Pandemic Alert: Check Your Introverts

I am your garden variety, classic introvert. To be at my best, I require alone time. And, by alone time, I do not mean an hour sequestered in a room while others rattle around on the other side of a closed door. I mean ALONE, as in no one present I have to answer to, no one to request my assistance or bend my ear, and nothing on my agenda or to-do list. That is how I recharge. Alone time is what enables me to be a marginally decent human being in the company of others most of the time. Without it, well, I start to lose my shit. Not only do I become irritable, but I feel adrift. I forget myself. I forget who I am and what inspires me and what makes my life worth showing up for. When I exist only as part of my coterie, I shrivel. It’s not that I don’t love my people. I do. They are almost everything. The intersectionality of our lives makes the yearly trips around the sun fascinating, joyful, and worthwhile. As an introvert, though, I just can’t show up for them as the best version of myself when I don’t have time to unplug from the world we share and plug into my own space. Sometimes my brain needs to be powered off so it can start up again fresh.

This is where I find peace

So, imagine my chagrin when in March, Covid-19 brought my peaceful, recharging time to a screeching halt. After what had been three quarters of a school year during which I had between 7-9 hours a day completely to my own devices, suddenly there was no alone time to be found anywhere. Initially, it was sort of amazing. I reveled in it being the four of us, keeping each other and the world safer by staying home together. I staked out my claim in the master bedroom, my husband set up his office across the hall, and the boys did online classes from their basement boy cave. As we adjusted to grocery delivery, weekly take out instead of dining out, and a sudden cessation of driving and shopping and living in the outside world, there was some bonding. After six weeks, though, life got real. I mean, we really weren’t going anywhere. None of us. We were all there. All the time. Nowhere to run. And once the novelty of our new uniforms of super cozy lounge-pants wore off, well, things got dicey until it got warm enough outside to venture out.

After spending a solid three months in each other’s presence, two things became crystal clear to me. First, we know each other well and like each other. Second, if we were to continue to like each other in the future, we would need more room to spread out. Because dealing with a pandemic and widespread political division and unrest isn’t stressful enough during a year that increasingly felt like the dawn of the apocalypse, we bought a new home and moved across town because that is how we roll. I naively thought the additional space would serve as a buffer for my introvert nerves. But, at the end of the day, wherever you go, there you are. And so I found myself still anxious and disquieted, albeit from a much larger and nicer enclosure. I had upgraded my twitchy self from a small aquarium to a deluxe Habitrail with its long tubes to escape to different spaces and a larger wheel on which to occupy myself by spinning for miles while still not actually getting anywhere.

On Sunday night, I hit a breaking point. I decided I might either end up in handcuffs or in a straight jacket if I didn’t make a break for it. So, with my family’s blessing (which felt more like several feet pushing my cranky butt out the door), I reserved a cottage 46 miles from home for two nights away, no noise, no schedule, no meal prep. Just me being me, whatever that looked like in the moment. And it has been glorious. I missed me. I’ve read, taken hikes, enjoyed a bottle of wine I didn’t have to share, sat on the screened porch and observed nature. For dinner tonight I had cheese and apples. Just cheese and apples like a picky 3 year old. Earlier today I spent about 20 minutes wandering through a cemetery and I found myself tearing up. All those lives. Were they well lived? Many, it appeared, were short-lived. If I survive this pandemic (fingers crossed), what story will I tell about my time in it? Life is fleeting and it’s for the living, and I need to be doing more of that. I need to tune out political noise, turn off the television, and go on more walks, hikes, and bike rides. I need to find things that feed my soul and do them. I need to be willing to ask for space so I can recharge. We could be in this a while.

Funny thing this pandemic. As an introvert, the words “social distancing” sounded promising. Then I learned that socially distancing myself from most meant non-stop socializing with a few. I know people, myself included, have been worried about our extravert friends because they need human interaction and without office time, sporting events, dinners out, concerts, and parties, they have been sad puppies. And they have been great about sharing what they miss and need. But, I would urge you to recall on occasion those who don’t share much. Check on your introvert friends too, the ones who are trapped in their homes with people full-time. PEOPLE. ALL. THE. TIME. They might need someone to vent to or a cottage to run to or, at the very least, a phenomenal set of noise-cancelling headphones and a door that locks. We’re all just trying to survive right now, going through these new motions and figuring out as we stumble along. Keep an eye out for each other. And, make it a priority not just to stay alive but to be alive because this life is all we get.

