What do you do to lift yourself up?
Let me be honest:: I’ve been lagging in the motivation department. If you’ve looked at my Strava account lately (which I know no one actually does, BTW, so don’t get the impression I think I’m a fancy runner) you’ll see I haven’t logged a single mile since May. I have a little stack of not-yet-earned medals from virtual races mocking me. I’d hoped to run the SeaWheeze Virtual 10k but then Portland had a heat wave and it’s was WAY too hot to even think about going outside. (In my defense, I grew up in Michigan, and I come from two very long lines of pasty-white folks from northern climates. I’m just not engineered for the heat, and I quickly turn into a lobster when exposed to direct sunlight, SPF 2000 for the glow-in-the-dark notwithstanding.) When it finally cooled down, the wildfire smoke rolled in, and the air quality was so bad that I couldn’t workout inside the house.
It’s not just running where my motivation has been notably absent. I was basically a total slug for the entire month of June–no yoga, no stretching, no workouts, no nothing–and pretty much all of July and August and September. I mean, I did do some minor outdoor yard maintenance, but I haven’t felt very motivated to do that either. I definitely did not finish the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. September was like a very slow car wreck, for reasons I can’t write about here. It’s like I went from coping extremely well with the stay-at-home era to not coping so well at all.
Does this describe you, too? It’s okay. In fact, it’s okay to not be okay.
Where Did My Motivation Go?
First, if you’re feeling drained lately, it’s not just you. Or me. Or us. There’s plenty of “pandemic fatigue” going around–just Google it. If you’re feeling weary, notice changes to your sleeping and eating patterns, lack of motivation, have brain fog or racing thoughts, are edgy/nervous and maybe snapping at others, YOU may have pandemic fatigue. It’s a thing. Check out the UCLA Health recommendations on how to combat pandemic fatigue. Engage your peeps and make a plan. Even if we can’t live 2020 the way each of us planned, that’s no excuse for wasting it. Listen, I’m not saying you have to turn into the person who is working from home full-time, homeschooling the kids while teaching them Japanese language and French cooking, being the perfect house-spouse, and executing a 93-point self-improvement plan. Just that if you’re sitting around pining, while waiting for the pandemic to end, you’ve got better options. It’s okay to throw a pity party and wallow in it a bit–trust me, I GET IT–but eventually you’ve got to pull yourself out of it. (No one’s going to save you–save yourself!)
Second, it’s totally normal to develop pandemic fatigue–even if you’ve been “really just fine” up until now. As science journalist Tara Haelle explains in her essay on Medium, it’s because our surge capacity is depleted: “Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.” Well we’ve been living under an acutely stressful situation for more than half a year now, and frankly, I’m burned out.
BUT. I am sick and tired of being burned out. I know I can’t just jump in with both feet (who has the energy for that?) but I’ve had my pity party, I’ve wallowed, and while I’m still engaging in some extra indulgent self-care
Here’s My Process: Step 1, Pick Some Baby Steps
Okay so first, it’s okay if you’re not ready to do anything yet. Maybe you start by calling a friend, or someone you trust. If you’re having a really, really hard time, please seek a counselor or therapist or other professional help. But if you’re not there yet, or you’re trying to climb out of that pit of despair, pick a tiny step.
In July I subscribed to Imperfect Produce. My “plan” was that this would motivate me to start cooking at home, instead of relying almost completely on (boxed) comfort foods and takeout (and wine). I’m not going to lie, I’ve indulged a bit too much in the comfort food. I know this won’t fix my neverending love affair with pizza (and cheese sandwiches), but at least it will up my produce intake. (I’ve been limiting my grocery store excursions because the number of people nose-dicking–wearing masks slung under their noses so that the mask is totally ineffective, as if they were wearing underwear tucked under their penises–stresses me out.)
First I made a hearty lentil and vegetable stew from a recipe that I saw in an email. I had swap out a few things, and I added way more rice, but I thought it turned out perfectly. Second, I made a crock pot curry with a sweet potato-carrot base. I had ordered an immersion blender (on sale, with a coupon) to assist with this, as the entire soup is pureed at the end, and naturally the blender arrived the day after I made the soup!! The only problem with the curry soup is that unlike the rice-laden lentil mix, it’s not something I can eat for three meals a day. Next time, I need to be prepared to freeze part of the batch.
