Sheltering in Place while Staying Connected

Hoping and coping without moping.

Marilyn Flower
Mar 17, 2020 · 5 min read

Today is the first day or our new Shelter-in-Place public health order here in the San Francisco Bay Area. No non-essential business or activities are happening. No public gatherings in the State of California. Down to the bare bones — groceries, gas, bank, hospital, etc.

Never mind that huge hoarding TP parties are happening at Safeway. It’s hard to snatch packs at a distance of six feet.

I understand some of the stores how have red ropes and guards monitoring the entrance rate. So we can close our eyes and pretend we’re at a trendy night club!

I haven’t been out yet, but I expect the roads to be clear, and the parking lots mobbed. But thank God, I still can.

Before today, my world shrank bit by bit. First one, then another senior center, gathering, or activity, closed its doors. Today it’s wham, bam, thank you ma’am all at once.

And that’s okay. We are making these changes to prevent the absolute worse from happening. Or, as I wrote in another story — to not trespass on the quality of our future.

That’s a moment by moment, minding of my mind. What’s not working is a steady diet of news and information. It’s so easy to overconsume and get overwhelmed. It helps to ration it out in smaller doses and bookend it with more upbeat activities.

That includes reaching out to friends, especially ones more shut-in than I. Older, sicker ones who dare not go out at all. My mom in Ohio with her version of lockdown in assisted living. She’s staying upbeat so a call to her lifts my spirits.

Turning on music, moving and dancing around my room, singing, chanting, and praying pick me up off the floor of my gloom and doom. And give me a break from sitting here at the computer, getting sore butt-itis from too much sitting.

I have to keep moving. I just have to. Something shifts in me when I do. Like endorphins.

I’m reciting slogans and mantras. Twelve-step programs* use them well for good reason. They are short and easy to remember. And they help. So right now, its one day at a time. We just don’t know how long this will continue or if what we’re doing makes a difference. They, whoever they are, don’t know either.

So it does me no good to future-trip. Or go on the pity pot. But it won’t be forever. So, this too shall pass is most helpful.

Do the next right thing. I’ve found myself getting stuck, staring into space, with no idea what I’m doing. It works to have a to-do list.

I can busy myself cleaning something, anything while my brain shifts back in gear. By the time I remember I am to write a memo for church announcing our cancellations, I have a clean toilet. Double mitzvah as we like to say.

Get outside. We’re allowed to go out for walks, runs, and hikes. Vitamin D is great for my immune system. The sun is shining. And I have a neighbor friend to walk with. We have a route that includes Lake Merritt, a bird sanctuary, and some stunning architecture.

But best of all, hearing about her day gets me out of myself. Some days our walk takes the form of a mini-book club. Especially when the stars line up and we’ve both read the same book recently. Like that one about the Jews during the plague in London. Something ink.

Other days, our walk is more like free therapy. She’s a great listener. I am so blessed to have her in my life. (By the way, and this is making the rounds, when Shakespeare was quarantined, he wrote King Lear. No pressure!) Maybe I can at least read it.

And this hadn’t even started. I was on the phone dealing with church challenges. Stress got the better of me when I didn’t have the plan in place yet. And thank you, Kathy Jacobs, for giving me the chance to spell it out. Writing this helps me remember and stick to it.

Yesterday I was reacting rather than responding. I didn’t pause for my usual deep breaths, which is why I chose the above picture, to remind me.

Or a quick journal session to re-group. I needed to interrupt the pattern and ground myself. I do that by breathing and praying, often with a short meditation in the middle of my prayer.

Instead, I was abuzz with whatdoIgottadonext panicky energy, alternating with staring into space. My plan was to clean my bathroom in between other stuff. It didn’t happen.

But at least I had and still have a workable plan. Cleaning grounds me and helps me shift my energy. And has a built-in reward, that porcelain sparkle.

The night before last, I only had five hours of sleep. No wonder it was so difficult to stay grounded. I knew that was not sustainable. So I went to bed much earlier last night. Today I’m well-rested and writing. This is my second piece of the day.

I didn’t write any stories yesterday. Yet I was home on the computer all day long. That’s how I let the stress get the better of me. And I could have written about the stress and made it funny. With some grounding. But not in the state of discombobulation I was in.

So coping with self-loving, self-care, moving, and grounding is how I stave off discombobulation.

And saving the best for last — anything creative. Taking lemons and writing the lemonade quenches my existential angst. And there’s a lot of that going around right now.

Will I have days of discombobulation again? Most certainly. I’ll be learning to use technology to help keep our church community connected electronically during these times. We had our first Zoom Board meeting last night, there will be more. Many more.

But no matter what happens, I know I have a plan to cope enriched with prayerful hope. I have a lot of strength and wisdom to draw on.

Others need it from me. And so do I! Like the oxygen mask on the plane, I won’t be flying on for a while, I put my own mask on first. Then help others. And that’s an order!

Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times.

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