We Belong To Each Other: How To Take Care Of Yourself (And Others) When You Can’t Go Anywhere.
In the last five days, I’ve retracted my RSVP for a cousin’s wedding which was later put on hold, cancelled a trip to L.A., postponed a workshop I was co-leading, cancelled my fitness class recording sessions, postponed friend-reunions, skipped out on a networking event, and gotten news that many friends who were debuting their films at SXSW, shows on Broadway, and books into the world would have to press hold on celebrating their art out in the world in real life with other humans.
I’ve also finished two books and started a third, written over 10,000 words for a secret project, attended a funeral via live stream, set up a home studio to record remotely, scheduled aforementioned friend-reunion dinner over Zoom (planty foods and cocktails of choice included), spoken to my therapist, ordered delivery from local restaurants I’ve always wanted to try, cleared my inbox by 50%, bought new books just making their debuts, downloaded multiple independent films on multiple platforms, started to buy tickets to shows I can’t wait to see, and made pumpkin seed butter from scratch.
I’m finding that it’s easier for me transition to this Homeward Bound lifestyle than a lot of my friends. Not because I’m better at managing global crises – but because I’m an introvert. My home is my favorite place in the world. I’ve also been working primarily from home for most of my adult life. Even as a kid, I preferred locking myself in my room and playing silently than going out with my peers. I texted a friend, half-jokingly: THIS IS MY MOMENT!! This is what I’ve been PREPARING FOR my whole LIFE!
However, there’s one thing I’m still struggling with, no matter how many jars of pumpkin seed butter I make or chapters I write: my sponginess.
I’m what’s called a Highly Sensitive Person, which means I see things others can’t and feel things others don’t. I can feel fear or freedom just by looking at your Instagram post. It’s been both my downfall and my most prized resumé point.
Jeremy calls my high sensitivity my “sponginess.” I sponge up everyone else’s emotions and everything else’s intensity and hold it within me in my pores and fibers. It’s been a great way to explain to him how I’m feeling when I don’t have words – I can just tell him I’m having a majorly spongey day and he understands my heaviness. He also knows my sponginess is my superpower – so instead of trying to change it, he celebrates it while helping me squeeze out what doesn’t serve me.
When I first moved to NYC, the abundance of FEELING was exhilarating, until it wasn’t. I tried to soak in EVERYTHING and it broke me down. I tried to cut myself off and it numbed me out. I had to find a balance and boundaries, and ways to wring myself out at the end of the day. A warm home. A riveting book. Deep breaths by the river. Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling.
Eating disorders, I’ve heard, are a kind of OCD – a way to count, clean, and control, control, control. In my early days of recovery, I got into an all-or-nothing habit of either cleaning my entire house top to bottom then back again, or leaving clothes and papers and plates and dust to pile up for days, sometimes weeks on end. I once left a sponge sitting at the bottom of my sink in a shallow pool of water. After a while, I finally went to pick it up and realized it had started to mold and disintegrate.
Boundaries are hard. But my job is not to clean up everyone else’s mess. And my job is not to sit in the dark underneath the sink, dry and numb and unmovable, either. Sponges don’t work down there. My job is to absorb enough water that I can soak up the muck and make things shine, but not so much that I submerge myself and it breaks my fibers apart.
IN SPONGEY TIMES SUCH AS THESE.
The sponges are feeling it BIG TIME right now. They’re feeling the fears of their neighbors, the triggers of anyone who has ever experienced an eating or body-related disorder (this is a VERY triggering state for ED-prone people to be in), the anger of the over-60 set who are pissed that they want to go outside and are also pissed they’re being referred to as “elderly” maybe for the first time in their lives, the frustration of the kids of the over-60 set who don’t understand why their parents just don’t GET it, the snarkiness of the people who believe it’s all a sham and prefer to make fun of the people who don’t…it’s all so, so very much.
What a weird time to be someone who is not typically an alarmist, but simultaneously wants to be the very best, most mindful community member possible. I know that while I don’t fall into the most vulnerable demographic, any trace of Coronavirus/COVID-19/Beer Germs (get it? Corona? Virus? Beer? Germs? I’ll be here all week folks) that I catch could be passed onto someone else whose body might not be able to handle it nearly as well. Not to mention the overwhelmed healthcare professionals right now who are trying to take care of as many people as possible but have a fraction of the resources needed to do so.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been asked many times what I “think of all this,” how people can take care of themselves, and what my general take is on living day-to-day life when it looks and feels anything but normal. Instead of posting a million times to Instagram or spreading my responses out over emails, texts, DMs, and social media updates, I figured it might be useful for you if I just posted everything here, all in one place – for the sponges who need help with sponging, for the people who are struggling finding normalcy and motivation at home, and everyone who’s dealing with a little bit of everything.
