March 22, 2020

Losing Control: a Disturbing Byproduct of Coronavirus


We crave control. That is a human condition. The feeling that something is happening that we can't manage or bend to our will is upsetting. What we are living through at the moment is a good example.

Finding basic supplies gone from the store can induce a feeling of panic. No TP, our regular dog food out of stock, no baby wipes, cleaning supply shelves stripped bare, limited meat and bread.....for most of us these are conditions we have never experienced. Even after major hurricanes, most folks have a temporary period to endure while food and supplies flow in from other places. 

This time, there is precious little one section of the country can do to help another. This isn't a local or regional problem, it is worldwide. There is no clear end in sight. Declarations from Washington change daily, first full of promise and hope, and then almost immediately word that we are on our own. Hospitals beg for supplies, restaurants that close may never reopen, schools may be shut down until fall...everywhere we turn we see uncertainty and mounting effects of the disease. City after city asks its residents to stay at home, limit any contact with others, and prepare for an extended period alone.

This puts a ton of stress on a species that thrives on control, real or imagined. I don't know this for a fact, but I assume that calls to various mental health services, religious organizations, and charities have skyrocketed in the last month.

I have not been immune. It is almost impossible to not react to how much our lives have changed. Even limiting my news input hasn't helped much. One surprising source of feel-good material has been Facebook. A place that I usually avoid due to all the trolls, distortions, misinformation, and hateful content, has been a source of comfort, at least from the people who are my FB "friends." 

Even so, I have found myself pretty much drifting through the day, reading when I am at a loss what to do, looking forward to nighttime TV as a distraction and time-filler, doing yard work that is more busy work than necessary, checking Facebook too often, and taking extra naps

I woke up this morning with an idea for an approach to my locked-down day I believe will interject a needed sense of control back into my life: a more structured daytime schedule. Normally, I don't find such an approach useful. It all feels too rigid. After all, retirement is about freedom.

But, in this situation I think I will benefit. Specifically, this means:

* I will wake up at a set time instead of just when I finally feel like rolling out of bed. There is no physical reason for me to lie there until 7 or 7:30.

* Instead of of just doing something when I can't think what else to do I will set aside blocks of time for reading, house chores or cleaning, yard work, and personal hygiene. For now, guitar practice, oil painting, and working on this blog will be schedule-driven.

* Walks with the dog and Betty will not just occur when we remember them. Using exercise bands and online exercise programs to keep my physical self intact until the gym reopens will have slots on the schedule.

These steps will give me things to look forward to and give me more of a sense of control over my life at a time when what is "normal"  seems to be slipping away. True, this an artificial creation of control, of normalcy. But these are strange times that require unusual approaches.


Late Addition:  Reader Mike Drak sent me this cartoon. This is a time for the comfort of Winnie and the support of friends



28 comments:

  1. Having just returned from a 3 month stay in Mexico, passing through busy airports and on crowded planes, we are required to self-isolate for the next 2 weeks. That means no trips to the grocery store or anywhere else. We have been lucky that our daughters have been dropping off food supplies outside the front door for us. We have also been going for a walk once a day but giving anyone we come across a wide berth, 6 feet at least and usually a lot more, as much for their protection as ours. Luckily where we live there isn't a lot of foot traffic (especially in winter) and there appears to be even less now. We returned last Tuesday and are symptom free but there's still 10 days to go.

    I think the biggest challenge to normalcy for us is that we cannot see and hug our grandchildren ages 3 and 5. Though we've been keeping in touch with them with weekly video calls during our time away it's not the same and we always look forward to seeing and playing with them on our return. Our grandchildren live close by but once our "travel" self-isolation period is over I am not sure that we'll even be able to see them then. This is what has been the hardest for us.

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    1. I can totally relate to the enforced separation from loved ones. My brother in law has had to not be with his children for the past several days after one of them developed a fever and the youngest a case of pneumonia. They seem to be recovering, but he is staying away for the 14 day period. He and the kids are not having an easy time of it.

