I graduated from the ceramics studio at KSA in December 2019, and having no plans for after that, crashed hard. I was starting to pick myself up a bit when lockdown went into effect in BC. Markets to sell my pottery at were cancelled. I was already unemployed. Job hunting was redundant. Instagram became a channel for my anxieties – my account has turned into a blog of life and garden updates, self-care tips as tested, and art DIYs using whatever I have on hand. My audience is small but invaluable – mostly family and friends. In the last few months, they’ve seen stories on everything from hula hooping to how to fold a fitted sheet.
AN ANXIOUS INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO STAYING HOME
Reflections on Instagram captions of COVID-19
TIP #1: PUT SOME PANTS ON
Starting with the bare minimum today.
I’d spent January to March slowly dragging myself out of a winter depression fog. Crying a lot and bouncing between counselling appointments and job hunting. But things were looking up. I’d dusted off a selection of my best pottery for market in Creston. Said market was expected to pay half a month’s rent and I had the other half already. I was doing good.
Faced with an onslaught of emails (what we’re doing about COVID . . .from everybody) and social distancing just when I’d started to GET social, I wanted to roll myself up in a blanket like a reverse chrysalis. Instead of emerging renewed with wings, I imagined fading away inside the shell of a hoodie. I had flashbacks to days sleeping til 3pm and being awake at 3am. Of sitting around waiting for ‘something’ to happen and not moving when anything did. Of a constant internal monologue of “I hate existing” and “I’m tired”, and “why do I even bother?”
So, step 1: DO NOT wear That Hoodie. You know the one.
TIP #2: TAKE CARE OF SOMETHING
Pretty much all of my plants are neglect tolerant for a reason.
No matter how bad my mental health gets, there’s something about things I HAVE to do, that I can hold myself together for. Not necessarily well, but together. I can go to class, work, or grocery shopping. I can water a plant that is drooping. It’s a main reason it took me years to realize how bad things were. But now knowing this, I can use Have To things as a stairway up from rock bottom. Or a facade of functionality, take your pick.
I have a paper route – not for the money, but because it’s a forced hour-long walk through the neighbourhood for me and my fatigue demons. That first week of lockdown, I have never wanted anything less. But I did it, because I had to. In this small way I provide an essential service, and that gets me up and out every Thursday. I don’t feel particularly heroic though.
TIP #3: KEEP IN TOUCH WITH TIME PASSING
I remember last year feeling really disconnected from the seasons – different months blended together except that for some of them, I was less cold.
My parents are farmers, so when I think spring, I think boxes of seeds and the entire dining room taken over by transplants. Being in college and having summer arrive without homegrown veggies was weird. No rhubarb, no lettuce, no tomatoes. Semesters changed, but otherwise the seasons never really touched my routine. Like things were happening, but not to me.
I got less than a week into lockdown before I started tomatoes on my bedroom windowsill. My mum sent a curbside delivery of seeds, and soon I had a whole personal-sized garden centre on the kitchen counter. Newspapers with pandemic headlines turned into biodegradable plant pots. Cardboard from online shopping has flattened part of the lawn for zucchini. When my plants outgrew the kitchen, I sold the extra seedlings to other aspiring gardeners. The public anxiety is over a food shortage, but for me, it’s a rather literal throwing down of roots. A way to ground myself in the here, now, and there-will-be-a-later.
TIP #4: MAKE GOOD MUNCH AND DRINK TEA
Honestly, tea is never a bad idea.
I have a theory that if I feel like Everything Is Bad, I probably just need a snack. Which is . . . difficult when the grocery store is now the setting of the latest dystopia movie. I get anxious in the cracker aisle on a good day (why are there so many options). I also don’t drive. Navigating the bus, the store – which may or may not have what I need, staying within budget, getting home . . . it’s all too much. I went once, then my sister – from Vancouver – set up a group chat with her local friend, so I could order delivery via extrovert. When I did brave the store again, it was after a verbal ‘walk-through’ from my therapist, and my housemates picked me up.
