Much of the world is in the midst of lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we brace for another shutdown — whether government mandated or self-imposed — many are facing real concerns: How do I prepare to stay home for weeks at a time, both physically and mentally?
I, like many chronically ill and disabled people, am no stranger to being “stuck” at home.
While those of us who are vulnerable have complex feelings around the notion that many people were doing so little these last few months despite what’s at stake, we do have a unique skill set to offer to those new to the Stay Home Club.
Depending on your unique circumstances, isolating will vary based on what’s accessible to you.
Our desired protocols may not be financially or physically feasible for a number of reasons, including cost and our reliance on others for our care needs.
We may not all have the ability to ask others for what we need, or aren’t able to ask for what we need safely.
All of that is valid — and the prevention techniques you can do to keep yourself and others safe is enough.
Unfortunately, there’s no right answer as to how to cope with your specific situation, as much as I’d like to provide an exact prescription to get you through the next few months.
A lot of it is a retraining of your thought processes. This isn’t to suggest you adopt toxic positivity to bypass your feelings. However, these tips may help add some ease to your quarantined days.
Most of my suggestions are, for me, anxiety reducers. Before I can access anxiety reduction, I need plans.
The first involves how I can best avoid in-person appointments and emergency room visits, while also ensuring I have an ER care plan that I’m comfortable with should it come to that.
I’m a big believer that everyone should have a hospital plan, but during COVID-19, it’s a true necessity.
There are a number of informative resources on the internet including the #NoBodyIsDisposable guide that helps ensure that your triage toolkit includes all the necessary paperwork in your go bag.
Hopefully you never need it — but peace of mind can go a long way.
For some of us, making sure our cold, flu, and cough medicines are stocked alongside all our usual meds is enough.
Others will want to make sure their refills are sent to a local pharmacy that delivers or sends your scripts by mail.
Some will want to make sure they have emergency medications at home that they can access if their specialists determine they need more than their day-to-day regimen.
Once you’ve squared away a medical care plan that can help you feel more secure at home, I’d recommend making your life a little easier wherever possible.
For me, this includes ignoring the environmentalist in my head that yells at me for using Amazon.
I haven’t gone inside a store since the end of February. In-person shopping isn’t possible for me, as it isn’t for many disabled people, even pre-pandemic.
There are often a number of options to shop locally depending on where you live, but there are very few options for people on a budget and to that I say: Shop online with abandon.
Your life and livelihood are by all means worth a slightly larger carbon footprint. Let that guilt go, if you can.
We don’t know how long this will last, but any changes you can make now to improve your daily life is worthwhile.
Make adjustments in your home that work for you right now, no matter how “ugly.”
If you’re able to, try rearranging your living space. You may not be able to change scenery, but you can try to change the scene which helps make a space feel fresh — and it may also help you find a design that’s more inclusive of your needs.
There’s a saying in the disability world: If you think you need an accessibility device, you’ve likely needed one for some time.
I smile when I see my mint green shower stool because, yes, I needed one years ago and I can’t believe I waited so long to get one.
Similarly, the things you need to live as comfortably at home as possible are valid requests. Honor them wherever possible.
Hopefully you won’t need them forever. But if you do, that’s fine, too. You’re just doing your best.
I like to infuse comfort into my living space wherever possible.
I try to buy things that feel good — from my clothes to my bedding, and everything in between.
I try to keep favorite foods in my cupboards, especially easy meals that can be heated up quickly.
Nurturing my body and mind with comfort foods feels really good to me, as does ensuring that meal time isn’t unnecessarily difficult.
Introverts around the world may have initially rejoiced at the collective JOMO (joy of missing out) we all experienced last March, but we all ultimately need interaction in some way.
In so many ways, the withdrawal from socialization, coupled with the norms of pandemic life (sleeping more, eating more comfort food, going outside less, watching more shows and movies, and so on) looks and feels a lot like depression, even if depression isn’t at the root.
We’re seeing this manifest as increased mental health issues across the globe.
While the sacrifice to protect each other is in so many ways a necessity, our mental health shouldn’t be overlooked as we prioritize our collective health.
If isolation is bringing up old or new feelings of depression or anxiety, you’re not alone.
While the intention was noble, the impact was overstimulation and exhaustion.
Unlike on video chat, when we’re face to face we’re not looking at our own face, navigating technological glitches and lags that transcribe as awkward silences, and more.
Those of us who’ve been advocating for virtual accessibility for decades had to laugh at this outcome. We didn’t mean 12 hours of videoconferencing a day when we were fighting to be allowed to tune in to work meetings and classes virtually.
This is yet another moment where disability inclusivity would have rendered better design.
Maybe good old-fashioned phone calls or even voice notes passed back and forth at your leisure is more your speed. You can even share space on FaceTime without talking or even looking at each other — sometimes it’s enough just to know someone else is there.
Think about what your ultimate goal is as far as human contact goes, and work backward, bearing in mind that what feels good one day may vary the next.
Some of my friends have a standing check in once a week. They can decide when they connect each week, whether they chat on the phone for 5 minutes or FaceTime for 2 hours.
If you have someone who can be this kind of support for you, it may be smart to get a recurring date on the calendar.
Years ago, when I was first experiencing extended periods of being stuck at home and in bed, I treated the pursuit of finding entertainment and hobbies like a full-time job.
In addition to internalizing capitalism even while at my sickest, I was terrified of the loss of cognition that always appeared when my symptoms were at their worst. Perhaps more than that, I was terrified of being alone with myself and my thoughts.
While some of us may be taking this season to turn inward and embrace the time alone as space for self-reflection, for others this may be an impossible task.
If you fall in the latter category, try to be gentle with yourself. You don’t need to take this time to “be the best version of you.” The version of you that’s in one piece when this is over is the best version of you.
Over the years, I began to recognize my true need: distraction.
The distraction doesn’t need to be productive nor academic. It could just be a distraction, whatever that may be to get through today.
It doesn’t need to be catching up on a list of movies that were recommended, or listening to audiobooks I’ve decided I’m behind on.
Often, what I find most helpful is putting something familiar on as noise in the background and just waiting for bedtime.
If crafting, puzzles, knitting, needlepoint, online courses, coloring books, mindless phone games, or any other activity feels good to you, do those! If they don’t, be kind to yourself.
You’re surviving a pandemic. You don’t need to do anything else but try to survive it.
Psychologist and meditation expert Tara Brach has a highly-regarded theory known as RAIN. This asks us, when faced with difficult experiences and circumstances, to recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture.
Isolating during a pandemic is extremely, well, isolating. It’s important that no matter what we face, we allow ourselves to integrate our feelings if that’s available to us.
Just because there may not be anything we can do about an issue, doesn’t mean that issue isn’t worthy of time and attention — even if that only translates to validating your feelings to and for yourself.
We can get through these dark hours
Having to isolate long term during a pandemic absolutely, totally, and utterly sucks no matter how you slice it.
Making sacrifices to keep yourself and others safe — no matter how pure the intentions — is really hard.
During particularly bad days, I have a habit of telling myself I never have to live this hour again.
I may have a bad hour tomorrow, I may have a much worse hour in my future, but I can find some comfort in never having to live the same horrible moment twice.
The next few months will likely have dark hours. We can expect them, like rain. With the right tools, we can also get through them.
Alyssa MacKenzie is a writer, editor, educator, and advocate based just outside Manhattan with a personal and journalistic interest in every aspect of the human experience that intersects with disability and chronic illness (hint: that’s everything). She really just wants everyone to feel as good as possible. You can find her on her website, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.