My guess is socialdistancing and quarantine will be the ultimate hashtags of 2020. COVID-19 is here, ready or not.
We’re all cooped up right now, which feels frustrating, and we’re inundated with news and information in every portal, which feels scary. We’re watching our friends span the spectrum of “this is ridiculous” and still gathering (STOP PLEASE!) to “this is incredibly serious" and hoarding supplies, which feels confusing. And we’re all of a sudden work-from-home parents, homeschool teachers, 24/7 entertainers, and short-order cooks… which feels exhausting.
It all happened so fast. We saw it coming and yet maybe didn't believe it. And now here we are, getting new information dropped on us every day about closures and directives and policies. Every one of us is doing our best, juggling what we can, dropping some things, mastering others. Eating weird snacks at weird times of the day. Consuming too much social media. Wondering why we were supposed to buy all that toilet paper. Trying to keep a calm and orderly home and routine. (Or maybe you already gave that up. I can't remember the last time my big children took a bath.)
Many years ago, I was put on abrupt bed rest with my son. He was showing signs of preterm birth, like our first son. I went in for a routine visit on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. It’s one of our most involved church services of the year (I’m the orchestra conductor, a job I absolutely love) and I was looking forward to donning my gorgeous black suit and serving in music ministry with my people that evening.
Instead, I was sent home with strict instructions to lay flat and don’t move. For 6 weeks.
I wish I could tell you I handled it with grace and maturity.
That would be a lie.
I cried in the office. I negotiated with my doctor, promising I would sit on a chair for that evening’s service, and then rest like a good patient afterwards.
She (and my husband) gave me a kind and very emphatic “no.” Hers was more kind. His was more emphatic.
So we drove home where I immediately curled up on the couch and pouted. Jack left to go get some groceries (and surprised me later that afternoon with a brand new cozy recliner, which still rocks in our nursery today).
I survived that bed rest experience, delivered my healthy baby boy right on time, lived to tell the tale, and of course looking back that 6 weeks of bed rest wasn’t that bad. It was hard. But I made it.
As we’re facing a likely quarantine announcement this week, I can feel my mind and spirit “remembering” what it was like staring down the barrel of a lonely season stuck inside away from so much of what I love.
And that “remembering” feels like…
Isolation is a killer. Well, not exactly. Isolation makes us vulnerable mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And the enemy wiggles in wherever he can to start spreading lies faster than any virus. Here’s a little excerpt from my book on this topic, which for me can still loom very large during challenging seasons like this one:
“Lies… masquerade as scary thoughts the enemy whispers when your heart is despairing. The once you’re used to the whisper, he talks so softly the decibel shift is imperceptible. And from there he gets louder and louder, little by little, until all that’s filling your head is a relentless screaming stream of lies. This is depression. Your brain over time becomes convinced of a reality that just isn’t so. …. You can survive, it, and in order to do so, you have to recognize it and get help.” - Joy Comes in the Mourning
I’ll get to “things that actually help” in just a minute. The biggest boost, though, is finding a sense of purpose.
I believe, because I have experienced it in my own life countless times, that human beings can navigate any crisis - even a homebound quarantine - as long as we keep a strong and clear sense of purpose.
When we have purpose, when we know where we’re going, it’s easier to wake up in the morning and get pointed in the right direction. In contrast, if we have no purpose, no aim, and no direction, we spin in circles, wandering aimlessly, unclear on who we are or what we’re doing. This aimlessness is, in my non-licensed opinion, a huge part of why people feel and get and stay depressed. (I am also of the opinion that depression is real, sometimes its chemical grip on your brain is so intense, and healthy people get help in the form of medication and/or counseling.)
When routines shift and roles change, the hats we wear look different. It’s easy for me to sink into a mental hole where my most prevalent thought is: “what’s the point, anyway?” I know this about myself. I hate this about myself. But I recognize it now, and can offset it with some very simple redirections.
Here’s what I learned on bed rest, and what I’m using now to keep my mind in check:
We’re protecting our community. This quarantine goes beyond our individual selves and honors the most vulnerable in our midst… although the way this virus is spreading, we’re all at risk. Staying home, washing hands, flattening the curve… these precautions are protecting our loved ones as well as the medical community. The quicker we can stop the spread, the faster our local economies will recover. The sooner people will be back to work. The sooner we can let our children out of the house. The sooner we can get back together with our friends. We are doing this to stop the spread and protect each other. This is temporary. It won’t last forever. Not if we all do our part.
