It was a full week into the Austin advisement to shelter-in-place before I realized that most people were having a hard time dealing with the life of a shut-in. Not much has changed for me in these times of coronavirus. I’m not any sicker today than I was almost twenty years ago when I became a shut-in. I have to say that being shut-in because of your disabilities is a different kind of animal than being shut-in on the orders of the government.
When I first read up on the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew that I could not afford to be exposed to it. I have several of the listed co-morbidities so catching the virus will likely be a death sentence if there are insufficient medical facilities to handle the 20% of cases that will need hospitalization. I was practicing social distancing back at the beginning of February, before the belated attempts to curtail the pandemic came into being. Canceling appointments, avoiding leaving the house, etcetera, I’ve been at this for two months as I write this. The news is getting me down but the isolation isn’t.
I haven’t given how I’ve managed to cope with being a shut-in a lot of thought. Like all things that you have to do to survive, you just do it. I’m naturally a loner, so being alone really isn’t a problem for me. The staying indoors is something that I had a hard time adjusting to when I first started working in an office. It took years to get me adjusted to not going outside because of work. When I couldn’t work anymore I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed wandering around on foot. I can and do go on walks these days, but my disabilities keep me mindful of notifying people when I leave and when I return. I don’t want anyone freaking out because they didn’t find me holed up in my office, which is where I can usually be found.
At this point in the scheme of social distancing, my lone excursions are still permitted by the government here. If a stricter quarantine is put into effect, I see a lot of frustrating miles being walked on the treadmill. That would be much like it was in the early days of my disability, when I was almost certain that being outside was an active threat to my existence.
I have to admit, the first two years of social isolation were quasi-tragic. That was before the government granted that I was disabled, so not only could I not work, but we were at risk of losing the house because I couldn’t work. The Wife and our children would all be out on the street with me because I couldn’t stop the world from spinning when I was under stress. My stress loads were high, so my vertigo was more frequent; and because the vertigo was more frequent, I didn’t trust that I could take a 45 minute walk outside and not be throwing up in a ditch somewhere, waiting for an ambulance to come pick me up.
We bought a treadmill as soon as the disability payments started coming in, so that I could at least attempt to get in some exercise and feel like I was moving. That has been a lifesaver many times over. One of the only pieces of exercise equipment that we’ve purchased that has been worth the price.
I tried to hide in movies and television as much as possible back then. There are a lot of the newly isolated these days trying to cope by engaging in the same activity. I watched more TV then than I did as a teenager. I started to feel the needed to record everything so that I could watch it again when I wanted, just in case I needed something else to distract myself with. I spent several quality months trying to rig up a system that let me capture programs straight to my computer hard drive. I recorded shows for the children, the Wife and myself. I was always coming up with something else we all had to watch, just so I wouldn’t obsess about the impending eviction or the desperate actions I might have to take to keep my family from being evicted.
But our finances have slowly stabilized, even if they haven’t gone comfortably into the black (you aren’t allowed to have savings on disability) and with the stress of work life removed the vertigo spells have been mercifully infrequent. Bear Philley started me playing World of Warcraft not too long after I starting getting disability payments, and in that MMO I’ve found the limited social interaction that I need to stay sane and be a shut-in at the same time.
There is one other ingredient that is essential to this recipe for sanity that I am trying to describe here. More than distraction and finding alternative ways of connecting with other people. More than not having to worry (too much) about keeping the lights on in the house and your children fed. That ingredient is the ability to live in the now.
I remember when this song came out in 1991. There was hope in my world back then. A new father, a new job. The internet was becoming the World Wide Web and it seemed like the world really was waking up from history for the first time ever. The problem with thinking this, that the world is waking up, is that it is you that is waking up. You are becoming conscious of the now, in those moments of transcendence or inspiration.
Now is always going to be a transitive state. There is no point that is now that will still be now after it happens. Being in the now requires you to do exactly that. No plans for the future. No contemplation of the past. The fingers on the keyboard, hovering, waiting for the next words to occur to you so that you can put them down on the page.
How long can you hold that? Fingers poised, without writing anything? Without feeling like you’ve failed to write something? Knowing that the writing will happen when it will happen. To be conscious in the moment, for as long as that moment can be extended. Living in the now. This is where we all are in our quarantine space. Unable to make plans because there is nothing to plan for aside from mundane tasks that really don’t require that much planning.
This is where I’ve been for years now. In the mornings I wake up and take stock of the situation. Is the sun shining? If yes, then go for a walk. If no, then maybe go for a walk depending on weather/allergy conditions. What chores need doing today? What thing that I’ve been putting off for years can I get done today?
I select that thing from the list of possibilities for the day, and then I put all the other thoughts aside and get busy engaging in the task at hand. Dive into it. Don’t just wash dishes, explore the wonderful world of fluid dynamics. Don’t just wash the clothes, quantify fabrics and colors and on and on. Get into the now. I mean, really get into it. Like your whole life depends on it.
That is what life is in the end. Life is what happens, and this is happening to you now. Engage it, learn from it, expand beyond it. Be the person you need to be to get through this moment, so that you can emerge from this moment as a new person capable of dealing with the next thing that comes along.
Be assured that there will be a next thing. there always is a new now to wake up into so long as life continues. Be grateful for each moment that you live, even if that moment seems like drudgery to the outside observer. Find that thing that you can hold onto, and hold onto it until it passes. Hold onto it because that moment will never occur again, no matter how many dozens of times it seems like this has happened before. Savor it, because it will be irretrievably gone before you know it.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.Rutger Hauer