do if only I had more free time: Exercise! Cook healthy, delicious meals from scratch! Spend quality time with family! Write that book! Read! Exercise! I have discovered that successful people do all these things with their free time. This makes me feel like I am in good company with these #goals.
Careful What You Wish For
On Friday, March 20, 2020 Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “New York State on PAUSE” order, closing all in-office personnel functions for non-essential businesses statewide. I got over being called “non-essential” very quickly. Financial considerations aside, I was more than happy to end my face to face contact with the general public as the virus gained a foothold.
The weekend following the Governor’s directive felt like a normal weekend. Then, Monday arrived, and I heard this heavenly “Ahhhhh!”. I saw the week, stretching out in front of me like a blank canvas, just waiting to be filled with all the things I have been wanting to do.
Yes, we were in the middle of a global pandemic. But here it was, that elusive thing I had coveted, now thrust upon me through no fault of my own. Free time! Oh, the things I will do!
You Had One Job!
I pictured myself running three miles every day, eating healthily, and having a decidedly stress-free glow about my face and skin. It sounded so easy: stay at home. What I didn’t realize was that nothing could truly prepare me for this.
We are creatures of habit. We get up, we shower, we have breakfast, we get our family and ourselves off to work and school, we do our jobs, we live our lives. It has structure.
And then the biggest disruptor short of a world war lands in our collective laps. Never discount the toll a seismic change to your daily routine can have on a person. In a moment, my entire activity level, routine, habits, structure, all that was familiar had changed. Add in social isolation and I could feel myself skidding to an abrupt halt. It was a rough landing.
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Big Goals, Epic Fail
Week one was disastrous. My whole body was humming with stress. I focused on food: Must.Feed.Family. I obsessed over recipes and food utilization, to ensure that nothing in the frig went bad before we could get to it. It was the only place I felt some semblance of control.
I had insomnia. I ate jellybeans. I could not read more than a few lines of anything in one sitting. I drank too much wine. I was supposed to be radiant, getting in shape, writing a best seller, having spiritual, psychological and emotional breakthroughs on the daily. It was the opposite: I was failing Free Time 101.
The toll that isolating paired with a loss of routine can take has been underestimated and largely ignored. Psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and talking heads will be trying to figure out what this moment in history did to our collective psyche for years to come.
The proverbial ‘They’ advise: “Stick to a schedule”, “Get dressed like you normally would”, “Limit your news consumption”, blah, blah, blah. We have all learned that turning off the news is easier said than done. While I did not want to see the rising death toll ticker in the upper right-hand corner of CNN’s news screen, I did not want to miss anything IMPORTANT.
Pain is Relative
I am not on the front lines of the pandemic. I feel helpless as I watch others risk their lives. I fear for the health and safety of my own family and friends. I do not want to see how my own immune system fares if put to the test of fighting off this deadly virus. I am sad for those who do not know when or if they will be able to see and hug the people they love again.
Am I alone here with this sense of loss and uncertainty? Can I rally? Can I cut through my worries about the well-being of my fellow human beings, the economic toll this will take on them, the scarcity of things we need and the loss of routine and rise above?
Focus on Today
There is no playbook for these challenging times. No go-to for how to respond, react, recover. I will try to forgive myself when it isn’t the perfect result I envisioned. I hope to come out of this better, stronger, and more aware than when this first began. For the people who have sacrificed and lost so much, it’s the least I can do.
When we do restart our “normal” lives, it may be in fits and starts. It probably will not resemble riding the proverbial bike. It may be some newfangled contraption and we may fall off. In the meantime, if you see me out there on my three-mile run, cheer me on. I may be on my way home to eat some jellybeans.