Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 14: Tilt

A friend called me today. Her husband ripped the island out of the kitchen floor and threw it at her. Another friend last week was worried about the revolution, the final solution, and the birds. Yet another is working ten hours a week in a busy grocery story because she is worried she will lose her job if she stays home.

I love my friends and worry about them. And my heart is with the people who literally have no where to go, let alone anywhere to wash their hands, and with the women and children who are living with abusers, and with those of us whose reality is too hard to bear.

We are all suffering, but in very different ways. I live in Canada, where our government is acting effectively and compassionately to help the people. We are cooped inside, but our house is large, warm, and we have food. I'm surrounded by people who love me, I have good internet: I can talk to my family, friends and the other people I care about. But still, but still. My world, and your world, has been turned upside down. My cafe is closed, my races are cancelled, my projects are kaput, and ... yes, I'm scared and anxious a lot of the time.

Here are some suggestions for coping with our collective distress. If you are living with someone violent, or you are feeling very sick, or you're in an extreme situation, then you have my love and all my sympathy. These suggestions are for us pansies who are living on the edge, some of us for the first time in our lives. And just to make it very clear, those of you who have informed me that this pandemic is a manmade plot, propaganda, or a message from God, this advice probably isn't for you.

Admit it. You're scared. What can you actively do to make it feel better?

  • reduce the scary input. You don't need to read the stories online or on the social media. Assign one person in your household to read and report the important news. Important means that it has an actual effect on your life. If you are the only person in your household, then pick one reliable news source to give you the relevant news and stay away from the rest. Your government health ministry, Harvard, and the WHO are the best sources of real news.
  • do your social media apps nourish you or frustrate you? I decided two days ago to ignore Facebook and Twitter, and to keep posting on Instagram. Posts on Facebook were leading me either to anger or despair, and the funny one-liners and friendly posts didn't balance it out. My friends can always find me on all three of the text messaging apps I have, or they can actually call me on any of the four phone apps I have, or send an email. Twitter is even more dangerous for me because my bs-ometer was malfunctioning so I was telling a lot of people they were fuckwits. They might be but it was not my best version.
  • practice gratitude. Yes. Just practice being grateful for what you have. It's that easy.

So how can I connect if I'm off Facebook and Twitter, and I don't have my work or my friends or colleagues to hang out with?

  • call your people! You can talk on the phone! That's what we did before the internet. 
  • make a list of people you care about. Send them a message and find out how they're doing.
  • find a virtual something to do, and do it. There are free classes, races, groups, activities, all out there in the virtual world. Get involved!
  • if you are talented at something, consider sharing it online. Get creative!
What to do when the inevitable melt-down happens? We have been in house for two weeks now. There are five of us, ranging in age from 18 to 63. Three of us have online school, one teaching, two learning. Two of us have no work. We have had about five meltdowns that I know of so far. My nephew is not used to living in a large loud family that drinks a lot and yells. He's had some adjusting. My two sons are both having to live without seeing their partners. I'm used to being in boy land but sometimes I like to have a woman to hang out with (not the dog). Even thought she is very cute and a great companion, especially these days.
We also have an incontinent, deaf and blind twenty-year old chihuahua and a fish. 

Meltdown suggestions:

  • try to avoid them. Don't let stuff get bottled up and ready to explode. Person pick his nose at the table? Tell him nicely not to touch his FUCKING FACE. Seriously, though, we decided that when things feel odd it's probably a good time to have a meeting. We decided that choices about health and safety need to be talked through until a unanimous agreement was reached. This gives everyone the chance to have some control over their life, at least in the limited environments we are living in.
  • try to schedule times when each person can be alone and silent. Even if it means that you head to the bathroom with your phone for an hour, alone time has to be respected. Everyone is dealing with their fear.
  • if someone seems odd, ask them about it.

If you live alone and you feel like screaming, scream. 

  • take a shower or a bath. If you can go out, take a walk or a run. 
  • write it down. Call someone. 
  • if there's no one, and you can't think of anything to do, then don't do anything. Just lie down and stare at the ceiling. You may want to cry. That's ok. If you were drinking or smoking weed before the quarantine, allow yourself to have a drink or whatever. If you're sober, STAY SOBER! Find a virtual group and stick with it - it could save your life and will certainly save your sense of self-worth.