      I trust all will be well for you and your wife. In another 10 days, celebrate with hugs and more hugs.

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  2. We all cope in our own ways. Honestly, I'm trying a different approach. I'm giving myself permission to kind of "take a vacation" from my usual responsibilities -- my volunteer activities, regular sports events, social engagements -- and "go with the flow." So far, so good. But I must admit, I'm beginning to feel (after a little more than a week) that the days are starting to all seem alike, and I'm wondering: where are we going with this?!?

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    1. Yesterday was Saturday, but I had to check the calendar because it felt like every other day of the past seven. Little changes from day to day, which is why I am trying the scheduling idea. Regular volunteer meetings, church services, all the normal stuff is on hold.

      I have found time is just drifting away. That was fine for the first few days, but if faced with weeks, or months of this, I will end up as a puddle on the floor. Not having even the remotest idea when we will start to feel on top of this is the most frustrating part.

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  3. Sounds like a creative approach to a semblance of control. We started out by making meals of multiple portions for the freezer and baking. Then moved on to projects around the house, organizing, putting additional shelves up in the garage, over-seeding the small bit of grass we have in the front yard, etc. Also taking long walks with the dog when it’s not raining (seems the weather has been rain lately) and our normal exercises in the house. We have run in to many neighbors walking or just puttering around outside their house and we have been chatting with them from a distance. More texting and FaceTime and FaceBook going on too.

    I remember one of your posts about reading and the goal of so many books per month- no trouble meeting my one book every 14 days now! My volunteer work on Thursday’s of sorting excess produce from local grocery stores and farms for the needy is still going on; we wear face masks and gloves and keep our distance, but it is good to be somewhat together and chat. Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I had a feeling like this was all a dream, but sadly- not.

    I see a lot of positive things going on such as companies diverting their production to make Face Masks and Shields for healthcare professionals and people helping the elderly with food deliveries and large tips for workers at the grocery store and people buying gift cards to support their local restaurants and on and on…. It’s going to be interesting to see how this Covid 19 changes our lives in the future- will we shake hands & hug, will telemedicine become more normal, will we keep up with washing our hands frequently?

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    1. On topic with your last paragraph, Cedcreston, below is a link to an interesting artical from Politico about what a post-Covid19 world might look like. I found it both interesting and encouraging. It specifically references all three of the points/questions you ended with.

      https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/19/coronavirus-effect-economy-life-society-analysis-covid-135579

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    2. I will check out Tamara's link above, but my feeling is we will develop a more "social" model of interaction. After enforced solitude, I hope we begin to realize how much humans need to be with other humans.

      There is also the possibility (slight, but there) that we will begin to see us as a collective, rather than through an us vs them focus. We will get through Covid 19 only by working together. Certainly, episodes of empathy and caring about others are becoming more prevalent. Will that last? I hope so.

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    3. NOTE: REQUIRED READING. The link Tamara placed above is a very important piece of reporting. I don't agree with everything, but I find much of it to be right on target. Regardless, please read it and come to your own conclusions. The overall tone is encouraging and enlightening.

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  4. I agree with Tom up above, that we all have our own way of coping. I also like the take a vacation approach and looking for humor. A agree with you, too, about Facebook being a surprising source to lift spirits. Reading about good things poeople are doing to help others is comforting.

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  5. There are some new Ted Talks that are interesting and informative and give educated commentary about our predicament. And I'm learning a lot from a variety of You Tube videos on just about ANY subject of which you can think.

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    1. This is a good time to educate oneself by using the resources available online. Thanks for mentioning Ted Talk, Bruce. They are so well done on such a variety of topics.

      One of my daughters is pretty much unemployed at the moment since the travel industry is toast. Her response is to start learning Spanish. Being even a little fluent will give her a leg up in her line of work when things begin to come back.

