(Not) Coping with Covid-19

May 7, 2020

Hello my chronically awesome friends, #justjen here.

Those who follow Chronically Simple on social may recognize my name from there. I’ve been sharing my story for the past few months. I have to apologize for being a fair weather friend but times have been really tough, for everyone. Only now, 7 weeks into isolation, do I feel like I can talk about it in a productive way.

The situation:

In March, I was a month and a half away from achieving my #reassessthis_marathon goal that I had set for myself, over a decade ago. I was training harder than ever and was 6 kms away from completing the full 42 km marathon distance. And then COVID-19 hit.

The marathon was postponed, my marathon-moon (the family trip to celebrate) was cancelled and we were all facing a terrifying pandemic. My full time job got busier, my 2 small kids needed a parent and a teacher, and my husband’s work was considered an essential service, so he was still traveling into work.

3 weeks into the isolation we got word that my brother’s cancer had spread again and he would have to start another round of radiation right away. I wanted to see my brother and his family, I wanted to hug my mom and dad.  

I have psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, which makes me part of the population with a “pre-existing health condition”. I feel healthy-ish on a daily basis so I’ve never really seen myself as being at a huge disadvantage, until the pandemic, and I realized that my treatment at the infusion clinic was due.

I literally worried myself sick in the week leading up to it. How unfair was it that a community of people who are at the most risk, actually have to leave isolation in order to continue to feel well?

All of this compounded into 2 days of panic attacks and non-stop tears. Panic attacks in the grocery store, tears in the car, panic attacks in the middle of my “stress-relieving” run, tears with co-workers. There was no where to go but up, from here.

Since then I have continued to make plans for ‘after this is all over’ so that I have something to look forward to. I have worked really hard to ease up on myself and my own expectations for the day to day.

Here is what I have learned in COVID-19 self-isolation:

1. Asking for help does not just mean asking for a favour.

I hate asking for help and feeling indebted to people. I’m learning that an empathetic ear on the phone still constitutes help. Opening up to people you trust, being vulnerable, admitting that you are not OK, is OK. More than that, it’s needed.

Having people remind you that this situation is impossible, unheard of and terrifying, is needed. Being reminded that you are not like everyone else is helpful. It’s OK to be scared to lug my immune deficient rump to the grocery story or the clinic. It’s OK to be stressed about trying to home-school my kids and maintain a full time career. It’s OK to be terrified that my husband will bring this horrible virus home from work, or the train that he takes everyday. And it’s definitely OK to be angry that I can’t drive over and spend time with my brother and family while they try to navigate this horribly unfair situation.

Saying it out loud is important. Find your people and take the time to talk and listen to all of the fears and challenges you are all having. It’s more important than a porch-drop of groceries or thoughtful little gifts.

2.Physical exercise is not just a luxury it’s part of my treatment.

I have always viewed running and exercise as my mental health moment. It was how I cleared my head and took a little bit of time to myself. And now I understand that it’s more than that, it is a part of my treatment plan.

Because of my arthritis I need to keep my muscles strong, to support the joints and keep them from flaring. The ankylosing spondylitis requires me to keep my body moving so my spine stays healthy and doesn’t fuse.

When I’m scared to go out for a run because it feels a little like the zombie apocalypse and I’m feeling guilty that this selfish need might cause me to come in contact with the COVID-19 virus, I’m reminded that it’s not an indulgence that I should feel guilty for, it’s a necessity.

3. Social media is not real life.

This one is a little embarrassing. I’ve been in digital marketing for more years than I care to admit, and I’ve run workshops on this very topic. And yet, here I am getting incensed by the litany of posts where people are using all this extra leisure time to live their best lives. They’re taking up a new workout plan, they’re spending hours of quality time with their kids, they’re baking, and cooking new recipes, doing crafts, sewing… the list goes on and on.

I’m not living my best life, and I don’t have tons of time to take up a new hobby. I’m in meetings from 9-5 p.m., work from 7-11 p.m. to catch up and squeeze teaching and meals into the windows of ‘free’ time in between. It’s not fair!

Social media isn’t real life, it’s the highlight reel that people carefully curate. You don’t post pictures of that day you locked yourself in the bathroom to cry and have a glass of wine (OK, sometimes I do). You post about the bright spots.

Jennifer Clarke

So I took the advice I often gave in workshops and I filtered my responses to these posts. I didn’t engage, unless I honestly believed it wasn’t an emotionally charged response and that I would still stand behind that response a year from now. Instead of being an angry Internet troll, I limited my amount of social activity until I had a better mindset. And then, honestly, I just bought a few new t-shirts with the sarcastic responses that I wanted to post and wore it on my chest when I felt like it, rather than on the Internet for the rest of time.

These are all simple 101-type lessons but they took 42 days of isolated self reflection to get there. It’s not easy to navigate this new normal and I refuse to believe that this is the new way of life forever. In the mean time, I will continue to lower my expectations for myself, believe that it’s OK to not be OK, and buy all the shirts that vocalize my ‘inside voice’ so that I don’t have to.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.