I am writing this on the first day of 2021. I spent the last day of the year on my own, as I have been since March 11th and the arrival of this pandemic. Dramatically different to my usual holidays when I am visited by my children, their families, and a parade of friends and relatives.
We normally indulge in all things festive, making the holiday season fun, chaotic, busy, boisterous, loving – and even feuding on occasion. There would be some beach time and dinners with a household of loved ones who are happy to be here and together. This year, for obvious reasons, it has been very different.
I was alone.
I live in Miami, where Covid is fiercely raging, and I am over 70 years old. Like many people my age, I have what is now called “underlying health issues” which make me vulnerable to contracting the virus.
I lived on my own before the pandemic, but it is quite different now when I am unable to do all of the things that kept me active and engaged, including traveling, welcoming, and entertaining friends. Pandemic isolation is very different from just simply living alone.
I am well aware of the fact that I am very lucky to have a home in which to isolate and that provides me with shelter and nurturing. It is my place in the world as I put my own life on hold until it is safe to get back to some sort of “normal,” whatever that may mean for all of us.
I am the only human in my house, my dog and two cats are my companions. I consider them my “entourage” since they follow me from room to room and are always ready for a cuddle or a belly rub. We take care of each other.
They welcome the occasional appearance of another human – be they grocery delivery people, the gardener, or a handyperson who’s come by to fix something in the house – with lavish displays of affection, much tail wagging and leg rubbing, and hopes for extra devotion by someone other than me.
Poor guys, they are rather needy.
Being so self-involved for so long has been enlightening in the simplest as well as the most complex of ways. I have had, and continue to have, ample time to get to know a lot about myself, and it has enabled me to look back on my life and also to dare to look forward.
To question, to explore, to plough through and re-invent another day. To enjoy a good cry when I look at my old photo albums or my computer photographs which give me immense pleasure in spite of the tears.
To breathe in and bring in light into my heart and to exhale and get rid of as many negative thoughts which are always ready to challenge me. I meditate, and it certainly helps me to breathe deeper and clear my mind.
I’ve read a million articles on how people have been coping with this year of aloneness. I compare them with my own situation and realize that while I have not done anything earth shattering – like writing “the great American novel” or next year’s multimillion dollar hit TV screenplay – I have had small breakthroughs and sporadic philosophical musings.
Each of them has led me to discover the many things which have aided me through difficult times in the past. They have now come back in full force to allow me to cope with my experience of this pandemic.
Going through this unexpected turn of events on my own and away from my family and friends has only served to remind me of my mettle and that it has always been part of who I am. This is not new. It makes me feel strong. It makes me proud.
I never would have imagined a time in my life when I would be so utterly alone and yet, here I am, strong and determined.
Most of the time I am able to make lemonade out of the bitter lemons that life dishes out. Sometimes it’s hard, but I persist.
I stay away from conspiracy theories which unfortunately abound at the moment. I want to be part of the solution. Listening and trusting scientific advice has been a crucial part of my life this year.
Even the births of my own children help me to remember to take things one day at a time. Like I repeated as a mantra in my classes, “one contraction at a time” is what labor is all about. Keep yourself open to dealing with what you need in the here and now.
Whether it’s a telephone call to or from a friend or family member, I make myself available for a Zoom rendezvous or some extra FaceTime with another human being who needs virtual cheering up or a vent session. I have instilled in my kids the habit of phoning people rather than texting.
They have actually thanked me. Even if it has taken a pandemic for them to appreciate my archaic ways, I am grateful that they finally understand. There is room for all sorts of communication, but few things beat the warmth of a human voice.
My personal “lockdown” made me change gears very quickly and offer my “Writing Out Loud” classes virtually from the beginning. My students appreciate our meetings every week, and we are able to continue our classes as usual and enjoy each other’s friendly faces and creativity.
I have weekly and self-inflicted mani-pedis, and often treat myself to a spa night. My face turns bright green as I apply a cooling cucumber peeling mask and tweeze those insane little hairs that pop up on my ever receding eyebrows.