Meltdown with kids:

For some of us, this is the first time you have actually been in-house for hours and days at a time with your kids. It can be tough, especially when the kids are used to going to school every day. Meltdowns will happen. Older kids may decide they absolutely need to go outside to see their friends. Younger kids will have their regular old meltdowns. Just remember, go easy on them. Home school doesn't have to imitate school. You don't have to achieve at educating your kids at this time. Take the time to be with them, and ease off on expectations. At our house, even though we are all adults, we have fuck-off hour when everyone fucks off and does stuff on their own. Kids can do that too. And getting bored? Part of life! 

Are you, the adult, melting down? Get the older kids to watch the younger ones, or if they're all too small to take care of themselves, put them somewhere safe for a minute and have your meltdown. You'll be fine. You'll survive. You can do hard things. 

Think about it, though, and maybe go deeper into your meltdown and try to discover what stage of grieving you are at.

denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance

These are the five stages of grief. Most people who experiences a loss will go through these emotional stages, at different speeds and at different intensities. I was in denial when the pandemic first started. Although as a health care worker I knew that we had to be more careful, I didn't look with open eyes at how bad it actually was. Then when I realized, I acted quickly and became angry. Irritated. I was angry at everyone, pretty much. I felt betrayed and let down. I've just reached the bargaining stage, I think. I've cleaned up a bunch of things in my life, stopped complaining, got rid of the social media, stopped being angry .... and do I want to prize in return? Like life back to normal? Probably.

Practical suggestions: take control of the small things

  • if you normally get up at a certain time, try getting up at the same time to keep the rhythm 
  • don't stay in your jammies all day unless it makes you feel good. Wear what makes you happy! If you normally wear makeup and jewelry, go for it! And your hair? Well, yeah. I don't know. I look like a racoon right now. Brows ... DIY ... 😐
  • if you're stuck at home and you can't do your actual work because its one-on-one, think up something to do that uses those skills. Here's project that a Toronto photographer thought up: Windows. She did all of this from her tiny rural home.
  • keep fit! You don't have to run a marathon on your balcony, but you do have to get some exercise. If you're taking care of kids, you will probably keep pretty active. If not, make sure you take some time to move: dance, walk around, find an exercise video online and get moving! 
  • if you're ordering in your groceries, make a menu before you order so that you can make different dishes each day. If you don't know how to cook, now's the time to learn! If a dish looks too complicated to make, it probably is. Find an online cooking blog that suits your taste and your level of skill.
  • make a schedule for yourself, make a list, make some goals. Is there something you always wanted to do? Something modest, that you can do at home ... sewing, that knitting project you started, singing, writing ... gaming, coding...

The bottom line

I realized something the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I was angry. I was irritated with everyone around me and everyone I was meeting online. I was upset with my kids. I was also pretty annoyed at myself, basically, I thought I was a useless sack of shit.

And then I thought: yes, you could have it. Your throat scratchy? You have a light cough? Maybe. Yes, I could have it. You could have it. Any one of us could have it. Any of us could die at any time, and that is more real than ever before, for the huge majority of us. 

So do I want to live what could be my last days in a cloud of anger and irritability, like a crabby old bitch in her rocking chair? Or do I want to enjoy my life, all of it, right up until the very end?

It's up to you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 9: Fuck This

This situation has got me thinking: thinking about all the facades and masks we usually wear. We don't walk around with hospital masks on; we wear our social masks that tell everyone who and what we are. I feel my mask slowly slipping off.

I moved to Montreal from a small organic farm in Umbria, where I had four young sons, hens, ducks, geese, a dog, a cat, a vineyard, a garden, a wheat field, and a busy and productive life. In 1996 I joined a cult (shame, shame) that brought me to Montreal.

