It can be hard to ignore internet pressure to have a “productive pandemic.”
A few weeks ago, Glennon Doyle, one of my favorite authors, speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic said, “We are all in the same storm, but we are also all in different boats.”
This pandemic storm has forced millions of people into extended periods of isolation, many for the first time in their lives. However, for the chronic illness community, these quarantine limitations closely mirror the challenges that are part of daily life with a chronic condition.
Those new to the “quarantine lifestyle” are now experiencing things like social distancing, increased health anxiety, limited ability to exercise, and having errands reduced to essential activities only — all of which are the norm for many living with chronic illness.
What has become apparent, however, are the stark differences between what “healthy home all day” and “chronic illness home all day” look like.
As a 20-something who’s been largely homebound by chronic illness for several years, it’s been difficult to watch my healthy peers fill their time at home juggling DIY projects, meal prep, virtual exercise classes, Zoom happy hours, and long workdays in front of screens followed by Netflix watch parties.
Although we are all navigating the COVID-19 storm, sometimes it feels like others’ health allows them to sail through it on a fully outfitted yacht, while my chronic conditions leave me bobbing alongside them in a leaky sailboat, desperately dumping buckets of water to stay afloat.
My “home all day” is filled with health management. Boredom is layered beneath heavy neural and physical fatigue that make it difficult to complete basic tasks. My schedule is tentatively crafted and altered day by day, even hour by hour, to flex to unpredictable symptoms and pain that has made staying home my necessary norm.
These days, when I scroll through my social media feed full of workout challenges and Zoom call screenshots, it is hard to fight the feeling that I am falling even further behind my healthy friends. I’m constantly reminded that what they can do in 24 hours at home may take my body days, weeks, or even months to do.
For every person dealing with a chronic illness, this is not a temporary situation that will end when stay at home orders are lifted. Even once the world starts to go back to “normal” as the COVID-19 storm settles, our health will still demand that the majority of our time be spent at home, alone, devoted to caring for our bodies.
Although my peers and I now appear to be living in parallel homebound realities, our lives are still very different. With this in mind, I’ve let go of trying to “keep up” with others and instead have turned my focus inward, offering myself gentle compassion as I sail my boat, with its specific fittings, through this storm.
Shifting my perspective has helped me cultivate a greater degree of inner peace and release some of the pressure to do more, to be more, during this time. I hope these tips can help you too.
Learning to be compassionate to yourself might be the single best tool to use to flow through challenges with more ease. Kindness to the self is like a free upgrade from a noisy, standard hotel room with scratchy bedding to a luxury penthouse suite.
It can be hard to ignore internet pressure to have a “productive pandemic.” Constant messages implying that you should emerge from this time in the best shape of your life, with a new side hustle or a long list of home projects easily trigger thoughts of feeling less than.
But what if your primary objective during this time was to treat yourself with as much kindness as possible?
This intention asks you to go within, figure out what your needs are, and prioritize meeting them. For some of us, that means allowing meltdowns and then putting ourselves back together, over and over again, throughout the day — as many times as it takes.
Offering kindness inside of struggle and pain can soften the things that are sharp and pointy in your world. The only person who can truly give you permission to allow your circumstances to be “OK” is you. This doesn’t make suffering go away, but it can turn down the dial on how intensely you feel it.
Self-compassion also involves releasing comparison as often as possible. I remind myself throughout the day that time at home doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone and to reality-check my thoughts when they have drifted into comparison.
Remember that each of us navigates and experiences COVID-19 through our own lens of unique and individual circumstances.
I have found that my clearest path to inner peace is to stop looking out at the other boats and to focus on my own.
I structure each day based on my set of personal needs where I acknowledge my accomplishments (even things as small as making it out of bed or taking a shower) without trying to keep pace with anyone else.
Quarantine has made it more challenging for me to comfortably flex my boundaries muscle.
With more free time, my healthy friends have substituted in-person socializing with online hangouts. Although many of them have come to understand my need to limit in-person gatherings — not everyone has understood that online events present challenges too.
Even when it feels true, I remind myself that I’m not a bad friend when I turn down Zoom invites or don’t return phone calls.
Nothing about the pandemic has made the things that were difficult for me before quarantine any easier. Although it can be uncomfortable, prioritizing my health needs above the wants of friends or family is still a crucial part of managing my self-care.
I’ve also had to be mindful of my boundaries as the digital world has become flooded with remote resources for exercise, socializing, education, and distraction.
Just because more options are available does not mean that I can handle more activities or commitments.
To quiet my mind when I slip into overthinking and comparison, I focus on setting realistic, flexible expectations that can match my body’s fluctuating limits each day.
The things that have helped the most to keep my little boat afloat in these stormy seas are the exercise of compassion and kindness to myself — and the willingness to honor my needs, limits, and boundaries. By offering myself gentleness, acceptance, and grace, I have been able to share it more freely with my friends and family.
My deepest hope is that these suggestions can also help you stay buoyant and encourage you to give yourself the grace and acceptance that you deserve.
Natalie Sayre is a wellness blogger sharing the ups and downs of mindfully navigating life with chronic illness. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital publications, including Mantra Magazine, Healthgrades, The Mighty, and others. You can follow her journey and find actionable lifestyle tips for living well with chronic conditions on her Instagram and website.