I treat my feet with vaseline and wear socks to bed. Imagine the feeling when I wake up the next day to baby soft tootsies that seem to yell “thank you” for the care. I hate to wear socks in bed but like my mother used to say, “beauty has its price!” Once in a while it doesn’t hurt.
I don’t need to plan my days. Each one follows my own patterns of day-to-day living. Very early in the morning, I go out to the patio to gather positivity, then enter my studio. This is a new day.
With a mug of fresh coffee, and my furry friends sleeping nearby, I start with a small project, a little doodling perhaps. I enjoy tutorials from teachers I love or look up some YouTube videos to get inspiration. I paint, write in my art journal, and in general, let the space work it’s magic.
In addition to the writing classes that I teach and the articles that I write, I have my journal which is always at the ready to “hear me out.” Writing journals has been a staple coping mechanism in my life.
Long walks are not in the books for me and my pooch since he’s very opinionated about when and if he wants to accompany me.
Hence, I take a wonderful exercise class with Hillary, my Canadian teacher who enters my computer at 11:50 three times a week and makes me and many other people zoom around our living rooms like mad women. I adore her. She helps keep me fit. At least we both try. It seems to be working.
Like most quarantined souls around the world, I’ve been given to sorting out and “Marie Kondoing” my environment. In addition to normal routine cleaning and tidying up, I try to make my space more manageable and certainly more enjoyable – and I would venture to say, more efficient.
The two places that feel most challenging are my studio which needs periodic sprucing up and the kitchen. If you are a cook, the kitchen will always get messed up again in a jiffy.
After spending years of my life cooking for my family and small armies of friends and relatives, I have now become much better at cooking just for me. I treat myself to delicious and nutritious fare a few times a week and also occasionally order in from my favorite local eateries.
I set a nice little table in my den in front of the TV; sometimes candles to set the mood. Food not only feeds our bodies; it also feeds our souls, and besides, as L’oreal reminds me, “I’m worth it.”
My kids and friends inspire me with new recipes to try. I also visit food blogs and websites which are often entertaining and always inspiring.
Days can seem longer than usual sometimes, and a fun movie can always do the trick of keeping me entertained. I’ve always been a movie buff so since I can’t go to my local theaters, I enjoy new ones on Netflix or Amazon and also revisit old favorites.
I listen to music and read. At times I’ve had trouble concentrating on long books, so I have been getting “Audible” books where amazing authors or actors read to me while I cook or knit. The last one I “read” was The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, read by Tom Hanks.
Well, quite frankly, nobody is! I am often inspired by one of my favorite videos which is of families dancing together to a famous Earth, Wind, and Fire song. If this does not inspire you to dance like crazy, I can’t imagine what will. A little Flamenco? Check out this lovely lady dancing in the street. You’ll be glad you did.
While talking to a good friend can help me solve some of my concerns, I find the assistance of a therapist invaluable when my issues would only help to burden the people I love and mostly not provide me with the answers I need for myself. A virtual chat with a professional can help me rethink and reframe. I truly appreciate that assistance.
Like a good friend, my computer connects me with the people that matter in my life. It entertains me, it teaches me, it helps me to stay in touch with the world that I can’t travel to at the moment. It often amuses me, distracts me, and yes, even inspires me.
It can make me happy or sad or furious depending on what I allow it to do. I can always turn it off and I do. Above all, I’m glad I have it.
I’m certain that you too will find many things that helped you cope last year. Things that you already knew about yourself and that you put to good use. Now we all need to make a new plan.
One that will include all of the things that have proven successful tools and activities for us and try new activities that we can add to our repertoire of coping skills. There is much hope for this brand new year. Seize the moment to reflect, to pat yourself on the back, and certainly to dance as if nobody’s looking.
Happy New Year my friends and stay strong.
What did the year of Covid teach you? Did you learn more about yourself? What skills did you discover that you never (or rarely) made use of before? Please share some of your inner reflections in the comments below!