#deanslife · covid19 · habits · health · nature · season transitions · self care

It’s just another pandemic Monday!

For some reason, Mondays are harder in pandemic times. I usually like Mondays. I’ve always liked the ‘back to the office’ energy, getting down to making lists and schedules for the week ahead, ‘how was your weekend? convos with colleagues, a bike ride the office, and lots and lots of coffee. These days there isn’t much of that. Instead, I look at my calendar, think ‘wow, we’re still doing this’ and start my first videoconference at 8 am.

My last public speaking event was March 5, 228 days ago. March 10 my calendar just says, ominously, “cancel all flights and hotels.” My first COVID-19 contingency planning meeting/conference call was March 13, 220 days ago.

Ever since I’ve been here in Guelph, working from home. This is a helpful reminder of the real date.

In July I wrote, “There are no boundaries any more. Life is one big blur of working at home, exercising at home, and relaxing at home. I occasionally look at my shoe collection in puzzlement. Will I ever wear real shoes again? I still have underwire bras hanging off a doorknob, neglected, and I’m wondering why I ever thought they were a good idea. These days only my comfiest of sports bras are in regular rotation.”

In light of the No Boundaries and the Great Big Blur, I’ve been thinking about restructuring my work week a little. Lots of things are busy during the weekend, out in the world, and I’m often working on the weekend. I’m wondering about taking some weekday time to ride trails, take Cheddar for hikes, and appreciate the outdoors. That’s the weekday/weekend trade but there’s also the daytime/nighttime swap. Yes, lots of work hours are fixed but if I am working into the evenings anyway, why can’t I squeeze some outside time in the sun into my day?

It’s hard to start work when it’s dark and finish after it’s dark again. Why not get out for a ride or a walk in the middle of the day?

Are you still working from home? How are you coping? 220 or so days in, are you making any changes to your schedule?

fall · fashion · fitness · gear · Seasonal sadness · self care · walking

Thoughts about walking and about rain boots minus gender

Nat’s post about walking in the rain prompted me to take action. Now, I’m no Nat. I meet my very modest step goal most days but I try not to care. My Garmin watch gives me fireworks when I’ve met my step goal and I smile at this little mini celebration but when it asks me to increase my goal, I decline.

About eight months ago I wrote a post about the wonders of walking that asked what if you can’t walk. I can walk but not very far with my damaged, waiting to be totally replaced, knee. There are still reasons to walk, even it hurts, and lots of studies show that walking won’t make the situation worse.

So I do walk a fair bit still thanks to Cheddar the dog but increasing my step count isn’t among my fitness goals.

Cheddar and the fall colours

But Nat’s post inspired me in another direction, the direction of dry feet and dressing for the weather. Like Nat, I’m well kitted out for winter. I have all the gear I need to stay warm on my fat bike, on snow shoes, or while walking Cheddar in January. But rainy weather? Not so much.

I don’t mind winter when it’s here. In January the days are getting longer, there’s snow to play in, and often there’s sun. But November? Ugh. Dark, cold and often rainy, November is my toughest month. I’m on record as hating November.

Given the pandemic, I don’t need any extra anger or resentment in my life. I need to make friends with November. First step, getting better rain gear. I’ve got an excellent rain coat that I bought while on sabbatical in New Zealand. But I don’t have good rain boots. My calves are too wide for traditional knee high rain boots.

The boots needed to be bright and cheerful, because November. And short, because calves.

Here was my short list of choices:

Boots

In the end I chose the Pride boots. I thought seriously about the pink fishing boots but they aren’t available in my size.

But I need to tell you a thing I love about the Pride boots. They’re available in two different kinds of sizes, wide and narrower. Not men’s and women’s.

I’ve written before about gendered sizing, about lady backpacks and women’s bikes, and why they drive me up the wall. Why not just wide shoulders, or long torso? Why tie things to gender even they’re not about gender at all? If some men fit women’s boots and some women need men’s boots, then it isn’t really about gender, is it?

Thks. Hunter boots for getting it right.

Black boots with rainbow heels

Now, assuming they fit, these boots likely aren’t enough to make me love November when it gets here. But I just have tolerate November and likely I will tolerate it better with dry feet.

Thanks for the prompt Nat.

Enjoy your walks with Michel and Lucy. Cheddar and I will be thinking of you!

And Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

A small orange pumpkin being held in two hands outstretched.
covid19 · fitness · self care · sleep

Queen of the pandemic naps

This is me, happy napping, at the end of a long work day.

