Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Aby: The app for people living with MS*. All opinions are my own.
How to make the best out of social isolation: MS edition
Covid-19 is forcing the world to adapt to unprecedented circumstances. While none of us could have predicted or prepared for the sudden and dramatic changes we’ve been forced to make, years of living with MS have put me way ahead of the curve when it comes to hacking life from a distance.
As people are being asked/ordered to shelter in place, bossy blog posts are popping up all over the internet with tips on how to make the most of your time in isolation. And making the most of your time usually means becoming more productive by filling every waking moment with something measurable and important. We live in a world where our worth is measured by how much, and what kind of work we do.
I was never immune to this outlook. MS has been impacting the work lives and social lives of people with the disease since forever. When I first stopped working, I kept a list called Things I Did When I Wasn’t Watching Oprah. I tracked every little accomplishment, because I needed to prove to myself; and let’s face it, anyone who ever dared to suggest how nice it must be to “not have to work”, that I had value; that I was using my time to contribute; that I wasn’t eating bonbons and day-drinking; that I wasn’t a waste of space. My list was designed to protect my sense of self-worth, when I was no longer able to define who I was by what I got paid to do. And for a while, it worked.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that contrary to what our modern world would have us believe, productivity does not equal value. Measuring our worth against impossible standards, especially when dealing with a chronic illness like MS, can be damaging to our emotional and psychological health. Productivity might make us feel like we matter, but what happens when situations change and we can no longer accomplish what we once could?
Social isolation and MS
Covid-19 is railroading all of us into submission right now. For many people with MS, it’s a familiar feeling.
What’s critical to a sustainable sense of self-worth is a belief in our inherent value regardless of our limitations. We matter just because we exist. End of story.
Which isn’t to say you should throw in the towel and give yourself permission to play PacMan in your jimjams all day. I’ve said before that purpose is one of three things we need to be happy. But purpose isn’t the same as productivity. If you’re searching for purpose during this crisis, remember that you are literally saving lives by staying home and doing nothing. You should feel no pressure to write a screenplay, learn Mandarin, or teach yourself to code right now. You don’t have to justify your time at home, now or ever.
While the pressure’s off to use this crisis for a little self-improvement, the consequences of isolation and loneliness can have serious, long-term repercussions. The good news is there are things we can do to minimize the impact. Self-care looks different for everyone, so take from this list what’s useful, and be gentle with yourself.
12 tips to make the best out of social isolation
Maintain a routine
Like Covid-19, MS comes with a lot of uncertainty. Adding structure to your day can lend a sense of normalcy in a world where none of us feels we have any control. Routines are great because they minimize decisions, and decision-making can be exhausting. If you’re working from home, figure out a way to separate your work-day from your home life, or you might find yourself working at all hours.
Limit news exposure
Yes, we need to be informed, but the 24 hour news cycle can add to anxiety, and anxiety can be as contagious as deadly viruses. I check in once in the morning (and only after I’ve had coffee), and again in the evening (and only after I’ve had a cocktail). I make sure to give myself time to read something non-apocalyptic before going to bed.
Get your fix of sunshine and fresh air
Unless you are counselled not to, and assuming you are legally allowed, get some much needed fresh air by going outside (maintain a six-foot distance from others) or open up your windows to get an exchange of ventilation. Natural light is important for mood and sleep regulation.
But like, not on Twitter. In fact, maybe delete Twitter. While we distance and isolate, staying connected in a meaningful and positive way is more important than ever. Don’t just text. Get on Whatsapp or Skype so we can see each other’s faces, and provide each other with incentives to shower. If you’re working from home, set up virtual coffee breaks so you can keep things as normal as possible.
Recognize that rest and downtime are productive activities that are essential to wellness, recovery, and even creativity.
Even if you don’t contract Covid-19, the management of your MS will likely be impacted by the changes we are all experiencing through this pandemic. I’m no longer getting physiotherapy. Even the gym in my building has locked its doors. It’s tempting to tell myself there’s nothing I can do; pass me the chips; but Covid isn’t the only threat to my health, and MS doesn’t give a damn about extenuating circumstances.
MS will straight-up take advantage of extenuating circumstances. Fortunately there are options like the free workout tutorials on the Aby app, that are designed specifically for people with MS. They’re like Jane Fonda’s workout videos from the 80’s; but, for like, Jane Fonda now that she’s 80.
This might sound like one of those bossy directives, but you’re gonna be spending a lot of time looking at all those papers and whatever is shoved under the sink in the bathroom. Spring clean, purge your closet, do your taxes; get it together, and you will emerge from this cocoon a beautiful butterfly. (I mean, figuratively. Literally you’re gonna look like Tom Hanks at the halfway point in Cast Away, but without a tan. I am not looking forward to learning anything about my natural hair colour.)
Learn to meditate
Ugh. Show me the way. I keep telling you guys to meditate because my brain knows it’s good for me. But it’s Just. So. Boring. The good news is that Aby app is sponsoring this post, and Aby app has a free Mindfulness program. I can’t, in any good conscience, recommend this service to you without experimenting with it myself. Challenge accepted. Namastay tuned.
These are unbelievable times. Start a blog, keep a journal, paint it out. You and your descendants will find it fascinating to read about how you weathered this. And creativity is a great way to process calamity.
Support local business
Part of why I love Toronto so much is all the small businesses that are a part of our daily lives. I think of my ‘hood as Sesame Street, and I don’t want us to lose any of the great establishments that make this town so liveable. Also, I hate cooking. Shout-out to my favourite French bistro, le Paradis where I go so often, everyone knows my name. They are offering take-out for stupid prices, and if you’re in the 6ix, I would encourage you to try their $15 boeuf bourguignonne. Mon dieu.
Support your health
When we’re consumed by a crisis, self-care can quickly turn into self-medicating, and who could blame any of us for wanting to eat a bag of mini-eggs for breakfast or to throw back a couple of cocktails at lunch? It’s easy to give ourselves permission to indulge. I get it. So, do it for a day. Maybe two. Then try to reset because the world isn’t ending; and if you have MS, you don’t need to come out on the other side of this with new health concerns. Aby app has features that let you track your medications, symptoms, and activities, and can help you be accountable to yourself in a time when you may only be able to check in with your doc virtually.
Crisis can reveal character, and we are likely to see the best and worst of what we’re made of during this overwhelming situation. When faced with a threat of this magnitude, a common reaction is to look out for number one. Just as hoarding and panic-buying are more likely feeding our fears rather than calming them, being generous with whatever we’ve got—money, time, blood, or the toilet paper people bought too much of—, can remind us that we have enough. When we help others, we send our brains the message that we have ample resources; and, that in itself is a powerful stress-reliever.
The extreme measures we’re taking to manage the Covid crisis aren’t about relinquishing control, they’re about taking control. Everything we’re sacrificing right now has saved someone’s life. We are adaptable. We are resilient. We are all in this together. We will get through this.
Stay strong, Trippers.
*Aby is available in Canada and the US. Outside of North America, Aby is known as Cleo in Austria, Belgium, Spain, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, France, and Germany.
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