The Virus Diaries: Sanity

March 22, 2020 at 2:54 pm (Cat pics, Fully Sick, general life, Mental illness, Mum Stuff, Writing Ranting)

There are two major mental challenges when it comes to staying in one’s home. In no particular order they are:

1) Spending time with other people.

2) Not spending time with other people.

Today is all about my advice on staying sane! And yes I’m aware of the irony of a mentally ill person telling others how to chill.

My first recommendation is to recognise that all of this is really, really hard. Different people will struggle with different aspects, and will cope (or not cope) in different ways. Some people will cope really well, but don’t let that make you feel bad. They definitely suck at other things which aren’t relevant right now.

If being with your immediate family (or housemates) 24/7 is hard for you to deal with, I recommend being honest (ideally before you snap and scream your truth at people) and figuring out a way to get some space. Camping in the yard? Going nocturnal (if your housemates are diurnal)? Trading people with one other household? Getting a TV for your room so you never have to share the remote? Personally I’m really enjoying having Chris sleep elsewhere (hello darling), because it’s super annoying that he falls asleep more or less instantly every night while I have nightmares, toss and turn due to muscle pain, etc.

If being out of contact with your social circle is the worst part for you, then look into some of the creative ways people are connecting at the moment: Zoom is very popular, also Skype, twitter, and facebook. Also people sometimes sing together from their balconies, or make a giant outside circle (6 feet apart) to chat of an evening. Or you could actually talk on the phone.

And of course you may be one of those lucky ones who suffers from both #1 and #2 above. Good luck to you.


I’ve had a few very lonely times in my life, and I have a pretty good skill set for this kind of thing. The most notable ‘lonely time’ was when I was eighteen. I lived in Indonesia with Indonesians for six months, and no one spoke English so I didn’t truly ‘talk’ to people for all that time. Before that journey I was good at Indonesian in the sense that I had an A+ in Year 10 Indonesian classes. By the end I was more or less fluent.

That was the second time I’d been to Indonesia—the first was a fortnight as a blonde-streaked and adorably pimply sixteen year-old (with a group of other young and young-ish people). For your amusement, I dug up this Real Physical Photo of me being utterly distracted by a baby animal (I haven’t changed much when it comes to cute animals):

Pretty sure that bracelet spells “Jesus”. Not much is changed there either (nowadays I have a tattoo of a cross, and I still want to make the world better).

I think I had one phone call with my family during my six-month visit to Indonesia. I didn’t have a mobile, and the place where I stayed had a single landline that was rarely used. This was in the distant time of the year 2000. There was one TV at the place I was staying which was certainly not for my use. There was no Netflix. No social media. No internet (except internet cafes, which I visited once a week). I had a discman (a tiny battery-powered CD player) and a few CDs, which was all the music I had, and all the technology too. During that time I wrote my first full-length book about my experience. In the first draft it was over 200,000 words… all of them written freehand.

In case it wasn’t obvious, writing is my #1 coping method. Even if you’re not a writer, journalling (or even blogging) can be really helpful to process life, especially a big experience like isolation or quarantine. I do genuinely recommend you try it. Which brings me to my first idea of ways to cope:

1. Do something. Whether it’s your job, journalling, writing a novel, gardening, or whatever, try not to slide into the utter nothingness of pure unfettered laziness for too long (it gets old after about three days, and it can be hard to snap out of it). Wear pants. Shower. Eat breakfast at breakfast time. Cook proper food and clean the kitchen every night. A lot of people are celebrating “Formal Fridays” where they dress up for the day and post photos online.

2. Stop. Take at least one day a week off, whatever that means for you. Enjoy that lazy Sunday vibe, stay in your PJs all day, eat nothing but cereal, do no schoolwork, whatever. Apart from anything else, this gives you something to look forward to.

3. Do healthy stuff. Eat well (especially fruit and vegies, or things will not go well in your bathroom), and figure out a way to exercise (walking, running up and down stairs, playing soccer with the kids, whatever). Make yourself get up at a certain time each day (with one ‘sleep in’ day a week because sleeping in is awesome). Get some sunshine if you possibly can (I’m assuming you at least have a balcony). It really helps your body feel like you’ve done something and can therefore sleep at night.

4. Be polite no matter what. Small annoyances built up fast, whether it’s the noisy way your kid eats or societally institutionalised sexism (exemplified by your husband dropping his dirty socks on the floor). Blame coronavirus, not each other. Save your big fights for a time when you’re allowed to go and stay at a friend’s house if you need to cool down. The most important thing is not to burn any bridges with the people you love. So be nice. Seriously. Hating the sight of your family is a side effect of home isolation, not a sign it’s time for a divorce.