I don’t know about you but COVID-19 and #wfhlife hasn’t been great for my sleep. I can always fall asleep…see the comic below, it’s me….but I’ve been having nightmares and sometimes waking up way too early. I fall asleep quickly but if I wake I struggle to get back to sleep.

Early morning doom scrolling doesn’t help.

Another sleep complication is that my Zwift races tend to be late, 830 and 900 pm often and they’re all an hour or an hour and a half long. After it’s hard to relax and go to sleep right away. I’m still all zoom zoom, go go, for at least another hour.

Enter the post work nap!

Work. Nap. Supper. Zwift. Sometimes I go back to work after. Shhh! But more often I watch an episode of something and go to sleep. I’m getting more than 8 hours sleep, averaging 8.5 according to my Garmin watch, even if it’s not all in one go.

This would be more challenging if we had children at home but these days we’re empty nesters. Napping in the nest, that’s me.

Has the pandemic changed your sleep patterns at all? Are you struggling a bit with disrupted sleep?

fitness · self care

In search of the perfect self-help list

CW: talk about personal fears during the pandemic.

I love those lists of X things to do/buy/eat/read/make/etc. that will completely refashion our lives to make them perfectly balanced and full and grounded and happy. Yes, they’re either obvious or impossible or obviously impossible, but I read them all just the same.

These days I’m feeling extra in need of those to-do lists. I’m very lucky and grateful to still have a job that’s paying me my full salary. And I’m grateful for general health, home stability, community and family.

So what’s there to bellyache about? How about I just make a list:

  • I’m struggling with exercise of any sort after having been so sedentary for months;
  • I’m struggling with severe self-judgment about the above;
  • I’m floundering amidst the lack of external structure that usually helps me regulate my sleep, eating, activity, and social contacts;
  • I’m worrying about the future, both immediate and longer term;
  • I’m afraid of backsliding so far that I can’t catch up to resume a life that resembles what I had before March of this year;
  • insert whatever I can’t bring myself to say or even countenance, but which brushes up against me and causes strife.

Okay, you might be thinking: whoa, that’s pretty heavy (while backing slowly away from this post…)

No idea what this is an image of, but I like the message: that's a big list but anyways best of luck :)
No idea what this is an image of, but I like the message: that’s a big list but anyways best of luck 🙂

Now that I’ve made my list, let’s start with the first item: struggling with exercise. What sorts of lists can I find to help with this?

The Washington post’s list for those struggling to move during the pandemic says this:

  1. be kind to yourself;
  2. set new goals;
  3. stay accountable;
  4. look forward (to how you feel after exercising).

What about all that self-judgment? I’d like to be kinder to myself, but what should I do?

Self magazine has a list of ways to be nicer to ourselves when things are tough– here are a few that I liked:

  1. don’t worry about keeping up with the news;
  2. be nice to yourself if you can’t stop keeping up with the news;
  3. feel free to wear what you want;
  4. be kind to yourself if your place seems messy to you;
  5. be accepting of whatever sleep schedule you have;
  6. give yourself plenty of time and space to do nothing.

I was looking for self-help lists for dealing with fear about the future, and accidentally came across this article, translated from French, in which several experts comment on my worst Armageddon-type coronavirus fears in great detail. Don’t read that article if you want to sleep tonight.

Luckily, I found a nice list from this article in the NY Times about managing pandemic-related anxiety and uncertainty:

  1. know the facts;
  2. put the pandemic into perspective;
  3. identify sources of anxiety;
  4. refrain from shaming and blaming;
  5. don’t be afraid to ask for help;
  6. prepare as best you can for future uncertainty;
  7. connect connect connect;
  8. practice self-care.

There’s certainly a theme to these lists. All of them remind us that we are not alone, that for many of us, movement helps us feel better, and that being stern with ourselves is not a good idea (right now, or maybe ever).

None of these is the perfect list. But I’ve found it! I was inspired by listening to the podcast In the Dark’s series on Coronavirus in the Delta, episode 2– inside Parchman Prison in Mississippi. You can read about it and get the link to listen here.

Here’s the perfect self-help list:

  1. breathe slowly in;
  2. breathe slowly out;
  3. breathe slowly in;
  4. breathe slowly out;
  5. breathe slowly in;
  6. breathe slowly out;
  7. repeat.

I think that’s it for right now. I can do this. You can do this. Let’s keep doing this.

