Author: Rene Elsbury; Home Based Therapist
When strangers hear that I’m a therapist I often get smart remarks like “So you’re an expert in people’s problems”, or “ You work with crazy people.” My answer is always “No, I’m not an expert on anyone. You are the only expert on yourself. I just help guide people to finding their expertise.” Or to the second one, “We all have a little crazy in us but sometimes stress brings it out more in certain times of our lives.” This pandemic is one of those times where anyone may feel “crazy”. What it’s really telling us is that there is something missing that we need to find to help us feel back in control of our lives and therefore, of ourselves.
SO, SINCE I’M THE EXPERT IN ME I THOUGHT I’D SHARE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT I’M DOING AND MY STORY UP TO THIS POINT.
A month ago my oldest child who lives over seas contacted us for our weekly Facetime chat and started talking about the coronavirus and the discussions and changes that they were making in his place of work. At this point, we had seen brief reports about the virus on the news and my husband’s job had some contacts in China who had to make changes and shut down for a few weeks. My son told us that we needed to be prepared because it could spread super fast. My husband and I talked about making a few changes to our daily routine because we both have contact with a lot of people every day.
Three weeks ago our son called us again and said they were going on lock-down and made sure that we were being extra hygienic. He let us know that his planned trip to come home was postponed by 60 days.
Two weeks ago the US started talking about and covering the virus more on the news. However, the only thing I had changed was putting Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer in my car so I could use them when I felt it was necessary.
Then the school district we live in started sending daily updates to the parents. On Wednesday of that week we were told that children would be sent home with packets in case the school needed to shut down. Thursday night the schools closed. I was so impressed with our school district over the following days and week as they kept in constant contact with us, reached out with extra learning opportunities, and kept the kids engaged. The first thing I did when I heard the school was closing was go to the grocery. The kids were going to be out an additional week to the already scheduled two weeks of spring break and I needed to make sure we had plenty of lunch food and snacks. The store was insane. I had never seen it with such long lines and empty shelves. It was less than two hours after the school had announced closure and people were already acting frantic and rude. I took my time collecting what I needed for the next two weeks and ended up being in the checkout line longer than I was actually shopping. Friday our offices shut down to protect our staff and clients.
A week ago I continued to work, took extra sanitation precautions between clients, and when I got home I would throw my clothes into the washing machine and take a shower. My kids balanced their day with school work in the morning, zoning out in the afternoon, and watching movies or playing games as a family at night. On Wednesday we got the notification that we were going need to start working from home. My anxiety immediately kicked in. How would this work? My clients count on me to be steady and stable and prepared when I come to their homes. Will they feel I’ve abandoned them? Will I be effective if I’m not there? Thursday and Friday of that week was rough and I could feel my stress levels rising. I was feeling tense, a little short in my speech, and antsy to get back to a routine.
This week I reminded myself that I am the expert of myself. So, I briefly jotted down a few lists: What do I need to feel productive? What do I need to feel calm? What do I need to feel effective? What do I need to feel ready to tackle the day?
I LOOKED AT MY SHORT LISTS OF WHAT I NEEDED AND STARTED TO BUILD A ROUTINE FOR MYSELF AND SO I’M SHARING IT WITH YOU.
7:30 – wake up and have coffee- Spend 30 minutes drinking coffee and checking the news, the weather, my calendar
8:00 – get dressed and take the dogs for a walk (husband or kid might join me)
8:30 – come home and get ready for work, present myself virtually the way I would in person ( that means real pants)
9:00 – breakfast and Lysol, while breakfast is cooking I’m cleaning every major surface my family touches (screens, remotes, handles, tables, door knobs etc)
9:30 – eat breakfast and read work emails
9:45 – assign kid tasks for the work day ( chores, reading assignments, learning activity) only after these are done can they go to a screen.
10am – go to my home office “my bedroom” (I’ve prepared it to be office like with a chair, plain background, everything I would need at my fingertips, water cup included, and a noise sound machine to keep outside noises out and increase privacy)
10-5 – I’m working, answering emails, having conference calls, contacting my clients, providing therapy. Checking in on my kids in between clients to make sure they are on task.
5pm – go for another walk, or do an exercise video or yoga instruction
5:30 – go back out in the home and talk about my family’s day. ( by now my husband is home from work, has thrown his clothes in the washing machine and showered)
6pm – prepare dinner
6:30 – eat dinner and plan for our evening activity. (game)
9pm – watch something fun on TV or a movie ( last night was Pitch Perfect) – light, easy, sing along
10:30 – prepare for bed
11pm – Good night
Here are some of the activities my family has done.
– Virtual dinner party: Schedule a time with a friends family to sit down and eat with your phones on Facetime and chat and talk while eating together.
– Virtual Game Night : We used the app HouseParty. We played the games virtually and competed and laughed and joked together.
– Taught and played Euchre to the kids
– Taught and played Spades
– Puzzle days: Set up puzzles around the house, set times and every 15 minutes switch to a new puzzle
– Played Trash ( I was familiar but my husband was not)
– Bake: cookies, brownies, a layered cake
– Dance party – taught the kids the dances of my age: Electric Slide, Cha-Cha, Wobble, Cupid Shuffle, Macarena, YMCA, theTootsie Roll
It’s now Thursday of this week and I feel so much better than I did a week ago. I’m not tense, I’m not anxious, I’m not as afraid of the unknown as I was. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t cross my mind, but it doesn’t take over. That’s what mental health is about, managing all those feelings, allowing the wave of emotion to come through you and return back.
If I had not asked myself what I needed to feel more like myself again than I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, I encourage all of you to really ask yourself what you need and make steps to giving yourself that while being safe and healthy for you and your family.