I recently met with a couple I’ve been working with for quite some time. We hadn’t met in over a month due to a number of unforeseen events, including the fact that they’d each contracted Covid within the same week. It was a shock to them considering that they’d both been vaccinated and had practiced diligent Covid safety behaviors for the past year, like mask wearing in all public places, no indoor dining, avoidance of large gatherings, etc.
As with so many of us, Covid had become the dreaded Boogeyman, especially for the husband who was immunocompromised. It had become the terrorizer, the ticket to an untimely death, if not only a protracted, lonely suffering in an over-crowded hospital. Covid was the provider of all losses:
- no more eating out
- no concerts
- no sporting events
- no presumed working in an office with all its social perks
- no safe travel requiring plane trips
- no movie theaters
- no stress-free grocery shopping
- no shield from other people’s sense of social responsibility or lack of it
- no break from one’s partner or spouse, who now had to fulfill most needs for connection.
- no more easy, safe, spontaneous visits with kids and grandkids
So what was their Covid Silver Lining?
- They thought it fortunate to have both tested positive within a few days, so no need to quarantine from each other!
- They coughed a lot, but weren’t seriously sick, and felt relieved and thankful for being mostly tired.
- They were quite tired, so they felt legitimacy about their frequent need to sleep and nap!
- They had previously stocked up on lots of supplies, so felt proud about preparedness, and relief not needing to shop!
- The end of Summer weather was lovely, so they convalesced outside, not requiring hospitalization!
- They caught up on reading, email and TV without guilt!
- They found a new patience and tenderness with each other, taking turns with nursing roles!
- They had time to talk about small, private things without the pressure of work or interacting with the outside world!
- They enjoyed “paid leave,” and discovered a new appreciation for their jobs.
- They spent a lot of lazy time in their yard, realizing how blessed they were to live in such a beautiful place.
- They spent 18 to 20 days together, getting a taste of “retirement,” and could now envision it!
- But, most of all, they no longer feared the Booogeyman Covid. They had survived. They had thrived. Together.
So, with or without testing positive, what’s your Covid Silver Lining?
Covid 19 has presented some difficult issues for most people, and particularly for couples who can’t safely explore many options away from home for stimulation, excitement, fun and connection. Many couples seem to have run out of ideas for what to do amidst these various constraints.
So, with her permission, I’ve republished Tamara Siegel’s article from Porch.com listing 13 at-home “Date-Night” type activities, which I think you’ll find useful!
Feel free to contact me with any ideas of your own you’d like to share -(PG rated only, please.)
13 At-Home Date Night Activities – Porch
Most people find it surreal that we’re living in a pandemic. Every day we hear the bleak statistics about where the diagnosed “positive” cases as well as the deaths are ramping up, especially as we face a Fall surge in contagion.
Things we’ve previously taken for granted, like stress-free grocery shopping, visiting friends and family, getting a haircut, going to the movies, boarding a plane for a far away trip, working at our offices, having our children safely at school, etc. are now all matters of life and death. Making these decisions is now more like playing Russian Roulette with our survival.
Many of the couples I see in my practice are driving each other crazy with the lack of personal space, the intrusions into personal time, the increased dependency on each other’s judgment, and the loss of their usual distractions and pleasures, like going out to eat, attending concerts, or going to the gym. My caseload is exploding, even with the uncertainty so many people face about the sustainability of their incomes. Many people are now, eight months into the pandemic, experiencing “Covid Fatigue” and getting riskier with their choices, loosening their vigilance about contagion danger, thinking “What the hell, we’ve gotta live!” Apparently, as people experience these losses the rates of depression and anxiety are up. As many people experience a frightening lack of leadership or governmental truth related to the pandemic, feelings of helplessness, rage and nihilism are prevalent.
So, how can one not only stay alive until hopefully there’s a vaccine widely available, but actually thrive in this dystopian environment? Here are some strategies I’d recommend, finding them personally useful, and observing how my family, friends and clients also benefit from them:
- Pick your battles. Be conscious and selective about where you direct your outrage and frustration. Early on, I found myself confronting mask-less shoppers about their socially irresponsible behavior. I soon realized I was not only fighting a useless fight which might end in injury, but also inviting a full scale stress response in myself. Eventually, before the masks were mandated, I’d contact store managers with either praise for their policies about social distancing and masks, or complaints for their lack of diligence and courage. Also, good or bad reviews on store websites are more powerful than confronting individuals. So, be intentional about where and how you express your frustrations, being mindful about how it might backfire.