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  6. TBH, we have had very little impact on our day to day lives in our small TN community. The only inconvenience has been the occasional item out at the store (e.g. eggs were gone at our Krogers this morning, so we went across the street to the Food City and they had a large shipment that just came in). Our Governor just issued a directive that starting at midnight until April 6th no eating in at any restaurants, only carry out, drive thru or home delivery (will be the best thing for our wallets and waistlines anyways). And a cruise we have scheduled in later April will likely be cancelled by the cruise line, which in the overall scheme of things is a small thing to fret about.

    Perhaps it is because we tend to be pretty self-sufficient. We stock up on items when they are on sale, hence we have a large supply of things like TP and paper towels in the house. The same with canned goods and frozen items; I think we have twelve frozen pizzas of all types in the upright freezer as an example. I am more worried about the industries affected and their workers. There has never been anything that has happened in this country like this in this short a period of time, including the Great Depression, so the Administration is navigating uncharted waters. The attempts to get $ to Americans will help staunch some of the bleeding, and the backstopping of banks and the like will help to keep money flowing in the economy.

    Best of wishes to everyone as we wait this thing out. God Bless.

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    1. I really wonder what things will look like after we return to semi-normal. I won't be surprised if a few of our favorite local restaurants don't make it, as well as a family-owned nursery and coffee shop we like. For this type of business and the workers at those establishments, life has likely changed for quite a long time.

      On the flipside, there will be a new appreciation of health care workers, doctors, and everyone at hospitals who are the ones most at risk.

      We will have a better sense of supply lines and how things magically appear on store shelves. And, hopefully, the importance of maintaining some staples and supplies at home.

      Best to you, Deb, and everyone in your community.

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  7. Hello to everyone who reads and comments here! I'm with Bob: I am going to need some structure.the first week I was pretty organized and kept busy. I had to spend a good amt. of time cancelling all our travel for the rest of this year.Whew.Got a lot of refunds and some airline credit which who knows if I will use. Now starting week 3 of my isolation I have gotten a bit more frightened at times, and I'm having trouble concentrating.BUSY WORK like cooking,cleaning, keep me distracted but I'm drifting a bit too much. We are taking bike rides and walks..it is easy to find times when no one is there and we have wide areas to avoid other humans if we come upon them. But we've been drifting the last few days. Starting tomorrow I am making up a flexible schedule. Like you,Bob, some time slots for exercise,reading,cooking,naps. Some things we're enjoying: the YOUTUBE channel is absolutely awesome! Can download the app onto a tablet and also we get it on our Apple TV/Roku box. TED TALKS. SOOO good!! Many resources online:I'll be "visiting" the Monterey Bay AQUARIUM live feed later on. Of course TV. I like the superhero movies right now like Iron Man. Ken and I will be looking for a language program online and will learn a language together. I vote for Italian we'll see what he says.. we thought it imght be fun to have half a day a week when we try to converse in only that language (after we get some basics down!) Art,music, gardening.. we have a treadmill and weights. I miss seeing Andrew in person but facetime is pretty good for now. Our neighbor across the street offered to pick up some groceries for us. We're pretty well stocked but Ken asked for broccoli and snickers bars!!! My neighbor came home and could not find any meat in any store.It's hard to know just when the stores restock. I am praying and meditating and just wondering what's next. I'll go read Tamara's article..she can be counted on for useful information!!! Love and hugs to you and Betty.

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    1. As always your life sounds full and interesting. But, drifting, is a good way to describe what I am fighting against.

      Alison got Rosetta Stone through Groupon for her language study. She can choose from 20-some languages.

      We are well stocked for now but will see how the 60+ only shopping time works at Safeway on Thursday. In theory, there should be more on the shelves.

      Our daughter bought 15 dozen eggs at Sam's Club yesterday. We bought one dozen and she gave two dozen to someone from church who was out. As a family they go through 3 dozen a week, so that part of their shopping list is covered!