Woman with eyes closed, breathing. By Allie for Unsplash.

What are you doing to deal with what’s causing you struggle these days? I’d love your tips, lists, or any comments you’d like to share.

fitness · self care

Things that make me feel good in my body, pandemic edition

What I like best about Fit is a Feminist Issue is how body-affirming and movement-positive it is. I love reading and writing about new and familiar ways to reward, challenge or nurture myself through taking good care of my body, whatever that means to me, in whatever ways are open to me.

In 2017, I wrote about 6 things that make me feel great about my body. In no particular order, they were:

  1. yoga
  2. reading Natalie’s posts
  3. sex with myself
  4. doing some prettifying activity– for me this meant hair color and treatments
  5. walking
  6. cycling

Come 2019, I reprised my list: Some things that make me feel great about my body (this year). Here’s the upshot:

  1. Yoga was still in, especially yin
  2. hair treatment indulgence was out
  3. comfort and ease in clothing were in
  4. walking was out (sprained ankle and physical therapy)
  5. the gym was in
  6. weight training, too
  7. and of course cycling

Now it’s officially mid-2020 and mid/early-mid/late-early coronavirus pandemic. Staying home starting in mid-March, I slowed down in almost every way: less productive, moving less, sleeping less and less well, feeling less peppy, thinking less clearly.

Now in mid-summer (and what a strange summer it is), my goal is to identify what helps me feel good IN my body. Thoughts ABOUT my body are secondary these days; they will have to wait their turn. Right now, it’s all about getting some physical sensations of pleasure, well-being, security, accomplishment in movement, stillness, nourishment, rest, routine.

So here’s my list of 6 things that make me feel good in my body during this pandemic:

1.Sleep. Hands-down winner. I’ve struggled the past few months with insomnia. I don’t even realize how bad it is until the morning after a night I get 8.5–9 hours of sleep, and I feel like Wonder Woman. Wow. So this is what rested feels like. I want more of this.

2.Yoga. No matter how I feel– tired, agitated, creaky from sitting in too many zoom meetings, or just blah, there’s some yoga for me. Even rolling around on my mat, or swinging my arms from side to side and raising them over my head feels good to me and good for me and good in me. Yay yoga!

3.Nature. There’s a reservoir near my house and a lovely walking route around it, with some woodsy paths, too. It’s great just to see trees, pine straw and low-growing plants. Even people’s yards and gardens cheer and hearten me. And my back porch is on the second floor of the 3-family house I live in, and it feels a bit like a tree house.

4.Walking. After so much inactivity, walking feels like doing something. And wearing a mask makes me more aware of my breathing. All of this puts me in touch with the functioning of my body– it’s doing its thing, in a simple and miraculous feat of engineering. Yeah, walking rocks.

5.Cycling. Yes, I can still do that, too. My legs still know how to turn the cranks, and my hands do the shifting without asking my permission. The instincts are all there, and the scenery–even the most mundane scenery is a treat.

6.Water. This is an aspirational item, as I haven’t been swimming yet this summer. But I’ve got plans for lake swimming this week and some ocean swimming this month and next month. My body in water does miraculous things: it floats. And moves and glides and splashes.

Readers: what is making you feel good in your bodies these days? Have any of those things changed since the pandemic? I’d love to hear from you.

Ocean Water, by Gigi for Unsplash.
Water, by Gigi for Unsplash.

body image · covid19 · femalestrength · gender policing · normative bodies · self care

Own this moment for yourself

It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.

I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.

I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.

I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.

UGH.

Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.

I retreated inside, into my head.

Freddie, my road bike, with grey frame, orange bar tape, and orange accents, in happier times (last summer in Wales). Luckily, the cracked carbon fork was replaced under warranty!

Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.

I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.

This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.

How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.

Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.

 

I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.

We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.

My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.

Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).

Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.

Betty White, laughing, rocks her ‘do. It looks great ON HER.

For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.

Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?

Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.


Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.

It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.

I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.

So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.

I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.

I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.

But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.

I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!

Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.

fitness · health · illness · self care · strength training · training

How much is too much? Some thoughts with lots and lots of links

So we all know that this isn’t the best time to get into the best shape of your life, no pressure from us, relax and do what it takes to help you cope in these stressful, strange times, but we also know that exercise–some exercise–is good for dealing with stress and anxiety.

So that’s from the point of view of mental health and emotional well-being but there’s also the idea that exercise helps with our immune response.

