I don’t want to brag, but I had to isolate myself before it was cool
I’m a high-risk, immunocompromised woman with a lung condition so COVID-19 has thrown me into self-isolation and now it seems like most people are doing this as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic increases.
But this isn’t my first time at the rodeo and I’m here for you guys!
At the end of 2018 I had an undiagnosed Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a rare parasite that had me lose 20% of my body weight before it was diagnosed and treated 8 months later.
It caused me to have a nervous breakdown and go into hiding for around 9 weeks. While it wasn’t full isolation, it wasn’t far off. And it felt more isolating that I can even describe. And that’s just one of the times I was too sick to leave the house for a decent period of time.
I’ve written other blogs about that saga, but this one is my attempt to consolidate how my Type A self-healer personality got me through this excruciating pain, fear and loneliness in a way that was surprisingly positive and constructive.
Here are my Sick Girl’s Tips to Surviving Self-Isolation during COVID-19
- Be nice to yourself
- Try to create a new “normal”
- Actively try to stay positive
- Work on those coping mechanisms
1. Be nice to yourself
I’m going to start with this, because in my opinion this is the most important thing we need to remember during a difficult time.
It’s ok to not feel ok.
It’s ok to be upset, angry, afraid, anxious, depressed, frustrated, self-pitying, self-righteous, like things are unfair and life sucks, and be an asshole now and then. And when you’re going through something completely unprecedented and consequential in your life, it’s even MORE ok to feel that.
Your emotions and feelings are valid. They do not need to align with reality or rationality to be valid. And in this scenario, the thing is that a lot of feelings are absolutely reasonable, so give yourself a break if you’re feeling shit.
It’s important to know you don’t have to be perfect. I am of the belief we always do the best we can. If you can’t get out of bed, that’s ok too. If you only eat ToffeePops and coffee one day, that’s ok. If your laundry is building up because you don’t have the motivation to do it, that’s ok.
However, we can remind ourselves that these feelings are temporary. We need to try do the basics that we need for survival, particularly food, water and medication. We can cry into or punch a pillow, vent to a trusted friend, talk to our therapist, scratch thoughts into a journal.
Then when we can, we can take the next steps to getting back to it.
2. Try create a new “normal”
One of the things that impacts us most in times of upheaval is the loss of control.
When we’re sick, it’s a lack of control over our bodies. But in this scenario, I’m talking about the control over your lifestyle and situation to create a new “normal”.
You may have lost a job, you may have to work from home, you could have children with complicated needs with you 24/7, you may not be able to buy the groceries you need, you may be afraid to go outside, you may be stuck in isolation with people you’d rather not be.
Whatever your situation, you’ve probably lost the control that you felt really not that long ago! That’s an unsettling shift.
One way to create a new normal is to plan out a daily schedule that fits in with your current situation.
Likely, your previous one doesn’t work anymore, probably because you are no longer commuting or going to the pub after work. But maybe you can still listen to podcasts in the morning with a coffee, and have Skype beers after work with friends.
Why fix what ain’t broke? See if you can maintain certain rituals you had – it might help you transition to this new normal a little easier.
When you plan your new routine, it could be worth considering:
Maintain a fairly regular sleep routine and sleep around 8 hours a night (or whatever you need).
Maintaining a regularity in your meals and trying to be as balanced as possible. “Healthy” food will help you feel better, physically. Comfort food is totally legit right now too, but read your body on that front, and make sure you stay hydrated. Coffee and beer does not count (unfortunately).
I’m not suggesting daily online HIIT classes, but if you can get a decent walk in every day or an online dance class now and then, this will definitely help your mental health. Stretching is a great alternative if you’re really not motivated to do that. Pop some movement into your schedule – it’s hard to rack up steps on your FitBit moving from your bedroom to your kitchen.