Once here, I devoted myself to accompanying mothers through childbirth. I taught prenatal classes, provided support to women in labour, and visited families postpartum. I studied how to be a doula and then how to be a midwife. I started a school that taught the art of doula work. I founded a volunteer organization that provided doula services for free to marginalized women. I probably assisted over 1000 women, one way or another, in their birth experiences. I retired from that work when I realized that working in a broken maternity care system was wreaking a huge emotional toll on me. I was angry all the time. I hated the fucking hospital, and started to hate the women themselves for being such stupid sheep, being led to the operating room to have their babies cut out when they didn't have to be ... and who was the bad guy? Me! Because I didn't somehow prevent it from happening....

And my volunteer organization, well, that suffered too from my anarchist tendencies... we had no structure in place to handle (an inevitable) a sexual assault that happened to two volunteer doulas... and so everyone broke up, traumatized and confused.

But hey! I'm a survivor! So I decided to open a cafe... we would serve healthy food, vegetarian and vegan... good food, like what I used to make on the farm, and we would provide a space where everyone could come and eat, feel safe, be happy, man it was gonna be good!

And it WAS good! We opened on June 8, 2015. We had some idealistic ideas when we first started,  that we scrapped. We started with sandwiches and soups, that we scrapped. We changed and grew organically based on what worked for our customers. We were doing well enough that I had time to spare to help others. I left for Greece in January 2017 to use my midwifery skills to help the Syrians who were pouring into Greece. The cafe survived without me. And continued to survive, and thrive, until about ten days ago when I decided to close because I know about infections ... clearly I didn't know enough. I had no clue that we would be closed as long as it looks like we will be closed. I had no idea that my cafe would be brought down by a virus. 

I didn't know how much I would miss my sons who are living far away. I miss my friends, especially the ones who are already living through difficult times. I miss my normal life. I miss doing half-marathons and marathons. I miss having small things to worry and complain about.

I don't know what's going to happen. Every time I cough I freak out inside. I worry about myself, my family, my friends, the world. I didn't know how much our lives would be changed, and obviously I don't know how much they will be changed in the future. I don't have a crystal ball. I don't have a foolish belief that Allah will save me if I don't tie the damn camel to the tree tight enough. I hope the rope will hold. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 8: What is Normal?

Well it's been a week. Does it feel normal yet? Not at all! Our family is still spread around the globe, and although we talk most days - and way more often than when we are not going through a global fucking pandemic, and although we have a hilarious family "spicy meme" group, I still worry about my five chickadees and their partners. I leave the house to chase my shadow for a few k and that always puts things in a better perspective! Here are my thoughts from these days...

This week's challenges: realizing that we have to close the cafe for longer than we anticipated. Way longer. And although we have been given a green light by the government to provide take-away, I don't yet feel comfortable sourcing food, cooking and delivering it until we are sure that contagion is over. I worked for twenty years in health care, and I always approached every single one of the women I worked with "as if" they were infected with a blood-borne disease. Because that's the way you have to do it, because if not you're targeting groups who you've decided will be more likely to be carriers. That's how personal protection in the health sector works. So ... I have to know that I could be carrying it or ... anyway you get the picture.

... realizing that my retreats this summer in Italy are not going to happen. That is hard: two losses: fun and financial.

... living at home in our house with two sons, a husband and a nephew has its ups and downs. Ups? Everyone pitches in, lots of cooking, games every evening, company, also the house is large so everyone can indulge in "fuck-off hour" and find a private space. We have a yard. We have lots of food, booze, and books. Downs? Well, everyone needs to have a melt-down every once in a while and that happens. Luckily we all haven't had one at the same time.

... looking at the government sponsored financial assistance for small business owners like me and realizing there's not a lot happening. If I have a big company I can get a loan. If I've been laid off I can get benefits... I'm stuck in the middle...

This week's joys: talking to my three sons who live far away (nowadays even Ontario seems far away - and he's the closest!).

... organizing a women's retreat with my daughter-in-law for sometime-in-the-near-future, and talking with her most days.

... practising my saxophone, when I have the inclination... I'm learning but I want it to be fun...I know I should practice every day but hey! I want to take it easy. It's a lovely, friendly instrument and I'm just starting to make friends with it. My family banded together and gave it to me at a surprise birthday party when it wasn't even my birthday.

... being able to continue my Runstreak 2020 ... I started running at least a mile a day on Dec 31, 2019 ... and I've kept it up Every. Single. Day.