Yoyo penguin

Okay, how much? Maybe mild to moderate exercise two to three times a week.

According to Alex Hutchinson, everyone agrees that regular, moderate exercise is good for your health.

“Doing regular moderate exercise lowers your risk compared to doing nothing; studies typically find that near-daily moderate exercisers report about half the typical number of upper-respiratory tract infections. That’s an important message for anyone who’s tempted to slack off their fitness routine until life returns to normal.”

Got it. Get moving. Check!

Now!

Okay, but we’ve got lots of time, right? Why not exercise lots more.

The worry is that too much is bad for your immune system. Again from Hutchinson, “If you ramp the dose up too high, your risk climbs steadily until you’re more vulnerable than if you’d done nothing at all. For that reason, Oregon-based elite track coach Jonathan Marcus recently argued on Twitter that athletes should avoid the type of gut-busting workouts that might put them at higher risk. “To train hard now is irresponsible,” he wrote.

(Short version: It looks like intensity is okay, what sets back your immune response is long duration exercise.)

Moderation seems to be key.

Here are two sports scientists writing for The Conversation, How much exercise is OK during the coronavirus pandemic?

“Both too much and too little are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Scientists commonly refer to this statistical phenomenon as a “J-shaped” curve. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system. Exercise immunity refers to both the systemic (whole body cellular response) and mucosal (mucous lining of the respiratory tract) response to an infectious agent, which follows this J-shaped curve.

A large study showed that mild to moderate exercise — performed about three times a week — reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1998. The Hong Kong study was performed on 24,656 Chinese adults who died during this outbreak. This study showed that people who did no exercise at all or too much exercise — over five days of exercise per week — were at greatest risk of dying compared with people who exercised moderately.”

Exercise dog!

Interestingly, exercise rates are on the rise during the covid-19 pandemic among everyday exercises and down for elite athletes. In a way, that’s not a surprise for serious competitive athletes. All of their competitions are cancelled. They are just in maintenance mode mostly. For us, everyday types, we actually have some time, some of us, and exercise is one of the few things we can do outside. We’re moving more and they’re moving less and maybe we’ll all meet in the moderate middle. Go us!

It’s the same I think for strength training and weight lifting. The moderates like me, have installed home TRX-es and bought the odd kettlebell. I’m glad I got mine before they all sold out. But some of the serious gym rats I know have just out and out declared it bulking season and say that if there aren’t big weights available, they’re just waiting it out and doing lots less.

Okay, but not everybody is moved to moderation. Some people are making a personal challenge out of these odd times, like the 13-year-old boy who ran 100 miles in Quarantine Backyard Ultra or the man who ran a marathon on his PAris balcony during lockdown.

And none of this is shared with any advice giving intentions. If you care what sports scientists have to say about how much exercise is best during a pandemic, then go follow the links above and read away. If you need, from the point of view of your mental health and well-being to do more or do less, than do what you need to do.

It’s the moderation point that interested me, and I thought I’d share. Thanks for reading!

eating · fitness · habits · self care

Marjorie Muses on Missing her Routines and Ruminates upon the Ramifications

I miss my routines.

Over the years, I’ve built dozens of routines that have improved my life–routines that make going to the gym nearly automatic, routines that make it easier to eat in a way that reflects my values, routines that increase my contact with other people even though my natural introversion can lead to isolation. These are routines built to increase my self-care, which honestly is a challenge for me otherwise. In the past, I found it hard to prioritize myself if in the moment I had to make a choice–right now, do I do what I need or what someone else needs? Most of the time, in the moment, I would more readily take care of someone else. But when these things are routine, when they are habitual, I do what I need to do for myself and I feel better for it.

But my routines have gone all to hell these days.

I am a teacher, and school has been closed down, possibly for the remainder of the year. In my life before pandemic, I worked too many hours, and I had to be very strategic to get everything done. I welcomed any bit of extra time to rest, connect with friends, and to mindfully plan the next busy day. I eagerly filled nonschool days with activities and self-care. But that was before businesses started closing down. And it was before it was unclear if I was making an unethical choice every time I stepped out the door.

And so now, with sort-of school slowly becoming a reality, I’m not quite sure how best to take care of myself. Would it help to get back to prepping my meals? (Some of my previous breakfast and lunch practices are posted here, if you are interested.) Maybe I’d eat better if it were all decided for me each day. However, every trip to the store has become an act of foraging for prefered staples–seeking out and competing for limited prized goods like beans, chicken and frozen broccoli. Inconsistent availability makes it difficult to plan meals ahead of time. And besides, giving myself some food variety is an appreciated source of entertainment right now.