Spotted And Clocked At 58 MPH

 

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And thus it begins

Tonight, at 5 pm, Denver instituted a citywide stay-at-home order. This had to happen because, despite dire warnings from the Word Health Organization and the CDC, we weren’t fully grasping what it means to stay away from others. We were packing into parks, standing too close in take-out lines, and crowding into liquor stores like we’d never see another bottle of (insert favorite spirit here). We were being the child told to sit in the chair in the corner of the room who couldn’t handle sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and so slid onto the floor and inched closer and closer to her friends, assuming she could get away with it. She couldn’t. Now we’re in the principal’s office until we’ve learned our lesson, a lesson we will not soon forget.

Today is my friend Lisa’s birthday. I had a gift for her sitting on my desk, a gift I had hoped to share with her in person over a coffee date, but that was not going to happen any time soon so I put the gift in my car and drove out to leave it on her porch. While I was out enjoying my last taste of true vehicular freedom for a while, I noticed how many people were driving like Mad Max, trying to tie up loose ends before 5 pm. Restrictions are scary. People tend to react to a crisis like this in one of three ways. They either over secure to feel safe (hello, toilet paper hoarders), they rebel (hello, spring break beach goers), or they fall in line dutifully and without question.

A recovering ex-Catholic, I still fall solidly into the third category. Big surprise, right? Do as you’re told? Yes, ma’am. Sit still? Okay. Follow directions? Of course. Color within the lines? I didn’t win a major award (leg lamp not included) for coloring at age 8 by being sloppy. Obey authority? Absolutely. Stay on the right side of the Keep Out sign? Done and done. In my youth, I learned to do as I was told without wondering if I should. So, this whole lockdown fits like a puzzle piece in my DNA. If the medical experts implore isolation is necessary, I wave my Good Girl banner and march to my room. It’s go time.

I was listening to Untamed, the new book by Glennon Doyle, today as I drove to Lisa’s. In one chapter, she discusses a zoo cheetah that has seemingly been tamed yet still paces the enclosure, looking for an escape, longing to run freely at the righteous, breakneck full speed she was built for. I started thinking about my own cage. About how I learned unquestioningly to do as I’m told. Like the zoo cheetah, I buried the wild me to live within the boundaries I’ve been told are mine to inhabit. And, in situations like this one, where I am required to confine at home for the greater good, being well acquainted with enclosures is helpful. But, I’ve been growing lately. I’ve been taking small steps, leaning casually against the fenced boundaries I adopted as my own, testing for a weak link, wondering if I’d be brave enough to venture out if I could just find a way to push through. So I am going to use this time in confinement to take a good, long look at what might be waiting for me on the other side of this enclosure. When this virus is at last contained and we are once again free to move, I will be standing by the door ready.

When it opens, I may linger at the threshold and stretch lazily for a spell, summoning my nerve. Then I am going to step out, slowly and with great intention at first and then later with fewer f***s to give, to do what represents my best self, discarding the mantle of appropriate “womanly” behavior on the ground where I stood. Life is shorter than me, people. We’ll be seeing that soon as community members, both young and old, fall victim to this virus and we watch families mourn unexpected losses of those to whom they were unable to say a last goodbye. Maybe even our own. If I am one of the lucky majority who escapes, I vow to live differently on the other side. I will still follow rules when I need to. I’m just going to push my boundaries more often.

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Cheetah weighing her options

The Avocado Advisement: A First World Story

“This is the first time in history when you can save humanity by just sitting on your couch and watching tv. Don’t f*#k it up.”  ~timely Internet meme

We are spoiled Americans. As a family, we are fortunate enough to be able to afford most of what we want when we want it, within reason. I mean, we don’t drive new Jaguars or BMWs. We do not live in a huge, stately home in a golf course community. We don’t take yearly trips to Europe. But we are able to buy a movie on our Apple TV without considering if the $20 is a waste, and the four of us can dine out a few times a month at decent, sit-down restaurants without being unable to pay our other bills because of it. If our sons need new jeans, they get them. If I want to buy a $75 concert ticket, I do it without guilt or stress. I know it is a gift to be in this position. And I do realize it makes us unlike most other American families. We are the lucky ones.

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The ghost of avocados past

A few weeks ago, when I saw the writing on the wall regarding this pandemic, I went shopping. I didn’t panic buy or hoard multiple packages of toilet paper, but I was able to purchase about two weeks’ worth of groceries in advance knowing we wouldn’t be going to the store as often once the virus began to spread widely among our population. Perishables were mostly off the table on my stock-up trip. Not a problem, I told myself as I bought some frozen fruits and vegetables. Then this morning I decided I would love an avocado for my bagel. Alas, there were none.