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  8. I read the politico article published above and saw it more of a "wish list" of hopes the author(s) was envisioning. Trying to predict the future is as futile as trying to predict what the stock market will look like 6 months from now. So many unknowns of what will occur in the future makes this activity fruitless in my humble opinion. Will there be lessons learned? You bet there will be just as there have been in all prior events. Will people change their behaviors? Some will, but this too shall pass and I suspect a large majority of people will revert back to their comfort zones once this event fades into the past. We will likely have some new "norms" that are developed out of this event just like we had new norms come out of 9/11, The 2008 market crash, etc. Predicting what those new norms might be is premature at this point in time. Sure, the thought process of dreaming about what those might be is an interesting exercise and I enjoy the process but more from the fun of "what if" versus this shall be scenario. Each challenge presented to us is a struggle for some, but these challenges become opportunities for each of us to adapt and change, and that is what humans have done throughout our existence.

    It's quite interesting to observe our own behavior as part of this event. We have bought supplies in bulk for most of our adult lives now so when the stores started having shortages of TP, meat, etc, we have experienced very little impact. Our bulk purchase approach over the years has been conscious with regards to financial impacts of the cost/unit in addition to living in an area of the country prone to a multitude of natural disasters which can disrupt the supply chain at times. We have changed a little recently as well due to the supply chain challenges. We will pick up a package of meat if we see it but are not buying in bulk right now to ensure others who are not stocked have access to needed supplies. We are pretty much slowly eroding our supplies but not allowing a full drain. We did not eat out that often before this event so cooking and eating at home is not new for us. The challenge has been that we planned travel as my wife just retired a month ago and now we are purposely not traveling as requested. Overall impact to our lives for now has been minimal but as time progresses and if we are asked to continue to stay at home, then the impact will eventually rise as we will burn out on cleaning, purging, etc and will crave the adventure that travel afford more and more. We do miss sports and concerts and really enjoy the "in person" aspects of these events. Virtual events lost their appeal to me many years ago as my prior profession had a huge virtual component to it, and I quickly discovered that with the lack of in person contact, I was missing out of the true face to face needs that most of us need in our lives.

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    1. Yes, the article in the link was generally hopeful, but that isn't such a bad thing right now. Since no one really knows where this is all going, I'd rather think some happy thoughts (South Pacific?) for now.

      One of the outcomes of all this will likely be an increase in the number of people who follow your example and stockpile some of the basics. Not everyone can afford to do much, or have the space, but even a little can help.

      We have missed one concert, one upcoming baseball game, one trip to Canada, and very likely a month-long cruise next fall to New Zealand. But, in the grand scheme of things, those are really very minor concerns that will not upset us in the least if that is how things play out.

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  9. The Politico magazine article linked by Tamara is indeed a fascinating read, although a bit America-centric. Three of the expert contributors are scholars whose work I am familiar with from my former academic career.

    On your point, Bob, about seeking structure and control — although I find myself drifting, so far I haven’t felt the need to develop a schedule for myself. Perhaps it’s because I’m still fairly new to retirement and still recovering from decades of being overly busy and overly scheduled. Against all advice, upon retiring nearly three years ago, I immediately jumped into many community based activities and quickly found myself busy once again. Other than during our camping holidays, this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve actually found myself being lazy and drifting along from one deadline-less moment to another. (Although that reminds me — I do have a couple of things on my to-do list that do have deadlines, which I’m presently procrastinating from).

    Perhaps another factor is that my former career and my current interests had/have a lot of solitary time built in. As an academic, I spent a lot of time working at my computer — answering emails, reviewing and planning budgets, reading scholarly articles, doing analyses, writing articles, planning classes, marking papers, preparing agendas, and so on. As a retired person, I normally spend a lot of time in solitary pursuits such as writing, reading, online French course, blogging/social media, painting, walking or hiking, cooking, and gardening. And I’m an introvert. So I am well adjusted to spending chunks of time alone.