Make sure that in this upheaval, you don’t forget to do the basic things you need to be healthy and feel good. The best advice I think is to shower every day when you usually would, get out of your PJs into fresh clothes, schedule any medication you need to take (I use an app called Medisafe to send me reminders to take my meds), make your bed, tidy your house (a cluttered environment increases anxiety – this is the best reason to do that).
Remember to plan some downtime. Time off devices etc. If you’re into meditating, then I’m preaching to the choir, but I struggle with that personally. You could also try reading, crosswords, puzzles, writing, attempting crafty stuff, colouring, any hobby that’s not work, and ideally off devices.
It’ll become clear very quickly if you’re having to self-isolate alone (or even with people) that connection with OTHER humans makes all the difference in a day. Plan FaceTime with friends and family, do Netflix Parties, Skype wines, or just text a friend and see how they’re doing. It’s good for you and it’s good for them. Yay!
If you are not alone, it will likely become important to discuss your needs and boundaries. Is it feasible to always be in the same room as your co-isolators? Do you need 20 mins “me time” every day? Do they? Do you need silence when you work? How will that work when they’re on a work call? Try combine forces on your routines to maintain both/all of your sanities BEFORE the plates go flying.
A routine can be the first steps to getting control back over your life and your mind. And reminder to always go back to #1 if you are struggling to stick to your routine and are beating yourself up about it. It’s ok to not be perfect.
When I made my routine when I was sick and isolated myself at a beach house, it worked for about 2 days before I crashed out and lost all momentum. But after a couple of days on the couch, I was back to it. It’s always a rollercoaster 😊
3. Actively try to stay positive
Firstly, I 100% realise that this is easier said than done. In fact, it’s always the worst thing to say to a sad or depressed person – “just be happy!”. But that’s definitely not what I’m saying.
What I’m recommending is more structured than “happiness” or “positivity”. It’s more like, how can we try find a reason to smile when the world is on fire? Bloody hard question.
But here’s another. What can we do to make the world feel less on fire?
- Analyse the media you consume
I’m a delicate little butterfly with the media I consume, and I also have obsessive tendencies when I’m in a panic state which has me consuming allllll of the stuff that I probably don’t need and makes me anxious. When I see myself do this, I know it’s time to adjust.
A good approach is to stop or minimise the what you’re reading, watching or listening to if you find that you’re drowning yourself in pandemic content. We don’t need as much information as we’re dowsed in.
For NZers, I recommend bookmarking the Ministry of Health site on the page with the latest information, and the COVID-19 website and that’s about all. Outside of NZ, I recommend finding your local government equivalent and really just sticking to that. The rest of the information is usually conjecture, or the media taking a sentence and making it into a story. The core information should be within your government sites.
Unfollow or hide people who are panic-posting and freaking you out. We only need so many pictures of empty supermarket shelves to get the point. I’ve stopped listening to podcasts that are even mentioning the C-word, unless they’re just talking about their situation outside of fear or virus info.
I personally need hopepunk content in my life when I’m spiralling. I can’t consume anything with overall negative vibes (like horror movies or even some action films). I’ll put my personal recommendations of TV shows and podcasts that I use to distract me from having an existential crisis at the end of this blog post 😊
- Try journalling
The beauty of journalling is not only is it so in fashion right now, it’s also bloody brilliant for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it can be super helpful to externalise your feelings. When you feel yourself circling the drain in panic about what you need to buy and do, and what other people are buying and doing and whether or not you agree with it, write that shiz down.
I guarantee that if you’re stewing on your feelings, when you write it down, you’ll find the list of thoughts you have is way shorter than it feels in your brain. The problem with ruminating is that you keep circling back over the same thoughts but feel like it’s a new one. Externalise!
Secondly, you can trick your brain into positive thinking with morning and evening gratitude and even positive affirmations.
Even if you feel like you’ve had the worst days, forcing yourself to find things you’re grateful for helps you remember that there is always good, no matter how small.
- Just have fun
TikTok has been going off the hook lately, for good reason. People are channeling their energy into just being silly.