Are you a teacher? A parent? An essential employee still working? An employee on furlough? An entrepreneur or business owner? A servant in ministry, social work, politics? A medical professional? What you do matters. Even still. Perhaps now more than ever. Your work in the world is important. The people whose lives you touch are depending on your service. What you offer in service to others cannot be done by anyone else, because there is only one you. Keep your purpose clear. Write it on the bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself daily (100 times if you have to) so you don’t forget. You're doing the most important work right now, which is supporting the entire community. You're kind of a big deal.
While I don’t recommend eating an entire box of Snickers ice cream bars daily (I HAVE NEVER DONE THAT, why would you ask?), find joy in the little things. Cook a great meal. Exercise where/how you can. Dig in the dirt. Watch the movie list you’ve never gotten to. Paint your nails a color you’d never wear to work. There’s no sense making a challenging season even harder by trying to diet, deprive, or ration yourself out of the things you enjoy.
On bed rest, my goals were limited. My #1 goal was my purpose, which was to grow a big fat squishy healthy baby. But beyond that, I had to get creative. I decided to pick up a few fun goals: grow my fingernails out, organize my (self-owned) business office systems, get plenty of good sleep, and drink a certain amount of water every day. Those little goals and check-boxes gave me a sense of accomplishment, which kept my confidence and spirits up. A bit of unsolicited advice: don't make a cleaning goal right now. You will feel immediately defeated.
Journal. Talk it out. Draw or create. Be HONEST. Especially if you serve in any kind of leadership, and guess what? That’s EVERY ONE OF US. You lead your family, your work, your ministry. Strong people ask for help, they admit when they need a break, and they take care of themselves so they can pour into others. We’re useless to the people we love if we burn out in exhaustion, stress, anxiety, or depression.
**If your home is filled with uneasiness of strained relationships right now, my prayers are with you. Keep safe zones – a conflict-free physical space, a quiet “personal corner” you can retreat to, and some healthy boundaries on time/place for tough conversations. If you need help, reach out.
Podcasts, social accounts, books, TV shows, radio… it’s all a choice. You control the dial. What’s feeding your mind and soul every day? If it makes you anything other than confident, stretched, curious, proud, present, informed, and optimistic, cut it out of your media diet. The comparison game is a huge temptation right now since we're all so plugged into social media. Give yourself the gift of some "unfollows." They'll never know. But it'll change your life for the better.
Nobody has it "better" or "worse" than anyone else right now. The absolute unkindest thing you can do is leverage your situation against someone else's to try and make yourself feel better, more pulled-together, smarter, healthier, etc. It will ultimately just make you feel worse. With comparison comes judgement, and with judgement comes resentment, and resentment puts chains on your spirit. Set yourself free.
Self care is important. Routine is good for humans, even and especially during something stressful like a quarantine. Brush your teeth. Put on your face (and clean clothes). Take breaks. Give yourself something to look forward to. Chew and taste your food sitting down at normal mealtimes so you don’t starve or overeat. Take a nap. Work in pockets and break it up with a dance party or phone call to your friends or a yoga session. Go to bed when it gets dark. Wake up when it gets light. This season is temporary, remember? So you may as well give yourself the gift of a healthy and self-loving routine.
When your sense of purpose stays clear, and you remember this is only temporary, you’ve paved the path for a grateful heart. This quarantine is rocking our whole world but ultimately, we’re so blessed. We have the food we need, the supplies to last, our health, our homes, our people, our careers (no matter how different they look right now), our leaders, our friends, and our futures.
On days you feel gripped by fear, because there will be days like that cooped up inside during a quarantine, feel what you feel, acknowledge it, tip your hat to it, and then walk away. Shoving those feelings away does not work. They will just come back later, even bigger and uglier. Once you’ve acknowledged how you think and feel, choose a moment of gratitude. What is blessing your life right this moment? A pity party can last 4 minutes or 4ever. I’ve done both.
When my bed rest was over, I promise you I forgot about the challenges immediately. I was so excited to be back in the world, back to myself, back in service to the people I love most.
I didn’t think about the pain of bed rest again until last week, when those same feelings started creeping back in at the first mention of a possible quarantine. We will all survive this. And when it’s over, we’ll likely never take for granted another gathering, meeting, assignment, errand, or conversation. We’ll look back on this in a year and laugh (maybe??!) about how bummed we were that we had to spend time resting inside.
Our grandparents fought for global peace in World War II. We’re being asked to stay inside and watch movies. We can do this.
Stay home. Wash your hands. Take care of yourself. Love your people. Keep your purpose clear. And never forget how truly blessed and fortunate and loved you are.
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.