In my past life, I might run out to Safeway and grab a few of those bumpy-skinned babies to satisfy my craving. But, that past life was in the olden days two weeks ago. Now, I honestly have to look at a trip to the store differently than I did then. Now there are exponentially more people walking around unknowingly affected by COVID-19 than there were two weeks ago. My risk of contracting the virus is much higher, at a time when the hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. So I had to have a long talk with my fortunate self about going without. I suspect that over the coming days and weeks I will have to lecture myself many more times about the importance of remaining at home. I need to learn the delayed gratification I have been delaying learning. To that end, I made myself this flow chart, which I can refer to in the future replacing, as necessary, “avocado” with whatever thing it is I think I desperately need but really don’t.

 

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On voluntary house arrest, there is time to create flowcharts

This is our new normal. It may be our normal for eighteen plus months. I need to adapt to these temporary restrictions. They will be short-lived and my efforts could save lives, including my own and those of my husband and sons. I’ve lived a fortunate and entitled adult life, thus far, traveling freely through the world, buying grass-fed tenderloin steaks when I felt like spoiling myself. Now it’s time to do with less. In the grand scheme of history, what the times are asking of me is not a lot. It’s simply the matter of a small adjustment.

Someday the virus will run its course. Someday we will have a treatment or a vaccine. Someday we will once again be able to run to the store on a whim for that one topping we wanted but didn’t buy the first time through. When that day comes again, you best believe avocado toast will feel like the decadent treat it is and always was. We just didn’t realize that our last avocado toast would be our last avocado toast for a while. Live in the moment, my friends, and make sure to appreciate what you have today because tomorrow you might not have it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to remember and appreciate my great fortune and teach my sons to do the same. And when this is behind us, we’ll celebrate. We’ll don toilet paper togas and feed each other avocado toast just because we can. And then we’ll fold up the toilet paper and tuck it safely away for a later crisis because you just never know what tomorrow might hold.

Life During COVID-19 Is Basically Life With A Newborn

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Our oldest on the day he came into this world

I took a break from writing yesterday because I was sick of thinking about, hearing about, and whinging about COVID-19. I needed a mental health day from this health crisis. So, I turned off the television, stepped back from the social media, and spent most of my day completing a brightly colored, 500-piece puzzle of African mammals instead. While my husband worked in his office and my sons were in their lair building in Minecraft while using FaceTime to chat with friends, I sat at our dining table trying to line up the stripes on a zebra and make sense of a lion’s mane. It was precisely what my soul needed, a balm to cover the uncertainty and overwhelm.

This week that has felt like a year has been eerily similar to the couple weeks my husband and I spent at home directly following the birth of our first son. Our oldest arrived early and weighed only 5 pounds. He was, thankfully, fully developed and healthy in all respects. Despite our trepidation, having been crowned as parents seven weeks earlier than we expected (damn the miscalculated due date), the doctors and nurses told us it was time to go home. We lived only a half-mile from the hospital, but Steve came to pick me and baby Joe up, recently unwrapped infant car seat in hand. Trying to finagle and then secure a scrawny, 5-pound newborn into the seat took at least fifteen minutes, even though we would be in the car for less than two minutes on the slow drive home around the park with our precious cargo. We were overwhelmed, overtired, and overly cautious. And despite all the reading we had done, we felt we were flying blind. Everything was scary, awkward, and new.

That is where we are again. We are questioning everything we do. Should we have made that last trip to the store? Did we get too close to that clerk? Should we have wiped down every item we brought into the house? People were wearing face masks and gloves; should I have been doing that too? How many times a day should we be disinfecting surfaces? Should we eat what we have at home or order take out to support our favorite local restaurants? Do we have an adequate toilet paper back up plan? Why didn’t I buy and stash more candy and Cheetos from my teenage sons? We suspect we are overreacting about everything, but it is the only thing that feels appropriate. We don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re nervous and inexperienced. And we desperately want to do the “right” things.

We’re bound to fumble as we navigate a period of time unlike anything any of us have experienced before. Like parents of newborns, though, we need to trust that we are doing our best and that is all we can do in a changing environment with a novel disease that scientists are learning about on the go. You take precautions. You follow the current advisements and adjust when they change. You think critically and act prudently. And then you live your damn life — inside your house as much as possible and outside when you can be safe. Time will pass and, at some point in what will feel like a million years from now, we will be healthy, free, and confident again. In the meantime, we keep calm and carry on, but with an extra packet of antibacterial wipes, just like we carried when we had a newborn. At least this time around, we should be more well rested.