On March 9, 2020, I came home from my trip to San Antonio for AWP. On March 11, another TA asked me: “How did it feel to go to the last conference ever?” Then, on March 12, with no classes or reason to be on campus, I stayed home…And the university decided all classes would be online-only after spring break the following week. Here we are, a year later and my life is, in many ways, exactly the same and, yet, different.
I graduated, became an adjunct, started dating someone long distance, and completed a few minor accomplishments. I also rarely left my apartment, became both agoraphobic and claustrophobic, had my depression switch gears, watched as the future I had planned for disappeared and people around me became sick or died, and did my best to survive – not cope. Survival mode is definitely not the best way to spend an entire year, especially when you’re already susceptible to invalidation, but finding the best way to do so and make it seem like comfort is what I excel at. So, as we (hopefully, finally) move forward, here’s my Survival Kit for those who are interested, may need it, or can learn from my isolation.
And, yes, I’m aware that it is privilege to be able to work from home and be safe inside. However, it can also be incredibly lonely and challenging. If my nine months in a toxic living situation in 2018 taught me anything, it was resilience. The past year, at times, has questioned even that. But I’m still here, surviving.
The purpose of the survival kit is to provide comfort, especially for those, like me, who weather social distancing/lockdown/quarantine alone. Sometimes when the world sucks, the urge to fall apart is extra tempting, but we still have to take care of ourselves and do our best every day.
My Isolation Survival Guide
Soft, Comforting Items
- All the blankets. Whether you’re burrowing under these for naps, to avoid reality, to stay warm, or for a movie marathon, you can’t go wrong. My new favorite is a fuzzy pink throw that reminds me I’m basically living my ultimate princess locked in a tower life.
- Cozy pajamas or loungewear. Sure, I tried to wear real clothes for a time, but nowadays that ship’s sailed. I teach in sweatpants and wear my “top half professional.” If I’m only going to move around the apartment and literally lounge then I might as well wear clothes designed to do so.
- Fuzzy socks. Likewise, I’m keeping my feet warm in the cutest way possible.
- Stuffed animals. See: my Squishmallow obsession.
- Nice, smelly stuff. When you are inside all the time, you want it to smell nice, right? Prior to this, I hoarded my candles (even had one circa 2016), but I burned through them all real quick and now I can’t keep them in my house long enough. I also use plug-ins throughout the apartment for ongoing scents in a few areas.
- Spa time! Now is the perfect time to use face masks, lotions, the nice body wash you’ve been saving, bath bombs, and other various ways to treat your body. Also—just a note—if you’re social distancing and not seeing anyone, you don’t need to shave (not that you’re required to anyway; eff beauty standards).
- Movies, new and old favorites. During 2020, I not only had my usual mix of rom-coms, Disney, and horror, but I also checked out a few films that had been on my watch list for a while or I’d been curious about.
- TV shows. Go ahead and binge; I’m watching New Girl from the very beginning again because the vibes are immaculate.
- Music. Obviously, I jumped back into music last year since I restarted my WILT column here but it’s really helped when I’ve been feeling low or high and helped me bond with others.
- Books/Fanfiction. If you have a To Be Read stack as big as mine I’m sure there’s something you’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. Or read your favorite book, again, because why not? Or, if fanfiction is more your style or you’re lacking the mental energy for new worlds, then AO3 is always there.
Snacks & Drinks
- Eat at least one real meal a day. I’ve started referring to my eating habits this way because when you eat for the first time at 2pm it can’t really be called breakfast. So try to eat something with actual nutrients at least once a day versus junk food.
- Go ahead and eat the cookie. Cause you also deserve a treat.
- Enjoy drinks (alcoholic or non). I made a lot of micheladas last summer because it was a great time to drink, but right now I need iced coffees to make it through the day productively. I also need lavender chamomile tea to help destress at night. There’s a balance to these things.
- Remember to hydrate. Water is important too.
- Cooking/baking – try making something new. I’ve made so many new foods over the last year and it’s probably been the most productive thing in terms of enrichment and being good for my mental health. Sure, it creates dishes, but it also feeds me (see above).
- Dancing, preferably at midnight. If the music you listen to creates a rhythm in your body and no one is watching then why shouldn’t you dance? Be as dumb as you want.
- Going outside to remember the sun exists. My Mum made me do this and it wasn’t bad. Thanks Mum.
- Cleaning/organizing, because why not? This can sometimes clash with downers in mood, but if you have the energy and time then going through your space and cleansing it can help stave off some of the claustrophobia. Or rearranging or redecorating your space, too. Anything to make the same walls you’ve been staring at for a year feel different. See: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
- Likewise, buy plants (real or fake). Because green, pretty things will remind you life can be beautiful and if you can’t go outside you might as well bring the outside inside.
- Writing (like this!). This is an excellent time to start a journal about your experience with these “unprecedented” times for future generations or historians.
- When it doubt, work is a great and productive distraction.
- Naps, dude. Can’t be sad or lonely when you’re dreaming.
- Talking to people is important when social distancing, especially solo. Maybe the one thing this year has shown me is that I’m probably the removable friend in a lot of people’s lives—which sucks. It’s also shown me who the people I can really count on are: for deep conversations, advice, memes, fan theories, catching up, etc. It also helps when you connect with someone and then talk to them every day for six months.
- Fluffy or less fluffy friends. If my cats were clingy before I was home for a year I can’t imagine what they’re going to be like when I have to return to a normal workday. They’ve been here for the cuddles, the tears and breakdowns, for dances in the kitchen, for everything. I’m so grateful for them.
- Social media to an extent helps because it reminds you that you’re not actually alone. When I joined TikTok at the end of July, it felt like I was having conversations and learning alongside hundreds or thousands of people – finding a community. Other apps, like Facebook or Instagram, only provide a skim of connection nowadays. Apps can help the world seem social, but it’s also, at times, a real reminder that you’re just a background character in these people’s lives and the real connections are the people who care for you personally.
Eventually, I’ll stop living like a princess trapped by a massive dragon in a tower and emerge back into the kingdom. Hopefully, by that time, it’s one that is not plague-ridden. Until then I’m prepared to take care of myself. This has been a hell of a year. I’m not much different than I was a year ago and, yet, I’ve changed in a lot of subtle ways because the world around me has changed. Did I use this period of isolation to enrich or improve myself? Not really. Have I backslid in more ways than one? Definitely. Have I learned valuable lessons from all this time alone? Maybe so.
Will any of the advice in this blog prove useful for you? Who knows.