    One final comment. One would think that during this period of self isolating at home, I’d be spending a lot of time working on my novels in progress. But my dystopian series is a little too close for comfort to real events at this moment.

    Jude

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    1. Like Jude, my husband and I are both introverts, to the point of calling ourselves social hermits because we need so little face to face interaction with others to be content. We enjoyed a gathering of our "Breakfast Club" (a total of four couples) shortly before this situation became serious, and that will satisfy our need for social interaction for quite a while. I imagine those who are extroverted are having a more difficult time dealing with social distancing and sheltering in place - understandably so. For us, texts, phone calls and emails with friends and family members are par for the course, so no impact there. And, since we were already busy with four major projects beyond our usual at home activities before the virus appeared (cleaning up and clearing out 35+ years of "stuff" from the house, painting hallways and two rooms, building a two-tiered retaining wall and continuing to cut and split firewood), we haven't yet noticed much of a change to our everyday life. Well, I take that back. We are both missing the occasional restaurant meal and are washing our hands much more often than we ever did before. I tend not to worry much about things out of my control (hope for the best; prepare for the worst), but I know others are anxious about the situation for a variety of reasons, and my heart goes out to them.

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    2. Betty and I are really social introverts, also. Except for a weekly church service and an occasional board meeting for me with the library, our social contact tends to be just family. But, the loss of an occasional meal out, thinking twice about any type of shopping for something as basic as new furnace filters is disconcerting. We need some paint for a particular project but have decided a trip to the hardware store isn't the smartest move right now. So, we will do the closet cleaning, and other things that are be accomplished alone, at home.

      So, far, my scheduling to prevent wasting my days, is working. I am supposed to work on the blog from 9-9:45am. It is 9:05 as I type this!

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  10. The stages of grief: "The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with (what)(the one) we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief."
    Keep this in mind as you walk this week.
    I am moving into the last two (with jags back to the first three) as we begin a lock down in sleepy Delaware until May 15.
    Walks are slower. Music is softer. News is quite. Interchanges with loved ones are kinder.
    This is a journey, not a destination.
    I do not dare to imagine what it will be like, but my grandchildren's world will be much different then mine.
    Just as my life was much different then my grandmother's.

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    1. This is a journey on a path none of us have ever walked before. How we react will be telling. We have the chance to pull together or pull apart. We can build each other up or tear each other down.

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  11. I look at this as a wake up call and if we play our cards right we can come out of this better than ever. I agree with the importance of a schedule you don't want to waste a lot of time watching virus updates on the tube as it only increases the stress. Try to accomplish something/get better at something even doing your taxes is a step forward. 'm concerned about how many people are getting into the wine early as a form of escape.

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    1. I did find it much easier to buy wine than bread last week. But, I am good at keeping myself to one glass in the late afternoon. One of my medications requires it.

      There will be really interesting books and research studies that come from this period of our history. What we look like on the other side will be different...better or worse is still to be determined. As an optimist I believe we will find a new feeling of community and maybe less of a consumerist mindset. Time will tell.

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  12. Yes, I’ve experienced the same feelings and am reacting by setting aside strict time periods for specific tasks, otherwise the time drifts and I feel as though I’m achieving very little and losing track of the days. It came home to me at the weekend which we would normally spend at home to avoid the crowds, but, having wound down during the week as well, I could no longer tell the difference. Who’d have thought staying at home in retirement would be so life changing?

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    1. How are things in the U.K.? Has life changed markedly? Are you on voluntary lockdown? Is your government any more on target than ours?

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  13. Time to dive into my backlog of "Great Courses," CDs and DVDs. Learning something, especially about challenging times in our history is somehow comforting and takes up some hours on the clock.

    I went through my address book and made random calls to friends and relatives with whom I have not spoken with in awhile. It was a good experience.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. I have bought and loved several Great Courses over the years.

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