Surrendering to a New Normal

I haven’t written about COVID-19, social distancing and quarantine life here on this blog yet. Although I have written some “micro-blog” posts on my Instagram about how it’s affecting me.

In many ways, these quarantine days don’t look much different. I’ve always worked from home, so my work structure has not changed. I still make my own meals and dinners most nights. I still run on the weekends (and weekdays) and spend the rest of my Saturday and Sunday reading and listening to music. I still text my friends and hate talking on the phone.

So what’s changed?

It feels different. I feel very isolated and any feelings of loneliness I may have are intensified. I can’t see the people that mean the most to me. I feel like I’m tethered to my phone since that’s the only connection I have to those people. I can’t hear the chatter from shoppers in stores. Even when I do go to grocery stores, they’re so quiet. I can’t go to a bar or see a band play with friends, or out to dinner with Sophie. I can’t see my sister, nephews and niece, and I miss them terribly. I can’t see my doctors in person.

Sophie is home … all the time. The remote learning and her motivation to learn is a challenge. She’s feeling all this and I know it’s hard for her too. We have no idea if school will even re-open fall or what her summer will look like. She spends her days on FaceTime, listening to videos, music, shows because that’s the stimulation she craves as an extrovert. As an introvert, I however, hear all that “noise” and find it mentally draining. I’m not complaining; we’re both working through it. It’s just another factor that was not there before.

I run mainly by myself these days. I don’t mind running solo, but I miss running with friends and the bonding and conversations that come with that. Races for the foreseeable future have been cancelled, so 2020 running goals have changed. All plans and upcoming events are cancelled. I didn’t realize how much not having events and appointments on the calendar would feel so jarring. Every day is nearly the same. And that monotony can be overwhelming. The uncertainty for the future and not knowing when it will all “end” is really hard for me.

I’ve been struggling with quarantine productivity guilt. I see so many photos on social media of people’s new lockdown projects or learning new skills. Memes float around about how Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in quarantine; and how if we don’t come out of this with a new hobby, then we’re unmotivated and lazy. But for me, the anxiety I’ve felt has been a hindrance to getting things done. Sometimes the best I can do is get out of bed, make coffee, sit at my computer, turn on some music, and work. Running has been difficult for me since this started. So I’m trying to cut myself some slack if I don’t write my novel during all the “free time” I have during quarantine.

I don’t want to come across as all doom and gloom. … So what has helped me during this time of uncertainty?

The big thing is trying to stay with some resemblance of a routine. I’m way better than I used to be in terms of needing structure to function. But it’s still hard for me to be in such an unknown state. So I set an alarm every morning, even though I don’t have to be up at a certain time or get Sophie to school.

I’m trying to be very conscious of identifying when my body needs to stay in bed to sleep versus when it just wants to stay in bed because the world feels too daunting to face. If my body is truly tired, I let it sleep. If I’m hiding, then I try — very hard (and not always successfully) — to force myself up. As much as they drive me crazy these days, having dogs who rely on me to get out of bed so they can use the bathroom helps with this.

I try to get outside at least once a day, whether it’s in the form of running, walking my dogs, or just sitting on my patio to read. And with my running, I’m giving myself permission to simply move. I’m trying hard not to focus on miles or speed. Just getting outside and being in nature helps tremendously.

I try to do small things when I start feeling anxious or depressed. When I came up with a list of “big plans,” I got very overwhelmed. So I have a running list of small tasks that I keep in my phone. And anytime I have an idea, I add it to the list. These include baking a new dessert, making deep dish pizza, writing letters to friends and family, buying a few houseplants, mowing the lawn, hanging pictures in my new house, or watching a few episodes of a new show. I know myself, and I’m not going to master a new language, start sewing or plant a garden in this quarantine. But taking one small thing and doing that each weekend has helped me feel a bit more in control of my life.

While this “new normal” has been difficult, I’ve found a few silver linings too. Perhaps because of the increased solitude, my mind has been constantly going with so many ideas and I’ve been writing a lot, and wanting to write a lot. That’s been energizing.

The Instagram performances by musicians from their homes are sustaining me. I’m beyond grateful these artists are choosing to share pieces of themselves with us, and I hope they know how much hope it gives people like me. And during a time when I have no plans or places to go, those performances give me something to look forward to.

And while I do miss my running with my friends, the solo trips have allowed me to do a “re-set,” if you will. It’s helped me move away from mileage and race goals, and focus on why I love running and why I started in the first place. That reconnecting to the act of moving, and thinking while I move, has been a gift.

While writing this post, I noticed a phrase that I repeated: I try. And honestly, this quarantine and “new normal” comes down to that. Every day, I try. And I’ve realized that’s all I can do. Some days, it’s easier to try, and feel like I’m succeeding, than others. I’m slowly coming to terms with being okay with that.

It’s hard not knowing what the future holds and when that future will unfold. If there was ever a time to live in the moment, it’s now. But it’s very difficult not to feel swallowed up in those moments too. But I try … the best I can to get through each day. Eventually it will end; and we’ll surrender to a new version of “normal,” once again.

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