I am grateful to be healthy and to live in a place where I can still go outside to run (otherwise I would have to do a marathon up and down my stairs since I don't have a balcony).

--- eating so much good food! My husband is a great cook, and the wizard chef moved in to stay with us for the duration so ... every dinnertime is a feast!

Lastnight we had a family meeting about how we are going to live together given the recent changes in rules and regulations... here in Quebec things have gotten real very quickly, the way it's happening everywhere, I'm guessing. Now, we have to stay home and we can't meet with more than one other person. If you're a group of more than two you are either performing an essential service or you're living in the same house. We've been asked to not go out to do anything unessential, no visits or visitors, no playdates, no dates.

So we sat together, the five of us: myself as the senior, husband, adult son, young adult son and young adult nephew, and we decided what was essential and what was not. Essential: pharmacy (essential meds), groceries, and going to the cafe to pick up groceries from there. Non-essential: SAQ (booze), picking up a laptop from work, meeting a friend, having a friend over. The biggest deal was for my youngest son who can't see his girlfriend until this is all over.

Carefree summer days
We made the choice to follow the rules to the letter, and we hope that everyone does, so that we can minimize the spread and cut the pandemic as short as possible. It's still spreading. It needs hosts. Stay home! Connect online! Call your friends and family, don't visit. Here it is, clear and simple, from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 2: We Are One

When my youngest was maybe four years old, that meant I also had a six, nine, and eleven year old, we lived on a farm. Some would call it paradise: we lived in a beautiful old stone house, with a wood stove, terracotta floors, and a view of the fields and a huge old oak tree and a big cherry tree. We had a duck pond, with ducks and geese, and hens, a vineyard, a huge vegetable garden, a dog and a cat. We ate food from our own land, drank wine from our vineyard. I would walk down the path about 50 meters and carry 18 litre jerry cans of drinking water back to the house from the spring. On the down side, it was a project that involved a hell of a lot of work, and time and energy, without any financial reward, so we were pretty tired by the end of each day. It was a good, healthy, solid life.

farm in umbria

umbria farm

One fall, my oldest came home from school with a bad case of head lice. Back in those days, in Italy, you didn't get the sucky letters from the school about how to treat it and how to isolate or whatever. You just dealt with it. Two of our family of six didn't get them. My husband clearly was not on their menu, and one of my sons. But I did, and all three of the other kids did. I have long curly hair, and my youngest did back then as well.

For a while, I tried to treat us individually. I used separate everything, I got all stressed about isolating, hard when they all slept in the same room. I carefully did all the things you're supposed to do. Nothing. The insect world was clearly winning.

Then one day, well into the winter, I realized that I was going about it all wrong. This was a case of the insect world against the human world! If I killed a louse on one head, the rest of them would just move to another head! I needed to look at the family as a whole, and engage in all-out, across the board battle against these creatures.

I went back to one hairbrush. I washed all the laundry together in hot water and hung it out for 24 hours. The brothers went back to rough-and-tumbling together with their heads touching. I reduced my intense stress and anxiety. I continued intensive hair washing and cleaning but smaller brothers bathed together as before.

I was victorious! By realizing that we were one, by reducing my anxiety and concentrating on the matter at hand, and by lessening useless restrictions on having fun, I finally managed to vanquish these tiny creatures who were making our collective life miserable.

Ya, so? COVID19 is a killer virus, not just an embarrassing insect. True. Even more reason to look at how we are reacting to the crisis, and to understand better what our most effective tactics might be.  I'm not an epidemiologist, although I've been saying for a few years now that if reincarnation is a thing, then I'd love to become one next time around. But then again, I probably won't remember or I'll be a squirrel. What I have understood, though, is that the more people stay at home and limit their contacts with others, the less people will get infected all at once, which will lessen the global severity of the pandemic. So, if I'm staying at home with my family, there are five of us here. If we all get it, or if we all have it already, we are staying home and not infecting anyone else. If we all go out because we feel great, then that number of possibly infected people grows exponentially. And a certain percentage of those people will need medical care. So the more people out and about, the more really sick people will crowd the hospitals.