- Respect other people’s choices about “safety.” Try to take a more empathic, non judgmental stance about the way others manage their lives amidst Covid. Most people take some calculated risks, like seeing their grandchildren in person rather than via Zoom for possibly years. Other people choose to expand their “pods” to include close friends and extended family. Parents of young children are now generally sending them back to pre-schools. More often now, people are traveling, using AirB&B or even select hotels, knowing there is risk associated with that choice, but finding confinement at home worse. There are many daily decisions we all face about staying alive and managing, so recognize that these choices are personal and not for you to judge. Criticism, voiced or silent, only divides and alienates people.
- Limit your exposure to the news, especially on TV where the visual content can be particularly triggering. If you want to know what’s going on in the world be selective about which programs might be more or less sensationalized, or more focused on solutions. Do not watch the news at night before bedtime. Not only does the blue TV light inhibit melatonin production, which is required for ample sleep, but details about the horrors of the pandemic won’t benefit the purpose of relaxation and calm needed for a restful night. Instead, read a non-arousing book on a device with a “night shade” adjustment, or listen to soothing music, or listen to some guided imagery, like the ones on free apps like “Calm” or “Headspace.” You need proper sleep to face this new Normal with resilience.
- Lean into the pleasures and joys of your relationships. Even if right now you can’t see some of your loved ones in person, stay connected with Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, photos, texts, and emails. Even snail mail right now is better than losing touch. Avoid isolation as the solution to the constraints of Covid. Explore new things with a partner or spouse. Make it an antidote to the temptation to target them with your Covid issues. Go for walks together, learn a new way of cooking. Be conscious and intentional about expanding your relationship with each other. Remember, your closest connections are your lifeline, especially now, so lean in.
- Do some service for those in need or for some meaningful cause. Go shopping or do errands for an elderly shut-in neighbor. Walk a dog for friends who are overwhelmed with young kids at home. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Mow your neighbor’s lawn. Offer emotional support to someone you know who has lost a loved one to Covid. Get involved with some political action you feel strongly about so you become part of the solution. Get outside your own experience, participate and help others. It will soothe your heart at a time of such uncertainty and loss. You will also experience a sense of “agency” so needed now, making a difference with your effective actions.
- Take up a new hobby. Expand yourself with creativity, especially as you experience so many shrinking options now in Covid life. Learn a new instrument with online lessons. (I’m currently taking guitar lessons, and online ukulele and harmonica lessons!) It will fill your brain with new challenges and pleasures. Take up knitting or woodworking or painting, things that usually require you to be more still at home. Try to create a dedicated space to this new hobby and make it your sanctuary. Create a psychological and physical space for positivity and growth.
- Spend some time each day focusing on what Covid has ironically given you – more time with your kids? More appreciation for those you love? Appreciation for your health or your life? Gratitude for your job? Appreciation for the safety and solace of your home? Less mindless spending? As we now all face death in such a direct and immediate way it can be transformational to be more present in our lives while we have them.
As Mike, a beloved carpenter we’ve recently re-hired says, “I’m just really happy to be on the right side of the grass at this point!”
(This CNN article was just forwarded to me by my cousin who is an avid reader, staying afloat in quarantine as a single person through her endless curiosity for information and ideas. I thought the article perfectly captured the dilemmas we all face now in this pandemic, and I couldn’t have covered it any better, so I’m sharing it with you here).
Opinion by Jill Filipovic
Updated 11:11 AM ET, Wed April 29, 2020
Are you losing your mind in quarantine? Because I am losing my mind in quarantine.
It can feel trite, even crude, to talk about our own discomforts, frustrations and longings in the midst of a pandemic that has infected more than three million people worldwide and killed more than 200,000 including nearly 60,000 in the United States, with numbers climbing.
Across the globe, families are grieving friends, family and community members. Husbands, wives, children, parents and partners are saying goodbye via iPad, unable to hold a loved one’s hand in their final moments. It’s a grim, ghastly time.