The third experiment was tomato sauce, specifically the kind made for pasta. I say “experiment” because I basically chopped up a bunch of produce from my Imperfect boxes that I identify with pasta sauce (onions, tomatoes, garlic, red bell peppers), sauteed them in olive oil, and threw them into a pot with a can of tomato paste and a bunch of herbs. Sadly, I discovered that while I have a lovely “pasta sprinkle” blend, I did not have all of the constituent ingredients. So while I could add basil (I’ve got two kinds) and oregano, I didn’t have any thyme. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) I tossed in salt and pepper, but under-salted it on purpose as I knew I’d want to top any pasta with a generous handful of shredded parmesean, reggiano, and other hard cheeses with a salty flavor.
The experiments will continue as I mix comfort food (seriously, Kraft dinner never goes out of style) with fresh spinach and hummus wraps, and try to switch my snacks from all cheap carbs (Cheez Its are life) to more fresh fruit. Also I may still eat way more pizza than I should.
Step 2: Wardrobe, Please!
This is also a baby-step. Since I’m working from home 90% or more, and when I go to the office no one cares what I am wearing (if there’s even anyone there), I am literally wearing yoga pants all day, every day. For me, this is delightful–I don’t give a rip about fashion, and I’d be thrilled beyond belief if I could just keep wearing the black tee-shirts I bought at Target in the early 2000s without a wardrobe change. It’s been hot in Portland, and I hate being sweaty. I bought a few more pairs of yoga pants (prana Pillar Pant, black), and a few of those Harper Wilde “bliss” bralettes. When 32 Degrees had a big sale I bought some long shorts (so hard to find these days). I don’t want to do laundry every day, and I might as well be comfortable, right? (Next buy: another pair of my favorite pajama pants.)
Since the statistics on clothing in the US are pretty wasteful and the average American throws away like 81 pounds of clothing per year, I’m trying to be very careful about what I buy and how much and how often. (Seriously, Target, those Merona tees from the early 2000s.) I want my yoga pants to last forever so I buy quality. Harper Wilde has a bra recycling take-back program and they take ANY brand. My discarded tees and race shirts go directly to a church that helps those experiencing homelessness (they go right onto the backs of actual humans, not to some place to maybe be resold); I do clothing swaps with friends; and when what I have to offer isn’t useful to either of those groups, I offer it up on my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group.
Finally, I’m still acquiring masks. Wearing a mask isn’t a sign of some fear or weakness. I affirmatively choose to wear a mask because I understand the science of droplet management, and I know that people can spread the COVID-19 virus even when they are symptom-free; I do NOT want to spread the virus to you, your loved ones, the elderly, the immunocompromised, or anyone else. I’m wearing that mask because I care about my community, not just myself. I’m trying to choose masks in a way that reflects my values. The first ones came from a local running skirt company that pivoted since they aren’t at a race expo every weekend this year. The next one came from Oaklandish, a store in Oakland I love. I bought a few from crafters on etsy, selecting designs from stores run by individuals making their own goods. I picked a set from 32 Degrees so I could have plain black for court/work. My next masks will come from local running stores.
Step 3: Save the Environment
Well, not ANY environment, but the one inside my house, specifically. Between moving into a new space (this house!) in November and changing jobs in June, my personal environment has been in flux. I’m still experimenting with how to place the furniture (dining set and one sofa) in the main living area and how to work from home. Once I started doing most of my shopping online, the dining room started to look like a cardboard box factory. In my experience–and according to Psychology Today–mess causes stress. The last thing I need is more stress!!
First, I cleared and cleaned the bedroom. At the moment, there’s still clutter on one of the dressers, but the rest of it is in order: clean sheets and freshly laundered blankets on the bed, floor cleaned and de-cat-hair-ed on the regular (hooray for micro-fiber cloths). I now have one sanctuary where all is right with the world, more or less. If you haven’t done this, OMG give it a try.
Then I ordered a desk to use during work-from-home. It arrived four months later. Despite the wait, and the imperfect fit of the chair I bought at Home Goods, this is a vast improvement over trying to work on the dining room table (which is the wrong height for typing) or from the sofa (which angered both my low back and my hamstrings). So now I have one designated Space For Work, which somehow makes me less anxious about not leaving the house.