There are lots of fun things to do in isolation if you use your imagination. Make like a kid and just have fun – we need that outlet sometimes.
Learn an online dance (and put it on social and share it with me 😋), try a new workout that you never thought you’d do (is there online beer yoga?!), do an eyeshadow makeup tutorial, bake a cake and decorate it with whatever you have available.
There is time for seriousness, and we’ve had plenty. Now it’s time to cheer ourselves and others up.
- Try do good deeds
Speaking of cheering other people up, if you have the money for it, consider donating to people who are more in need or need the most support in this difficult time. Those who work in healthcare, those without permanent housing, those “essential” workers on the frontline every day. Even sending a grocery voucher to a person you know who might be struggling.
If you don’t have the money, maybe see how you can donate your time or energy (cos you probably have that right now). Look up to see if there are services for sending homemade letters or making cards to the elderly or very sick who are isolated from family and friends.
The trick with doing good deeds is that it’s a lovely thing to do but it also benefits us as individuals. Giving to other helps improve our mood and self-worth, decreases depression, lowers stress and can increase life-expectancy. So it’s never too late to start!
4. Work on those coping mechanisms
This will get more serious, quickly.
What do we do when we lose our coping mechanisms (healthy or unhealthy) or we get trapped at home with the unhealthy ones?
- Have you lost your coping mechanism(s)?
When I got my gut issues and couldn’t have most foods or drinks, I lost allll of my coping mechanisms. It was truly horrible. A life without comfort food, alcohol, coffee and exercise felt like I not only was I in a terrible situation, but I couldn’t even pull out the tried and true fixes that I’ve used for years.
I didn’t care that beer can be an unhealthy, self-medicating approach to helping myself through hard times, I wanted a damn beer! Life sucked, girl needed some McDonald’s and a BODYCOMBAT class but was too sick for that.
Now, this is almost therapist work, and very individual. But if you’ve found yourself losing your coping mechanisms and struggling, my suggestion is to figure out the core fix that it does for you and try find an alternative that does similar.
I couldn’t buy a burger because of the ingredients, but I could make my own alternative by removing ingredients and swapping some out (with the the added benefit of the distraction of recipes and cooking). Sure, it’s not the same as UberEats, but it’s SOMETHING.
I couldn’t exercise, so I found a personal trainer who could help me do the exercises that I needed within my physical, malnourished abilities and he gave me home workouts as well. If you are used to bench-pressing the equivalent of a small horse every day, there are alternatives to that. They won’t be the same but they’re SOMETHING. I’m 100% sure there are online PTs offering these types of workouts.
I couldn’t drink alcohol, so I made fruit infused juice and decorated it like a cocktail to drink on my balcony in the evenings.
- Are you trapped with an unhealthy coping mechanism?
Which leads me to the next problem, what if alcohol is your unhealthy coping mechanism and you’re home alone with a stocked fridge and liquor cabinet? What if that’s the exact situation I’m in right now? 😅
I’m sure most of us in NZ have low-level alcohol problems at the very least, but weirdly, at least now it’s probably good we’re basically having to ration.
I want to give advice but I’m probably not the right person for it. I reckon, don’t drink before 5pm and try not get drunk every night. YOLO, but also, look after yourself cos YOLO.
For this sort of problem, if you know it’s serious, I would recommend an online therapist and joining a Facebook support group. Community helps in feeling less alone (which is usually the part of any personal issue that feels the worst), and I bet that no matter your problem, you can find thousands of people on Facebook with the same issue to talk it out with.
- Can you swap an unhealthy coping mechanism for a healthy habit?
My final bit of advice for this section is if there is absolutely no way you can replace your lost coping mechanism, create a new, healthier replacement.
Hopefully this won’t sound wanky, but if you channel your energy into one positive thing in your day, it does help to manage the overall vibe.
What I did was make breakfast a really important part of my day in every way (I know, boring, but it worked).
I made overnight oats every day, iteratively making the recipe better and better. It was full of all the nutrients I needed and could eat and I even tried to make it Instagram-worthy so put effort into how it looked.