Those of us who are just stuck in self-isolation, and not hooked up to a respirator or the next-of-kin of someone who is, are the lucky ones. And no, what’s being asked of us is not excessive: We just need to stay home.
So why does this feel so hard?
Around the world, people report feeling stressed, anxious and generally discombobulated by this whole mess. Parents and other caregivers for young children are particularly stretched thin. People have canceled trips, concerts, weddings; new babies are being brought up without the help of extended family or community members; big life milestones like graduations go publicly uncelebrated. We miss the friends and family we can’t see. We miss dinners out, parties in, museums, live music, theater, even the gym.
I miss being able to walk through my neighborhood without the stress of staying six feet away from bikers, joggers, cooped-up children gone wild on scooters, and other pedestrians.
It’s not just working from home. I’ve worked from home for close to a decade, in many different cities and multiple countries. But the general rules of work-from-home life no longer apply. For example: Do something social, or at least that forces you to interact with other human beings, every day, even if that’s just going to the grocery store or the gym. Or: Create a separate dedicated workspace, even if it’s only a particular cushion on your couch; reserve your bed for sleeping (and other recreational activities). Or: Get outside at least once a day.
That’s all harder when your whole family is stuck inside on top of each other; when there are no gyms to go to; when, at least in dense cities, even going for a walk outside is a stressful (and masked) experience.
No, we are not being asked to go to war or survive one. But what we are being asked to do is profoundly antithetical to our natures as human beings; it is profoundly destabilizing and difficult. There is little more human than the desire for connection, touch, stimulation and novelty. This is all so hard because in going without those things, it’s not hyperbole to say we have to find new ways of being — or at least feeling — human.
Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and best-selling author, tells viewers in a brief but compelling video for The New York Times that it’s no wonder we are feeling a sense of grief and anxiety. It’s not just that we’re missing out on travel, dates, or dinners. It’s that we’re also losing the meaning behind all of those things. A date isn’t just a date; it’s the possibility of a romantic future. A trip isn’t just a trip; it’s a new and stimulating experience, a chance to understand oneself in a different context, an opportunity to see things that before you could have only observed through a screen. A dinner out isn’t just a dinner out; it’s a moment of indulgence, pleasure and connection with the person across the table. A longing to hug a friend, a loved one, a far-away child, your mom is more than just “I want a hug” — it’s a primal and fundamental longing for the way touch is so often short-hand for everything we don’t find the words to say.
Even in the midst of catastrophe — war, natural disaster, destruction — human beings continue to forge connections; we perhaps especially forge connections in the most trying of times so we can survive. In the most dire of circumstances — in war zones and refugee camps, in towns leveled by earthquakes and communities pocked by violence — people create art, paint in bright colors, plant seeds. They play music. They feed their beloveds. They tell stories. They fall in love.
The isolation that this pandemic has forced upon us doesn’t prevent all of those things, but it certainly hinders them. In the days after September 11, 2001, New Yorkers defied stay-at-home suggestions to congregate in bars and restaurants; the city teemed with life and energy (and, for once, not with car horns — a little bit of softness in the aftermath of such brutality). That collective gathering was very much a collective middle finger to those who attacked us: No, we are not scared. Yes, we are still here, and guess what? We’re going to live.
What is being asked of us now is not quite so satisfying; it does not meet our need, in a time of anxiety and grief, to come together and seek comfort. To touch each other. To even smile at a stranger — you can’t see a person’s expression behind a mask.
Compared to illness and death, these are small things. Being alive matters more, and so of course we have to continue to live this way for as long as is necessary to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy.
But it’s also OK to grieve the pieces of life that we’re missing, to express the feeling so many of us have that we can’t take it anymore. It’s necessary to understand that missing the fullness of life, including pleasure and connection, doesn’t make us selfish. Feeling destabilized and disoriented or pushed to a breaking point doesn’t make us flaky or weak. It makes us human.
And perverse as it may sound, those of us who are anxious, frustrated and disoriented can be grateful for that exact experience — in disorienting and disconnected times, this reaction is a rational one. It means we’re warm. We love. We’re curious. We seek pleasure, and we revel in it when we experience it. It means we live.
This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)
I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.
Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life.
“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!
If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!