, but this morning he scored big–eight rolls! That should last me a good two days. (OK, that was an exaggeration. LOL.)

Did you every think, in this land of plenty, that we’d be hoarding toilet paper? And then discussing it on social media, no less?

Now that our TP shortage has been remedied, I’m OK.

But maybe you’re not OK. Many people are not at all OK. I feel their pain acutely, which makes me not OK. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get overwhelmed with wanting to save the world and feeling helpless that I can’t. I wish I had a few million dollars to spare so I could really make an impact.

But that thinking is a trap. I can’t save every person in need, but can I take the edge off this disaster for one person?

YES.

Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I’m going to identify what I can do. That will make me feel better. It’s a win-win.

I’ve decided that the best self-care I can give myself is to give to others.

I’ll share my plan, not to appear generous, because there are many, many others whose generosity makes mine look like the Grinch’s. I’m sharing to hold myself accountable, and hopefully to generate ideas of small things we can all do.

Here’s my plan:

I ordered disposable diapers online and had them mailed directly to a local food pantry. I saw a Facebook post from this particular agency that gave me the idea. There’s another food pantry I want to do this for. (I’ll call ahead to see if that will work for their limited hours, and I suggest you do the same.)

I’m going to donate blood tomorrow. I used to donate at least four times a year, but when I got sick, I had so much to manage with my gut symptoms, I gave myself a pass. But my blood is healthy and plentiful, so it’s time to share it.

If I get that check from the government–$1,200 last time I heard–I’m going to donate it. (I haven’t yet decided where.) Michael’s income won’t be affected by the pandemic and I didn’t have an income to lose, so, financially, we’ll be status quo. If we’re OK now without that money, we don’t need it. But someone else surely does.

I have other ideas, but I’m going to start with these because I’m more successful when I set manageable goals.

If you are hurting, know that people do care. You may feel invisible, but I know you’re there and I’m wishing the best for you.

What about you? Do you have small ways that you’re helping in these uncertain times?

Self-disclosure of my people-pleasing foibles.

Lily-of-the-valley shoots sprouting up through blacktop.

Self-disclosure of my people-pleasing foibles often leads people to tell me not to be so hard on myself. It’s true that I feel mad about the times I didn’t stick up for myself and shame in admitting what I see as a weakness.

But sharing my truth means I can’t hide from it. Once it’s out, I’m confronted with its destructiveness and feel I have no choice but to change.

My self-disclosure is working. S-L-O-W-L-Y but S-U-R-E-L-Y. I’ve written some funny stories about my successes on Facebook. *

And now, another story:

You may know some of the background of this one. If not, the short story is that in May, 2016, I had to take medical leave from a job I loved due to my increasingly disabling and difficult-to-diagnose gut problems. My employer encouraged me to take advantage of their short-term disability policy, which turned into long-term disability.

What a blessing. Not my illness, but the disability benefits. That income took the edge off leaving my job, and helped to cover the thousands of dollars I spent (and spend) on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Then, in September 2019, I received a call from my disability representative. I’ll call her Mary.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” Mary said, her voice wobbling. I could hear the emotion in her voice and I knew it was sincere. We had become fond of each other in a weird kind of way during our three-year phone relationship. She was always professional and business-like, but with heart.

“Our medical directors have determined that you are no longer eligible for benefits.” She gulped. “Your cased is being closed as of today.”

Shit. I felt my shoulders and chest collapse, and my breath, my hopes, my future squeezed out of me like toothpaste.

I had wondered if I might face a reduction of benefits someday. I’m not bed-bound, after all. I’m not immobile. My mornings always suck, but I can usually leave the house in the afternoon or evening if I need to. I can take care of myself and do household chores and tap away on my laptop.

But I never expected a complete benefit mic-drop without warning.

As crushed as I felt, I also felt bad for Mary. My instinct was to comfort her.

“It’s OK,” I told her. “I won’t starve.” And I blathered on about the benefits being a blessing, and how grateful I was, blah, blah, blah.

I heard Mary typing to transcribe our conversation, like always. It’s her job. I knew she did it and I wasn’t worried because I had nothing to hide.

A few weeks later, I decided to appeal the decision, so I requested my full medical file—all 2,400 pages.

I read, or at least skimmed, most of it. When I came to my final conversation with Mary, I wished I had sewn my lips shut. It sounded like I was overjoyed to be losing my income. Blessing this and blessing that and all kinds of gratitude shit.

Nowhere did it say Client expressed anger and disappointment. Client Cried. Client said it must be a mistake because her health has not improved. Nope. Client was as agreeable as always. I saw it for myself in black and white.

I haven’t received the results of my appeal yet, but I suspect my people-pleasing will work against me. It won’t be the first time. There’s a scene in my memoir when a similar thing happened, only that time, it was a doctor I acquiesced to, and the patient was my son.

So you see why I share these stories. I hope you understand my self-disclosure. I must learn the lessons in what happened. And maybe others will learn, too.

In her book, The Disease to Please, the late Harriet B. Braiker said:

Sometimes we see in others what we can’t see clearly in ourselves.

If you see yourself in my stories, stick around. We’ll figure this out together.

*I tried to link to the exact post, but the cyber-gods weren’t cooperating. If you can’t find the post (or you’re not on Facebook), let me know and I’ll email it to you. And if you are on Facebook, how about following me while you’re there? 😉

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