Then I’d make a decaf coffee and take it outside on my balcony. I’d appreciate the view, the cool, fresh air and my little potted succulent as I ate the food I had perfected and drank the coffee I needed. Basically a mindfulness exercise.
The thing was, I was sick, depressed, anxious and had some very serious negative thoughts at the time, but knowing there was this one part of my day that was designed to make me grateful and happy was one thing that helped me get through.
No matter how bad my day was, there was always that positive part.
You don’t have to have a meal outside, but I do recommend this positive, mindful habit approach, it was a life-changer for me.
- Remember to look out for your struggling friend (and yourself)
The problem with mental health is that when we’re in a panic state, this is usually connected to a fear response (fight, flight, or freeze). And a fear response is a literal survival mechanism – the core fear is of death.
I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s helpful to understand that ourselves and others could be subconsciously feeling like there is a tiger lurking outside because our animal instinct understands there is a threat, and that’s all.
The survival response is very selfish, as it should be! It’s your main prerogative to keep yourself and your dependents alive. I imagine this is why there is panic buying – in animal world, resources are scarce. Luckily for us, we live in capitalist world where everything is abundant so it’s actually unnecessary (which is hard to explain to a fearful person’s lizard brain).
So remember, if you or your friends are freaking out, ruminating, repeating yourselves and not asking about anyone else, it’s because you’re probably having a fear response.
If we help people in this state to feel safe and secure, hopefully they’ll get round to asking about others. And hopefully others can do the same for us.
Also remember to look after yourself before others. Don’t overextend yourself if you can’t handle it – set boundaries.
I know this is a lot of information
But hopefully it’s simple enough. The overview is:
- Be nice to yourself – it’s ok to not be ok
- Try to create a new “normal” – make a routine, look after yourself
- Actively try to stay positive – try decrease stress, increase your happiness
- Work on those coping mechanisms – limit unhealthy habits, create healthy ones
Stay home, stay safe, look after yourself and look out for your friends and family
Make sure you ask for help when you need it. We’re all aware it’s a rough time for everyone. It’s very easy to feel like a burden, but people won’t see you that way. And make sure you’re there for friends who are feeling like a burden themselves.
Try some DIY crafts, buy online from local small businesses, do a good deed, read, learn a new language, or just take the time to chill out. No need to become a creative genius – you’ve worked hard, take a break.
Sending love to everyone struggling! Let’s hope this all goes by quickly and we all come out of it better, more compassionate humans who wash our hands regularly ❤️
Love Charlie xx
Charlie’s hopepunk media recommendations
Recommend you skip any recent episodes that talk about Covid-19. I listen to lots of podcasts – happy to give other recommendations 😊
- Reply All (skip episode #159)
- Desert Island Discs
- Disorganized Crime: Smuggler’s Daughter
- Imagined Life
- My Dad Wrote a Porno
- Science Vs
- Staying In with Emily and Kumail (actually about self-isolating but Emily has health issues like mine but worse so is a low-key pro, plus they’re not really talking so much about the virus)
- The Good Place: The Podcast (wraps up each TV episode individually – listen in tandem to watching the show)
- The Good Place (listen the Good Place podcast after each episode for a wrap up with people who work on the show)
- Sex Education
- Good Girls
- People Just Do Nothing
- 30 Rock (on Lightbox)
- Great News
- Friends From College
- Workin’ Moms
- Queer Eye (original and in Japan)
- Zumbo’s Just Desserts
- Love Is Blind
- The Circle
- Next in Fashion
- The Great Interior Design Challenge
- John Mulaney (all of his stand up)
- Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-life Crisis
- Simon Amstell: Set Free
- Nikki Glaser: Bangin’
- Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America
- Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby
- Basically any stand up to your taste 😄
- @the_happy_broadcast (has corona info, but positive)
- @antoni (his “Quar Eye” IGTV cooking in isolation videos are very wholesome)