On being … accustomed to?

By Ingrid Sapona

Though I think we’re not even at the seventh inning stretch in terms of COVID-19, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned so far during the pandemic. They say it takes something like 12 weeks to develop new habits (or is it 12 weeks to break old habits?). Anyway, I’ve been taking stock of the different things I’ve become (more-or-less) accustomed to and some of the new habits I’ve developed thanks to COVID-19.

The first habit I’ve truly become one with is hand washing. I’m embarrassed to admit that before COVID-19, I didn’t do much more than the obligatory quick rinse in the ladies’ room. Now I intentionally seek out opportunities throughout the day to wash my hands and I approach it as time to lather up and luxuriate. (I wish I could say I’ve learned to not touch my face, but sadly, all I’ve become aware of is just how much I do, in fact, touch my face.)

I’ve definitely changed my grocery shopping habits. I never realized how many different grocery stores I’d pop into in a week to pick up this or that. It’s not that I didn’t have a shopping list – I always did. It’s just that I found it irresistible to hop from store to store to save on this item or that. Now I give myself permission to spend a bit more if I can get all the items I might need for the week at one grocery store, especially if they do a good job sanitizing their carts!

Sadly, I’ve definitely not become more patient about work-related meetings. If anything, I find my meeting frustration has actually increased. Why is it that folks new to the work-from-home world insist on taking meetings from their balcony or porch? How can they be oblivious to the fact that the noise of garbage trucks and other traffic make it nearly impossible to hear them or others? I suppose it’s possible that over time I’ll become accepting of the fact that people who waste time during meetings do so regardless of the meeting format. Ugh…

I didn’t need anything close to 12 weeks to adjust to the shut down of stores, restaurants, libraries, parks, cinemas, and the like. Like others, those first couple of weeks I assumed the changes would be short lived. But when it became clear that the timeframe for sheltering in was indefinite, I made some adjustments to my daily routine and settled in with little upset.

I can’t say the same for how I’m dealing with the re-opening of things, however. In fact, I’ve been surprised at the anxiety I feel having to make various decisions again. The shut down pretty much removed personal choice from many day-to-day activities. (For example, you didn’t have to decide whether to go out for dinner – restaurants were closed.) But, with kind of a phased re-opening as we’ve had here in Ontario, it’s largely up to us to figure out what we’re comfortable doing. For example, though I was a regular in the gym, even when mine re-opens, I can’t see myself comfortable returning to it for some time. (Why take the risk of working out indoors in close proximity to others working up a sweat? So long as the sidewalks and paths are snow-free, I’ll continue with my long daily walks instead.) Another common conundrum is whether to risk a ride on public transit or just drive places in the privacy of your own car, knowing it’s less ecofriendly and lots more expensive to park.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling conflicted, weighing the risks versus benefits of different choices. I’ve had various conversations with friends who’ve admitted they don’t know what to do when someone invites them over, or suggests they do something together. Just yesterday one of my sisters faced a tough decision that she didn’t think she’d have to make. Our other sister was in the hospital for elective surgery and we assumed that a post-surgery visit to her room would be out of the question. When it wasn’t, my sister had to decide whether to visit her in her room. My advice to her was to be guided by my new mantra: WWAFD – What Would Anthony Fauci Do? We laughed at the idea, but I know it was a difficult call. (Compassion ruled: she screwed up her courage, sanitized her hands, adjusted her face mask, and went to the room.)

I think it’s going to take some time for many of us to figure out what’s in our comfort zone and what’s not. Indeed, given how fluid a situation the pandemic is, I imagine stuff I may be ok doing this week I won’t necessarily feel comfortable doing sometime further down the road. But, like so many other things we’ve become accustomed to during this pandemic, I imagine we’ll easily adjust to somethings and fervently resist other things – even if we know they’re good for us or for society…

What about you? Anything you’ve been surprise you’ve become accustomed to as a result of the pandemic? Any pandemic-induced behaviours you plan on continuing post pandemic? Any decisions you wish you didn’t have to make these days?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … motivated?

By Ingrid Sapona

Being productive has always been important to me. Indeed, it’s kind of a coping strategy I use when I’m feeling bogged down or stressed. I find that if I stop and do some unrelated task, I feel better. The key is the task has to be something discrete and that has a definite ending. Cleaning (or some other household chore) is a great productivity salve. That hit of accomplishment renews my faith in my ability and is usually the motivation I need to resume whatever I was feeling anxious or incompetent about.

Being productive is also a way I hold myself accountable for the passage of time. It might not seem like much, but when I’m feeling tired or worn out at the end of the day, I think about the different things I accomplished. My internal dialog goes something like this: “Hmm… I did this, this, this, and that today… no wonder I’m tired!”

At the start of the pandemic none of us knew how long we’d be relegated to home. (I refuse to call it being “in lock down” – that’s always seemed overly dramatic to me.) But, here in Ontario, at the outset we were told the schools would be shut for three weeks, so that timeframe got me thinking about various projects that I might tackle. You know – the kind of things you put off because they’re going to be a bit messy or maybe emotionally draining.

I didn’t actually write out a list, but a number of things quickly came to mind. I started by doing the Marie Kondo thing with my closet and drawers. (Not physically hard, but deciding what sparks joy can certainly be emotionally draining!) Feeling buoyed by culling and tidying up my bedroom, I moved on to doing touch-up painting in the living room – areas that only I knew needed touching up but that I had been meaning to get to for about a year.

When it became clear that all you could say about the pandemic “sheltering in” timeframe was that it was definitely indefinite, I realized that to get through it, I’d have to ramp up my tried-and-true coping mechanism. I needed to put some thought into real projects that – in a year’s time – I could point to as being something I accomplished during the pandemic.

A couple weeks ago I took on what I saw as the LAST project on my COVID list. It was last on my list for good reason: because it was daunting and something I’d been mulling over for at least a half-dozen years. I decided to re-finish my bedroom furniture.

I got the courage to tackle that project after a friend mentioned she was refinishing her bedroom set. In awe, I picked her brain about the process. And, when I knew they were out, I popped over to see it for myself. (I have a key to their place and I had asked if it would be ok if I let myself in to see it.) It looked terrific and she insisted that it was easy and virtually “smell free”. I did some research (read: watched lots of videos about it) and I decided to try. Besides the fact that almost any treatment would be an improvement in the way the furniture looked, I figured that in the end I’d have something substantive to show for how I spent my time during the pandemic.

As it happened, mid-project, I had a funny email exchange with another friend. When I told him I was working on the last item on my COVID list, he seemed suitably impressed, but couldn’t pass up the chance to tease me by asking, “But what if COVID goes on for some time yet?” Without skipping a beat, I jokingly replied, “Well, there’s always something else on my to do list”.

After I sent that email, the truth of my response hit me. The furniture refinishing was not the last thing I’d been meaning to get to for some time. A project I had started a few months ago but put aside out of frustration immediately came to mind. Then another project I didn’t get to last summer popped into my head. Then another, and yet another. Suddenly my head was spinning with projects I’ve either started but not continued or have been too afraid to even try.

A week or so after that email exchange, my bedroom furniture was dry enough to put back into place and to refill with my clothes and stuff. I’m thrilled to report that not only does it look great, the project gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I’ll always remember it as one of the productive things that got me through the pandemic. But more importantly, it helped me realize that the only thing standing between me and those other daunting projects is the courage to stop putting them off.

None of us would have chosen to have life turned upside down by a pandemic. But I have to say, I’ve found it oddly motivating. And though not knowing how long it may go on is unsettling, that fact can be liberating too. After all, no reason to limit the items on your to-do list – just finish one and move on to the next…

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona