I’ve been quiet on my blog and podcast for the past few weeks, and that’s because I’ve been coping with being an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. I co-manage a small family-owned grocery store in Appalachia, and the past few weeks have simply been harrowing.
When the panic first hit, it felt like the worst hurricane in history was coming for North Carolina. Our sales more than doubled, and I felt destroyed just trying to keep up, while also keeping staff and customers safe from invisible death dots that could strike anyone without notice. Eventually, as the craziness at the store settled down into a manageable level, my fatigue turned to crippling anxiety. I was crying myself to sleep, and having horrible panic as I drove to work.
It felt like all my structures and support systems were just swept away by the flood. I’ve spent the past few weeks picking up the pieces, and now here I am, well enough to get back to creating.
I thought I would take the time to detail the self-care mechanisms I’ve been using to protect my well being and vitality during the Coronavirus outbreak. I don’t mean self-care as a solely independent and self-focused act. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing to us how we so easily forget that we are all interconnected, and that self care is not a solitary act, but rather an act of compassion which protects the immunity of the whole. When I’m well, I protect innumerable other people. So do you.
Practice grace towards yourself
After that first surge of mayhem at the store, my hours were reduced at work to limit my contact with the public. I thought this would provide me with a wide margin to finally do all the things I’ve been wanting to do: get lots of reading done, run more, get deeper into my yoga practice, etc. I discovered a completely different reality: I have a perpetual brain fog. While I’m still able to read, other goals have fallen to the wayside. I find myself making constant mistakes, and struggling to stay focused. It’s like this whole crisis is causing my brain to glitch. This article is a testament to that: I’ve spent days laboring over this post. Where the words once flowed easily, I now have to labor and strain to put sentences together.
Don’t underestimate the toll this crisis is having on your mind. Don’t expect yourself to be able to function at normal capacity. And, if you do have goals and self-care mechanisms, let them be couched in grace. Now is the time to be comfortable with mediocrity.
Sleep is our first line of defense against falling apart emotionally, mentally, and physically. Sleep protects stress levels and mood, bolsters the immune system, helps us consolidate and learn from new experiences, and regulates our emotions. I sleep 8-9 hours every night, and I hate to think what my mental state would be like if I didn’t.
For those who have the margin to read right now, now is as good a time as ever to read Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. To quote Matthew Walker,
A balanced diet and exercise are of vital importance, yes. But we now see sleep as the preeminent force in this health trinity. The physical and mental impairments caused by one night of bad sleep dwarf those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise. It is difficult to imagine any other state—natural or medically manipulated—that affords a more powerful redressing of physical and mental health at every level of analysis. – Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep
Connecting with friends
The first night I didn’t go to sleep crushed by rolling tides of anxiety was when a concerned friend insisted on talking to me that night. We chatted about books, scifi, Satanism, the news, and more. It was all fairly surface-level conversation, but it was the balm I needed to sleep deeply that night.
There’s something immensely cruel about this virus: we are social creatures, and untold eons of evolution have programmed us to come together when a crisis strikes. We can’t do that right now. We are saving lives, but saving lives means working against our deepest instincts to gather. Now, more than ever, we need to connect in what ways we can with other people.
More than watching movies or playing video games, reading completely takes me out of myself. During other forms of entertainment there is still some part of my mind capable of worrying, capable of carrying out catastrophizing and fretting. Not so with reading. I forget myself when I read.
I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I’m now coming to it as a lifeline, as a medicine. Anything that takes us out of ourselves — that helps us forget the world and become full again in the process — is a balm. Whatever that might be for you, I encourage you to find it, and hold on to it, and practice it as often as you can.
I’ve personally been working through the suggested reading for the Satanic Temple ordination program, as well as lots of Stephen King and Clive Barker.
Reduce News Consumption and Find the Good News
I found myself binging news, and of course that was harming me. No amount of stress-scrolling would make the situation better, nor was it giving me more essential information on the crisis. I finally realized that I already know it’s bad, I’m already up to date on the latest developments, and beyond that cursory information binging the news is damaging to me. I’ve decided to subscribe to various updates, so that when I want to I can check my email and get the most important information. Otherwise I try to keep my eyes away from the news.
On the other hand, however, good news — no matter how slim — boosts my spirits. I intentionally look for the good news.
Through the midst of all this chaos I received my copy of Shiva Honey’s new book The Devil’s Tome. In it, she provides a foundation for modern nontheistic Satanic ritual, and how to incorporate ritual into solitary and collective life. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a cathartic read. I’m finding it a powerful tool in managing my own feelings of helplessness and stress. I’m now doing little rituals of self-empowerment, health, defense, compassion, etc. through the day.
I anoint myself with a dedicated oil before I go to work, declaring peace over myself, and that I won’t forget all the self-protective practices of hand-washing, sanitizing, and social distancing. Through the day, the fragrance of the oil reminds me of my commitments and declarations for that shift.
Before bed, I anoint myself with a separate dedicated oil, and declare that I relinquish my will and ego to the healing balm of sleep, and that I trust the power of sleep to fortify me for the coming day.
These rituals have been enormously effective for me. They provide me with a sense of authority and empowerment where I once felt completely out of control, and that gives me a sense of sustainability and peace.
What self-care mechanisms are you using to get through this time? Let me know in the comments.
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