I spend more on food now, because it’s all I’m really buying. It’s also harder to convince myself that I don’t need some extra thing that is on sale. What if something else happens? What if there really is a food shortage? I try to ignore this as unlikely, and instead stock up on chocolate chips for the latest batch of experimental cookies. So far, double chocolate tahini is the winner.
TIP #5: GET SOME FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE
There needs to be a line between good isolation and BAD isolation.
I saw a post online that said to ‘treat quarantine like depression’. Great. I have occasionally wondered if that means I’m better suited to life in lockdown than someone without mental illness. At the same time, having a REASON to panic is not ideal. I already have social anxiety so hit me up with that sweet self-isolation. I make myself go out, but it feels like I’m getting away with something.
Social distancing has intensified my pre-existing assumption that other people are watching and judging my every move. My defence has been to give them something to look at. I’ve given up clinging to ‘normal’ and have leaned into every artistic stereotype I used to save for weekends. I dye my hair a rotation of purple, pink, and red. I no longer dress for job interviews – instead layering hats, floral skirts, tweed jackets, and every shirt that would never pass dress code. I’ve taught myself crochet and made a bright yellow shawl. All this is my armour to leave my house for food and exercise.
TIP #6: MAKE YOUR SPACE NICE
Cleaning: always there for you when you’re bored.
Our kitchen cupboard has a bottle of Lysol for the first time ever. (Disinfects even when diluted!) The scent is advertised as ‘Spring Waterfall’, but it’s more ‘Chemical Cloud’. Depending on the household’s anxiety level, it gets sprayed on phones, groceries, countertops, or every, single, doorknob. I use it to clean the bathroom, neglecting the all-natural, rosemary-scented cleaner that was in there before.
I don’t take Lysol into my room. I already eye the walls and wonder if I could stay sane in full quarantine. I keep the window open, needing fresh air. I burn incense: rose, lavender, vanilla, and ‘stress relief’. The latter is unintentionally my favourite. For extra cheer, I’ve looped my plants with the multicoloured lights I never hung at Christmas. They get plugged in around 7pm, and occasionally stay on all night. I have weird dreams about the grocery store. I’m not big on dream interpretation, but I think I know where that’s coming from.
TIP #7: GET MOVING
I have to really trick myself into exercise.
I’ve never been one for the gym, so that aspect of pandemic shutdowns hasn’t bothered me. But I normally exercise by walking to whatever things I’m doing out of the house. Without things, my options are:
A) Long walks that don’t go anywhere, dressed like I’m in “Pride and Prejudice and the Apocalypse”, the latest historically inaccurate Austen movie.
B) Gardening, which I do not dress up for. Except I don’t have garden clothes, so I’m slowly degrading anything that previously escaped ruin in the pottery studio. My ‘dirt release’ laundry detergent does not release the dirt.
And finally: C) Hula hooping. I keep my hoop in the dining room, which has just enough space if I push the table against the wall. It’s very convenient. I exercise in my pyjamas while the kettle’s on, then take my tea and return to scrolling my phone.
TIP #8: HAVE YOU TRIED TURNING IT OFF AND TURNING IT ON AGAIN?
If something isn’t working, you can try again at any time.
I hate the vocabulary that has come from COVID – especially when people talk like it’s a particularly bad trend that will slowly slide out of relevance. Or say things like “when things go back to normal”. Will they? Will they really? And is that even what we really want? If anything, I think the pandemic has proven that normal has a few design flaws. Maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
My normal sucked. I was already anxious, unemployed, and socially isolated. My entire goal this year has been to do better than normal. At the start of lockdown, I worried about falling into a spiral of bad habits and winding up back there. I still worry about that. Like mentally there’s a cliff just behind me, and it’s all over if I slip up. But it hasn’t happened yet. Justified anxieties aside, I’m almost glad for the reality check. To see where I go when shit goes down. And it’s not my mental illness. It’s just me. Making things, baking stress into cookies, and digging holes in the backyard.