9 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself (And Others) During Coronavirus And Beyond
LIMIT YOUR NEWS INTAKE
We can’t always control what we see, but we CAN control what we pay attention to. Sometimes it feels like we’re at the mercy of news updates and social media feeds, but now is a great time to practice a Thank you, next! Ariana Grande-style philosophy and dismiss what does not serve us.
I’m not a huge fan of jumping straight to a cold-turkey digital detox, especially while so many of us are feeling isolated. Not only do I think it’s unrealistic for long-term mental health management – it’s probably not the best idea to make yourself feel even MORE cut off from the world and disconnected from your loved ones right now than you already are.
If going cold-turkey works for you, fantastic. But for the rest of us, limit your Beer Germ updates to THREE PIECES OF CONTENT A DAY. Why three? Four feels like slipping too far down the internet rabbit hole, but one or two feels like there’s no chance for redemption if you DO start to go down a dark path. Consuming and paying attention to three pieces of news updates – whether it’s about Coronavirus or any other hot-topic news item that makes you feel nervous – empowers you to mindfully choose what’s worthy of your attention. How do you want to design your day/week/outlook? Maybe you’ve give two doom-and-gloom articles your attention already – actively SEARCH for a more positive and proactive note to end on (this post is a great one!).
BRING BACK THE REIGN OF THE HOBBIES
We all say it. All. The. Time.
If I just had more time…
If there were two extra hours in the day…
Okay, so you’ve been granted your wish. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you don’t currently have a “commute time,” or a busy, distracting office to spend the day in, or non-essential errands like getting a haircut that you “have to get done.”
So what is it? What is that THING you always say you’d do if you had more time? Cleaning your pantry? Writing poetry? Making salsa? Reading a book? Organizing your computer desktop? Draw? Paint? Showing your kid old photos? Learning how to play a new game? This is your time. No excuses anymore. Do your thing. Do that one small thing that’s been lurking in the back of your mind. Whether that’s fixing something broken, learning something new, delving into a meaningful project, or getting back in touch with one of your lost hobbies (REMEMBER HOBBIES?!). I made pumpkin seed butter and am writing like a fiend. What will YOU do with this time given to you in your one wild and precious life?
BE A GOOD COMMUNITY MEMBER
And I mean the people who are negatively affected BEYOND not being able to find toilet paper or your favorite shampoo on the shelves. I mean the local businesses whose livelihood depends on in-person interaction, the service industry workers who don’t get paid if they don’t have a shift, the cab drivers who are driving around for hours on end looking for passengers. If you have the means to, order takeout from your local restaurants and tip generously. When you need groceries or home goods, buy locally instead of on Amazon when possible – or call the store! – and then ask if they’ll deliver to your home. When they do, tip generously. Order cabs (there is usually a glass divider between the driver and the passenger), bring antibacterial wipes to wipe down the seats and handles if you choose to, and then – yep – tip generously.
And if there’s a mistake – your cab driver turns down a wrong street, your delivery order is SLIIIIIGHTLY off, tip anyway. Because they’re also a human, just like you, doing the best they can right now. I ordered takeout the other night and my fries were replaced with dumplings. Would I have preferred fries? Yes. Would I be fine with the dumplings? Yes. Now is not the time to snap at each other. As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it’s because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.”
GET MOVING AND GET SUNSHINE
Exercise is proven to boost your mood AND your immune system. The beauty of this day and age is that we have so many digital options available, at all price points and experience levels, to help us get high-quality workouts during this high-quarantine time.
Exercise isn’t about the workout. Not REALLY. A class, workout, or session isn’t just fitness training – but LIFE training as well. The more resilient you can be in the face of a challenge in your workout, the more resilient you’ll be in the face of a challenge out there in the world. The kinder you are to yourself while you’re sweating, the kinder you’ll be to yourself when you’re not. In these confusing and emotionally spongey times, it’s important to lean into that mental aspect of fitness, and lean into it HARD.
That doesn’t mean you need to crush it on a treadmill. Keep your distance from others – but get outside! Soak in sunshine on a brisk (or not-brisk) walk or run. Do some stretching in the grass. Make the most of your surroundings.
I teach for Aaptiv, and it’s been an absolute joy and mega comfort to see how many people are taking our trainers’ classes and getting a mood boost from them. If you’re not a member, go to aaptiv.com/save50 for 50% off a yearly membership – that’s $49.99, which is how much I’ve spent on dinner and cocktails with friends before, and literally 1/4 of many regular gym’s monthly dues. I teach outdoor walking, running, spin, elliptical, and treadmill classes galore, but there’s also strength, yoga, Pilates, meditation, and more.
Can’t afford $49.99? There are so many free workouts available online and being hosted on IG right now (Sadie Kurzban of 305 Fitness has some phenomenal dance classes that have happened so far!). Use this as a chance to discover something new, or lean into a long-forgotten physical source of joy (hello jump ropes!).