Should I write down my “gym” and “running” days on the calendar and schedule them like appointments with myself? It might help to feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can check them off, but uncertainties in other aspects of life make it hard to know when to reliably fit those in. I started off pretty enthusiastically figuring out home versions of various lifts, but as work is coming back, and directives from the state and school district change on a daily basis, I can’t reliably determine when I have time for an hour of “lifting” on any particular day. And there are still days when I seem exhausted by it all, and the best thing for me is to let myself sit like a loaf on the sofa with a cat in my lap.

I acknowledge that some of the mini-habits are still in place. I’m still brushing and flossing my teeth. I did laundry, although it did not get put away as rapidly as it usually would have. I’m going for walks most days. I’m still mostly going to bed at my usual bedtime, and I’m enjoying sleeping in. I’m still eating a good amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and some protein at most meals (although there’s also a good amount of brownies, too). It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s what I am managing to do right now. I’m trying to embrace an 80/20 mindset–80% intentional, 20% whatever. I’d be more comfortable closer to 92/8, truth be told.

I don’t have a solution to offer here. I feel like it’s important just to observe the challenge right now and to be kind to myself (ourselves) if I’m struggling to maintain my healthy habits and routines to the degree to which I prefer. I genuinely don’t mind being a little lax for a while, as long as it’s not indefinitely. And I think that’s where I get anxious and stressed–without knowing for how long this will be my new normal, I don’t know how important it is to develop new routines. I suspect we are in this for a long time, and so I want to find solutions that feel real and meaningful. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to believe I will be soon.

How about you, dear reader? Are you missing your routines? Have you found a new set of habits readily available, or are you still struggling to find them?

Image description: The unlit, Art Deco marquee of the Laurelhurst Theater. It says, “laurelhursttheater.com, closed for now, stay healthy & warm, support each other, take care of yourselves.”

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher who misses her students. She can be found using resistance bands while pretending she’s picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

advice · death · disability · Fear · health · self care

8 Lessons for Living with Uncertainty From a Perennially Vulnerable Adult

I get it. You’re facing down the barrel of your mortality right now, and the mortalities of your parents, grandparents, children and other people you care for. It sucks. Random, horrible things can happen and change your life forever. Or end it. But this isn’t news. Life can change in an instant, and it can be completely out of your control, and that has always been true. The only difference is now you are being forced to face the reality you could comfortably deny as long as your life was banally humming along. Welcome to my world.

At the age of 24 I went from a healthy, active person to someone with a disabling, life-threatening immune condition. Random chance, totally bad luck, threw me a curve ball that kept me in the hospital for a month, left me missing a big chunk of one lung and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without assistance. I spent 8 months on high-dose Prednisone and three years after that on weekly chemotherapy drugs to keep my body from attacking itself and killing me. I hate stories about how some horrible cancer diagnosis “was the best thing that ever happened to her” or how some terrifying ordeal “helped him have gratitude for the important things in life.” I don’t think my immune conditions (I’ve developed more over the years) have made me a wiser, better person. But I have learned from the experience, and I’d like to offer you these potentially comforting observations I’ve noted along the way.

The hardest part is the not knowing. It took about half a year before I had a diagnosis. Even with a diagnosis, the prognosis was up in the air. At one point I was told that I had only a 50% chance of living past 5 years. Later on, I was told they really didn’t know, there was just too little data to base any predictions upon. I believe that knowing is always easier than not knowing. How do you live your life day to day when you can’t plan for the future? You will make very different decisions when you know that something is temporary than when it may be indefinite. Coming to a place of accepting that you don’t know, living in the moment while planning for the future is the best balance I can suggest. For me, I have had to learn over the years to consider my barriers and limitations as flexible unknowns–I have to push against the boundaries to test them–is this a real limitation or simply something I feared would limit me? It’s a constantly moving target, and I’ve learned to be flexible as situations have changed.

Your life is at increased risk. You can get used to it. In fact, if you are going to get on with your life, you have to get used to it. We can only hit the pause button for so long, and then we need to get back into the swing of things. You will need groceries, a paycheck, a new pack of underwear. I live my life every day with the awareness that my condition can come back. Every time I have a cough, I have to consider, “Does this feel more serious than just a cold? Am I being irresponsible if I wait it out before going to the doctor?” Every little aberration in how my body moves and feels carries a heightened awareness to it, and yet, I don’t go around constantly anxious about my future. I notice it, I pay attention, and then I move on. Most of the answers to my questions come with time and patience. If you can avoid insisting on instant reassurance, you will find that you fare better.