5. Pick your goals wisely, and change course as required.

Even under the heading of ‘writing’ I have a lot of very different things I’m working on:

a) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A super exciting fun shiny new book… which is currently not coming together, so I’ve moved it to the back burner for now.

b) The Floating City. A climate change/scifi book that has given me a huge amount of grief but is ever so close to finished. I’m currently going through the sensitivity readers’ comments (usually small facts or phrases so not hard to change) and then I’ll be editing just the ending. But I’m forcing myself to go slow because I often rush endings and I don’t want to do it for this book.

c) Flight. Another really fun book, which needs an edit and a couple more chapters (around 20,000 words). I was going to enter it in a contest last year but I got the date wrong and as a result it wasn’t ready in time. So I’m aiming for this year instead. I have had a lot of excellent feedback from about 5 different places, so I need to go back and find it all, then deal with it. A lot of it is major criticism that will require big rewrites… but the book itself is really good and really fun, so that will be enjoyable-although-difficult when I get to it.

d) Blogging. It’s taking a lot of my mental space at the moment, which is good because I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile (and it’s bad because the rest of my writing is suffering). And it’s free therapy. And technically work, since writers are meant to be bloggers too these days. So I do feel kinda righteous. At the same time, I’m writing this on Saturday to post Sunday so I can take Sunday ‘off’ blogging.

I haven’t got around to doing any schoolwork with the kids today, which is fine. It’s Saturday. I was planning to at least do a fun activity with them, but so what? I didn’t tell them, so they’re not disappointed. The great thing about setting goals for myself is I can let myself off the hook as needed.

6. Failure is always an option. If you end up in a fetid pile of dirty washing, buck naked and screaming at your two year-old that you want a divorce… that’s okay. It might look and feel like the end of the world, but when things are normal again you’ll go back to normal too. If you fail in your goals, wallow for a day, think about whether your goals need to be altered, and then start fresh.

7. Remember humans are amazingly adaptable, even you. Your first ten minutes of homeschooling may make you want to give up on humanity altogether, but in the usual pattern of good and bad days and good and bad moments, you’ll get better at doing this. So don’t extrapolate the pain of that ten minutes into the weeks or months of isolation ahead. Change hurts, but you’ll settle sooner or later into some kind of routine and it won’t hurt this much all the time. I promise.

8. Do fun stuff. Bake stuff you’ve always wanted to try, or watch that series everyone was talking about three years ago. Get day drunk in your living room. Whatever works for you (and doesn’t cause long-term harm).

9. Humour. There are a bazillion and one jokes and songs about the coronavirus now. Dive in and laugh at all of this nonsense.

10. Whatever works. The above list is aimed at healthy people. Those with health conditions that flare up randomly will need to adjust day by day and often hour by hour. But that was always true. And if wearing PJs every day works for you, go for it!

It might not look like it, but this is a picture of TJ. He asked me to take it so… well, there it is.

Resource of the day:

Someone else’s take on how to work from home.

Stuffed Capsicum (serves two, or one hungry person):

1. Slice a capsicum in half and scoop out the seeds and ribs so it makes two little bowls. Roast them facing down for ten minutes at 200 degrees celcius.

2. Mix a small amount of cooked rice with crushed nuts (you can smash them to bits yourself with a potato masher), chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and a teaspoon or so of either cream, butter or oil. You can also put in tuna, cooked chicken pieces, tofu, or almost anything.

3. Flip over the slightly-cooked capsicum halves and fill with the mixture. Cook another 5-10 minutes, top with grated cheese, and eat.

Recommended Donation of the Day:

Support a musician on Kickstarter. Musicians are losing gigs and money at a really high rate, and music is one of the things that makes life better during isolation.

Recommended personal action of the day:

Carefully (because you don’t want to wet or break them) clean your TV remotes.

Recommended hoarding item of the day:

Buy another TV. Unless you already have one TV per person in your house, this will help you stay sane.

* * *

For those following along with the Castle Project, one of the vacant lots I had my eye on (unfortunately it’s impossible to track the owner) is now under construction. I reached out via the email on the builder’s notice, but no joy there I think.

I need to start applying for grants but I… haven’t yet. The tabs are open, however. Maybe this week.

1 Comment

  1. The Virus Diaries: The Truth About My Routine | crazy talk said,

    […] so long ago, I wrote a post on sanity, including ten tips to stay sane while self-isolating. Let’s go through them and see if I am […]

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