If we all stay home, the infection stays home too. The number of new infections is reduced, and the hospitals and health care workers can better manage the load. If we look at Italy as our example of what not to do, their population and their government ignored this simple rule for far too long, and so the virus spread like wildfire. We need to recognize that every single one of us is part of a bigger whole. I'm staying home, my kids are staying home, I hope you are staying home too.

And if you're not staying home because you're a health care worker, or part of our essential services, then thank you! Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy.

Stay happy? I'm not actually an extrovert. I think I may be a little Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I do love people, I love a party, I love chatting with people, I love running my cafe and making jokes and finding out about peoples' lives. But damn! Give me the four hour solitude of a long Sunday run! Put me in the mountains on my own and let me wander! Leave me at home alone for days on end! I do appreciate my own company as well.

Yesterday was a challenge. I got up early to have a little alone time, which was fabulous, except I wasted a large part of it on my phone looking at funny covid memes. Then the day just blistered by. We had a mid day crisis when my nephew was trying to decide if he should drive back home with friends (long car ride, not a good idea). The day filled up with worry and anxiety. I spoke to two friends who are over 70 and in isolation. My family is around the world and I miss them. What's going to happen? I felt out of control and extremely worried. What the hell? My cafe that I worked so hard for, stricken down by a fucking VIRUS? Where do we draw the line with our social isolation rules? Can we go to the workplace to pick stuff up? Use the copy machine? Can we go buy booze? Can my son visit his girlfriend? Damn, I don't know...

Good Stuff
So, I did intervals yesterday. My fastest pace was 4:34. Ha! Getting fitter at least... I am planning  a virtual book club. I sent some money to a friend in Greece working with the migrants. I kept my shit together.

Love you all!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 1: Tie Your Camel

Pray to Allah, but tie your camel to a tree. What does this mean? For me, simply, it means that we should trust that everything will work out for the best, more or less, but that we should also be active in our own destinies as far as possible.

Being born is a hugely dangerous activity, because it means you're gonna die, bruh. 100% mortality rate for those of us who are alive. That said, it's always nice if you can find a way to live longer, hence tying your metaphorical camel to a tree instead of relying on Allah to take care of it for you.

When I was just fifteen, I ambled up to the Trans-Canada and started an epic trip across the country. I vividly remember wearing a light blue windbreaker, and having a pencil and nine dollars in my pocket. Hitchhiking is never a good idea, not even in 1972, but I survived, and I collected some mind-blowing memories along the way.

Being the only vertical thing for miles and miles in Saskatchewan and watching a storm come overhead, being rained on, and then watching it leave was a memory that I still rely on when I'm thinking about life.

Standing on the side of the road for hours and hours in Manitoba, feeling very hungry, thirsty and a little bit scared, watching all the bigs cars and trucks pass as the passengers looked at me, a skinny kid with Janis Joplin hair and a light blue anorak. And then the most tumble-down truck in the world, that contained the biggest family I'd ever seen, stopped and gave me a ride to the next Nowheresville destination and crammed two dollars into my pocket as I jumped out of the truck.

And the guy who was so drunk he could hardly talk who only stopped because he wanted me to drive, and I'd never driven before but I managed ok, until we got to a city, then I parked the car, got out and left him sleeping like a baby, as he had done since he picked me up.

So, these are probably stories about when I should have tied the camel a little tighter, or perhaps my parents should have. Either way, I survived, with a healthy respect for Allah, and for rope.

Last week I was trying to balance trusting in God (fate, Universe, whatever you want to call it), with being cautious. I decided that it was safe for me to wipe down the tables at my cafe with disinfectant and to be more conscious about normal safety rules in the kitchen. I didn't touch the handles on public transport. We decided not to eat out.

Then things moved very quickly: I closed the cafe for in-house meals, switching to delivery. I stopped using public transit. We had a family pow wow about washing hands. And then, and now, things moved even quicker and I decided, as many of you have, to stay at home, to avoid unnecessary outings, and to bide my time at home.

My camel is tied very tightly to the tree. And I am praying, in my own way, that this crisis will pass soon. I'm lucky. I have most of my family around me, and I'm healthy, and we have lots of food and... of course I have my saxophone to play and I can still run outside and and and .... sending you all love. Take care of yourselves and each other.