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Lessons for Staying at Home in Pandemic Times

By Mary Lou Harris December 06, 2020 Health and Fitness

There is no escape from the reality that we are, at this moment, looking into the eye of the Covid pandemic storm. The limitations this invisible but ever present enemy places on our lives has made for a difficult 2020.

Writing from here in the U.S., I’m aware other countries have had more stringent restrictions. I am as content as possible with my ability to safely enjoy runs and walks in my community and to safely shop, although I do a minimum of this.

Isolation Examples

For inspiration, I look to people who have done important things over long periods of time under the most limiting of physical circumstances.

Nelson Mandela

For instance, Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robin Island for more than 25 years, unable to grieve lost family members, sleeping on a concrete floor and disciplining himself to keep an exercise regime in his tiny cell. During that stay, he pursued a law degree and wrote extensively.


I have read recently about Shakespeare as well, who was quarantined, although for a shorter period of time than Mandela’s forced isolation. The Bubonic Plague of the early 1600s closed theatre and killed around 25% of the local population.

So, like many today, he not only faced quarantine to escape the plague but lost income as an actor and theatre owner as well. There are those who believe that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague-caused isolation.

Terry Waite

We wonder how those isolated for long periods of time kept their wits about them and stayed motivated? We have a third example, Terry Waite, to tell us.

Waite was a hostage held in Lebanon for 1,763 days, nearly five years. He slept on the floor, blindfolded and chained to the wall. There are a number of articles and a recent interview where he is asked for advice for those of us living through the Covid pandemic.

Here is my shortened version and my thoughts on his wisdom offered in this and several other interviews:

Come to Terms with Anger

Waite worried about family, and whether he would survive to see his children again. He dealt with the anger of losing choice in many things by mentally adjusting.

He says, when you have determined there is nothing you can do to change the situation, try living for the moment. Make it as full as possible. He extended his mental capacity to write a book in his head, then putting it to paper after his release.

Anger can take many forms. I have felt this through frustration and mourning, missing poignant moments, both sad and celebratory, with friends and extended family near and far. I will keep in mind Waite’s advice to live in the moment and know there will be an end to this.

Structure the Day

Have a schedule planned to use your time well. Use it creatively. If you don’t have support from others, find it within yourself.

I have found that closing each evening with a plan for the next day – committed to writing on a calendar or just written notes to myself – will get my day jumpstarted. The purpose is written before me.

Keep Your Own Dignity

Even sleeping on a concrete floor in isolation, Waite made his best attempt to keep his clothing neatly folded.

Do you slouch around in pajamas half of the day? Waite advises to take pride in your appearance, even if no-one is around to see you. Do it for yourself.

Safe at Home, Not Stuck at Home

This is an optimist’s take on how we are living today. I take heart that while I miss spending time with friends and traveling to see family, I know I am fortunate not to be in a position where I must take chances with becoming ill through exposure.

It may occur anyway, as many have learned, but the safest place for this senior citizen is my own home and garden. I will again enjoy the greater world at a later date.

Take an Interior Journey

Waite says this is the time to take an interior journey, to “develop capacity within ourselves.”

Ah, yes. Easier said than done. For those of us who are frequent travelers, our souls are aching to be back on the road, packing those travel essentials, ordering train and plane tickets.

Complaining and wistfully longing to be on the road won’t change my reality. It’s the time to search inside myself for meaning. Let the solitude speak to me.

You may want to clear your mind of anything but an immediate creative endeavor, a pencil drawing, a short story you have an idea for, moving a few plants in your garden. You may want to return to your abandoned meditation practice and sit quietly in your safe space. I have tried a number of these, and it is helpful to ease the mind.

What are your thoughts on how others in captivity have adapted to their isolation? Do you feel anger that our lives have changed significantly? Have you found a way to live in the moment?

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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