GET YOUR ART ON
So many concerts, book tours, theatre debuts, and film releases are being cancelled or rescheduled right now. These events usually take months upon months to prepare, after usually years and years of work and sweat and tears and heart given by the musicians, authors, actors, and filmmakers to make their art come to life.
Since you’ll probably be listening to music, reading, and watching movies anyway, why not support those artists who worked so tirelessly – only to have their art be put on hold or cancelled?
My friend Lynn Chen (you might remember her from The Recovery Myth or our L.A. panel a few years back) was slated to make her directorial debut with her film, I Will Make You Mine, at this year’s SXSW. She wrote beautifully about the heartbreak of her premiere being cancelled here. The GOOD news is that many of the films, albums, books, and shows that were cancelled or postponed either already exist out there in the world (books and albums), WILL be available for wide release soon (films), or will have their IRL events rescheduled at a later date. The very best things you can do right now are:
A) Sign up for their mailing lists so that you’re up to date with when you can enjoy their art (Lynn’s movie’s list is here!). Here is a list of SXSW films that were supposed to premiere this month.
B) Buy new book releases, stream new music, watch new movies, purchase theatre tickets in advance if possible. Your dollars and views and streams COUNT. As far as books go, Glennon Doyle has a fantastic thread of new books that were just released going on her Twitter feed.
EMBRACE THE ART OF THE VOICE TEXT
I LOVE voice texts. I can send them at any time, no matter HOW much time I have available to me, and I can have a voice-to-voice interaction with my friends. Phone calls can pile up (and sometimes become a game of “Call me back!!”), texts can be void of emotion (unless you’re a gif master), but voice texts are almost like a modern day walkie-talkie.
As someone who can feel very guilty about returning phone calls “too late” AND would rather have a multi-hour-long conversation than a quick 10-minute catch up (I am not a 10-minute catch up kind of gal unless I’m forced to be), voice texts feel like a great, no-pressure way to connect and share thoughts, feelings, and ideas in real time. Try it – I have one going on my favorite group chat right now and it’s bringing us all so much joy. And, feels like a great way to have energetic boundaries if you ARE a muti-hour phone convo person like me. Which brings me to…
SET CONVERSATION BOUNDARIES (AND HONOR OTHERS’, TOO)
Something I’ve had to learn and re-learn, and teach and re-teach my loved ones, over my many years of Homeward Bound work, is that just because I’m around doesn’t mean I’m available. If you need to talk about your stresses or fears, please please please don’t hold it inside. But if you need space, assert space. My mom literally just sent me a “Call me” text – and since we’ve had the conversation before about me freaking out and jumping to worst-case-scenario over “Call me” texts, she knows to let me know if it’s urgent or not. This is not urgent. I responded: “I will in a few!” Simple as that. I talked to her a few hours ago and this follow-up can wait, and she knows I still love her and WILL call her back (follow up is important). Whether you’re busy writing, reading, or just soaking in some silence and contemplation time, you are allowed to take the space YOU need to feel the way YOU want to feel.
In the same vein, be mindful of how you connect with others right now. Maybe they need some space, too. While almost everyone is in a heightened emotional state, honor if your loved ones need some space, too. This is a wonderful time to practice clear and kind communication both ways!
CREATE NORMALCY IN THE ABNORMALITY
Working from home and not used to it? Some quick tips: Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Put on real clothes. Schedule your days in your calendar. Take lunch breaks. Find your New, For-Now Normal instead of throwing all structure out the door until further notice.
DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
Do The Next Right Thing. It’s a common piece of advice for overwhelm, depression, and anxiety. Look way past the moment you’re in, and get clear on how you want to feel way after this has passed. Look at the moment you’re in and what’s being asked of you (literally or figuratively), and ask yourself how you can simplify your response to it. And then do the next right thing.
Who’s to say YOU are not the Next Right Thing the world needs right now? Who’s to say you writing that one poem, or reading that one book to your kids, or speaking up and staying home, won’t change it all for someone else? That poem might reignite your love for writing that leads you to your first book. That book you read might spark your kid’s imagination and lead them to develop a new passion. Speaking up and staying home might give someone else the courage to do the same, and that someone might be someone who later finds out they were carrying the virus that’s spreading like wildfire. It’s usually not the big grand gestures but the small seemingly ordinary ones that make the biggest impact. As Joan Didion said, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” Your ordinary instant might be the change you wish to see in the world. YOU might be the Next Right Thing.
In the comments, share what books you’re reading, films you’re watching, recipes you’re cooking, workouts you’re doing, hobbies you’re enjoying, projects you’re completing, or any other way you’re being proactive and not reactive during this time! With so much up in the air (no virusy pun intended) some of us need your inspiration to help turn our days around right now. Let’s create a nice list for anyone who needs it!
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