Next, I started to re-home things I no longer need. Obviously I can’t just drop them off at a resale shop, and many of them aren’t resale material anyway. (Plus the majority of things donated do not get sold.) Instead, I’m finding good homes for most of these items through the Buy Nothing project: the gigantic cardboard boxes that protected my IKEA furniture during shipping, the full-sized box springs I love but that didn’t fit up the steep stairs in my new place, catnip spray Professor Nick Sterling ignored, a fat stack of old magazines, modge-podge, a seat cushion, old cable TV equipment, and so much more. I’ve set aside a bag of clothes to give to a homeless outreach program, once that’s possible. I also have a number of pieces of workout clothing I’m probably going to put on Poshmark. That’s another project.
I picked one room–the one that is going to become the yet-to-be-named workout room–and focused on that. Since it is going to house the equipment I own and my workout clothes, I needed storage and picked out a wardrobe and dresser from IKEA. (They had a bit of a backed-up ordering system, so it took awhile to get them.) The wardrobe is assembled, the dresser needs a drawer fixed (I’ve kicked that to the end of the project). After much consideration I took advantage of the summer sale to buy the CityRow specialized version of the A1 WaterRower–it’s not like I’m headed back to any gym or studio any time soon–and got a TV to hang on the wall (for the DVD player, since I have a stack of fitness DVDs). I splurged on an AppleTV so that I can screen mirror my iPhone to the TV (helpful for apps), though I could have used the phone-holder on the rower, or just dealt with it. Rather than wait for the perfection of finishing off the room–I need to move the TV’s cords out of the way of the heater, and take the things in boxes and put them into the dresser and wardrobe–I did my first workout on the rower with the room in a bit of a mess. It’s coming along nicely, and I anticipate finishing the rest of it this weekend.
Finally, I spent a little money and one day (when it wasn’t a billion degrees or super smoky) to solve several problems that had been bugging me:
- My fridge has an ice maker but there isn’t a water line plumbed to it, so it is useless. I bought a countertop ice maker–model based on a friend’s recommendation–and my life is so much better (especially during the crazy hot period when I couldn’t get enough cold liquids in me to save my life). I have ice for the iced tea pot, or for drinks, or to wrap up and hold on my wrists.
- The cat’s box is in this funky liminal space between the kitchen, pantry, bathroom, and staircase, and it bugged me that it was just “out there.” I found a table at Ross that is the exact right size to cover and protect the cat box, move focus, and provide a place to set things that come in the back door.
- My cat doesn’t care, but his collars were all shredded from his turbo-foot scratching. I bought a new reflective safety breakaway collar for his sweet bowtie.
- My 15+ year old lamp that I’ve used in the bedroom, and the lamp I’ve had since I was a kid, both need wiring repairs. The 15+ lamp has one of those roll-the-dial switches on the cord and developed a tic where if the cord isn’t twisted exactly the right way, the light will switch off at some random point. It’s been annoying me, but I need a lamp there and so haven’t taken it to the lamp shop. I found a lamp on sale (about $20) and a clearance lamp shade I rather like ($6.50), and the combo is more appropriate for my bedside bookcase than the dysfunctional one. Now I can pack that one off to get repaired, and eventually installed in the guest room.
Oh, and THEN a friend turned me on to The Home Edit. After binging all the episodes (hi, Little Dave!), I “edited” more things, and realized my temporary workspace is in need of some help. I have a file cart with drawers on the way.
Next Step: Help Others
If you’re a runner, you know at some races there’s the point where everything has gone wrong? Like your shoes are rubbing the wrong way (even though they never have before), and your muscles hurt, and it is too hot, and you just don’t wanna? That’s they point when I know that staying focused on myself will only make me miserable. In a race, that’s when I look for someone else who looks lonely and miserable, and I make a new friend to cheer towards the end of the race.
So, in the spirit of trying to help keep YOUR spirits up–and maybe we can all help each other?–drop a note on how you’re doing, and what you’re doing to keep your own spirits up. THEN, if you want a happy little surprise by mail, drop me an email with your mailing address. You know how we have Valen-tines? I’ll send you a Quaran-tine! (Quarantine, stay-at-home? Okay, that might have been funnier in my head…. ) Anyway, until supplies run out, I will help my beloved US Post Office help YOU by sending you a cheery little something.
Pandemic fatigue resources:
- Cultivating Resilience in a Pandemic, podcast by Harvard Business Review
- Resilience Strategies During a Pandemic, article on Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
- A collection of resources and guides, many specifically aimed at children and families, from Center on the Developing Child at Harvard
- Resilience in a Pandemic, Psychology Today
- Cultivating Deliberate Resilience During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic, Journal of the American Medical Association