Since I’ve been sequestered because of COVID-19, I have reached a heady level of productivity and, dare I say, happiness. I know that you have been inundated with sound advice and how-tos. Inevitably, wash your hands, take an online course in Swahili and clean out the garage gets a little old by the second week.
You’ll thank me for this.
I feel compelled to dig deep and better understand the secret of my resilience and achievement under circumstances that preclude me from such life-giving activities as lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant or getting my semiannual Botox shot. (It’s long overdue, and I am beginning to look like a Shar-Pei at my Zoom meetings. But that’s for another blog).
If I had more introspection, I would have understood immediately why social distancing brings out the best in me.
As it was, the answer came to me only after binge-watching Shark Tank season “132.” A woebegone, would-be-entrepreneur showed the panel a patented handle for carrying children’s car seats. He had one that worked for twins…twins are siblings. Then it hit me.
For nearly 72 years, I have been training for this moment.
You see, I am an only child. If you are one as well, you know the premier benefit of single-child status is the everlasting ability to play alone—not the spoiled-brat syndrome that folks with siblings tend to smirkingly believe.
On one of my Generation Bold radio shows, I interviewed Jane Mathews, author of The Art of Living Alone and Loving It. I mentioned that I had been alone for very long periods of my life, but I had never felt lonely…ever.
Reactions were mixed—some thought me misanthropic…others responded with envy.
Yesterday, Governor Cuomo of New York State admonished young people for refusing to socially distance. But the Governor did not impart the skills needed to be happy at home. Since most younger people, certainly me at their age, rail against curbing the enthusiasm of youth, Governor Cuomo’s statement left Young America to design their happy sequestration plan with no experiential compass. Perhaps that task has devolved upon me.
Read and learn.
First, call upon that healthy and creative voice in your head. It is fantastic company for you, as it is for all children, especially those with no siblings. If you think the voice in your head is merely chatter (or a mental disorder), think again.
Do what I say, and you will find that voice to be your best company.
The easiest way to access the voice is to find a board game and be all the players. I like the game Sorry best for multipersonality role play. I know you have that old Sorry or even Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders box. Don’t worry if it’s missing pieces. The object is to bring all your personalities out at once so they can talk to each other. And invite them over for tea or prosecco.
Do not, as it is often suggested, occupy your time while quarantined with something useful that you have put off for years. If you have lived with a messy closet for a decade, the likelihood is that you will be able to continue to do so in the future. Instead, make an entirely new list. Each item being fun.
I call my fun list Corona LITE list. (Is it too soon for that joke?) My first fun activity brought me to my kitchen, a room I would long have eliminated if doing so would not diminish the resale value of my home. One of my selves mentioned that she was tired of having only supervised visitation with our stove and suggested we learn how to cook.
Another of my selves said: “That’s going too far, but it might be fun to learn to open a can or cut a tomato.” Fortunately, there are YouTubes for that. For some, it might be trying new recipes, perhaps from around the globe. For me, simply making my own smoothy is an enormous accomplishment.
I am also walking. Unfortunately, Freewalkers, my walking group, has suspended operation. They fear it will be impossible to stay six feet away from each other. Being the slowest, I’m usually 20 feet or more away from anyone in front of me. So now I pretend that they are all still there, as most of the time I can’t see them anyway. Yesterday, I walked 10 miles on the Columbia Trail with several imagined Freewalkers who were actually in their own homes.
That was easy for me, as all of us only children have a rich array of imaginary friends to keep us company.
And therein lies the rub. For most of us, including myself, an actual real person is living in our house and sequestered with us. The same annoying laugh, stupid shirt, unclipped toenails and infuriating attitude you have accepted for years can be lethal when in your face day after day without cessation. Ask yourself this question. What would an only child do?
I will tell you how to handle your pandemic partner…
My mate of 48 years tends to get giddy in the face of crisis and tells his favorite joke, again and again. “What’s the weather in Mexico? The answer, “Chili today. Hot tamale.”
So you see what I’m up against.
- Refrain from taking out the garbage, grocery shopping or walking the dog together. That’s all well and good when you hardly see each other during the day. But pandemic partners need space whenever they can get it.
- Rearrange the furniture to separate yourselves. You can do this even in a studio apartment.Watch Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, in It Happened One Night and note how they deftly use bedsheets to separate their space.
- Think like an only child, and command your space. I remember the gruesome weekends when I was forced to spend time with my cousins in Brooklyn. We were all the same age, and it was presupposed we would like each other. We did not. As an only child, I learned not to confuse like and love. You can love your partner 24 hours a day, but it’s impossible to like them for every hour of the sequestration. Don’t fret. Soon you will be separated again, and all will be well.
- Finally, don’t rely on social media to assuage your loneliness and provide companionship. According to a survey published on March 19 by Senior List, nearly three-quarters (72.3%) of those who communicate online with others during the coronavirus isolation to practice social distancing feel more isolated.
It is only you who can cheer yourself up and be a joyful shut-in.
One finding I would heed, published in an issue ofAging and Mental Health, is that a kind act for someone else is an effective technique to deal with your loneliness.
For corona-specific at-home volunteering, try the Alone telephone volunteer program to cheer seniors…iCouldBe to mentor students online…get trained by the Crisis Text Line as a remote counselor…or send a letter to an elder through Love For The Elderly. If none of these appeals to you, check out 25 ways to volunteer at home at Operation Warm.
And don’t volunteer alone. Invite the kindest voice in your head to join you. Adriane Berg is the host of Generation Bold Radio, author of The Retirement Income Explosion, and director of The Metabesity Initiative to prevent and delay age-related diseases.