Most people facing their own mortality don’t have the benefit of a social circle that understands. Don’t take it for granted. When I got sick, I was alone. Only about 6000 people in the entire United States have been diagnosed with the condition I’m facing. Not to mention, my peers at the time of 20-somethings could not even kind of relate to my ordeal. Lucky for you, pretty much everyone around you is dealing with some version of the same fear right now. You can support each other because you understand your shared uncertainties. On the other hand, you are at higher risk than I was for “social contagion.” The downside of collective awareness is that your anxieties can compound upon each other, fear can beget more fear, and as social animals, we are built to mirror each other’s emotions. Compassion and empathy are important, but I encourage you to temper them with calm and mindful acts of support.

It isn’t helpful to let the current situation dominate your thoughts. Practice the discipline of reframing your thinking, and you will experience less stress. This would be an excellent time to limit your exposure to social media, too. You don’t need other people’s fear speaking voices in your head. For those of you who like that woo-woo shit, feel free to increase your focus on your “gratitude practice” right now. Me, I’m going to limit my exposure to the news and increase work on some neglected projects around the house. This seems like an excellent time to begin planning my basement remodel. This sort of intentional shift of focus gives me something productive to put my energies towards rather than stirring up fears of the unknown.

On a related note, don’t let fear be your guiding principal. Consider making important decisions when your mind is feeling more calm–like right after a good meal with some satisfying, slow-digesting carbohydrates in it. Your fear-based decision might be making people like me less safe, if it means you switch to antibacterial soap, for example, and increase the likelihood of superbugs. The panic that has led to emptying store shelves isn’t doing the community any good, either. Consider finding other ways to take care of yourself than giving in to the hedonic needs of your fear.

If someone near you gets sick, when it is safe to do so, literally embrace them and return them back into your life. I developed mysterious lung symptoms and a persistent, low grade fever just about the same time SARS was in all the news. When I was released from the hospital, we didn’t know why I had nearly died, but we did know it wasn’t an infectious process. Despite this, I was treated like a pariah. No one would hug me, hold my hand, pat my shoulder. People would literally take a step back when I told them what had happened to me. It was like they were afraid that my near-death would rub off on them. It was exceptionally isolating in an experience that already left me alone in so many ways. So I ask that you please, please, welcome back the folks who become sick. Love and support them, touch their hands, kiss them on the cheek, and help to reintegrate them back into your world.

You don’t know what’s going to get you. That’s always been true, you’re just now having to face it. I used to feel like I knew better than most people what was likely to kill me. However, even when my condition was quite severe, I still could get hit by the proverbial bus. That hasn’t changed, and it’s true for all of us. None of us know what is going to get us in the end. We can’t live our lives dancing around the edges, hoping nothing will ever take us down. We have to live the best life we can with the life we’ve been given. Uncertainty will always be a part of the equation. Part of making the best of it is keeping that in mind and keeping it in perspective. That’s how I live my life every day, and I encourage you to do the same.

Photo description: Two wrinkled hands, one bare and one with a black and white checkered sleeve, holding each other over a leather background.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again, and wondering when the gym will be closed, in Portland, Oregon.

self care

The persistent demands of early morning self-care: what to do?

I used to hate challenges; you know, those 7-day/30-day-read-a-book-a-day-type challenges. I’ve written here about my problems with them. But in the past couple of years I’ve found some ways they work for me. The 220 workouts in 2020 group has taught me a lot about how to use the experience of being in a challenge to examine, motivate, question and reshape how I do physical activity. A bunch of our bloggers are in this or similar groups and have written about challenges (most recently Martha’s post here).

My friend the New York Times has talked me into trying yet another challenge– their new new 30 Day Healthy Habits Challenge. It’s a combo of advice bits about movement, eating, social connection and mindfulness. (CW: it also suggests a form of dieting that may trigger some with a history of eating disorders, so do be warned).

One thing that keeps tripping me up with this challenge (and other such general self-care advice) is this: I’m supposed to do a whole bunch of things, many of them FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.

Challenges are big on doing things in the early morning. It appears that, upon waking (or in my case, being lurched into consciousness by my loud alarm), I’m supposed to

  • meditate while sipping my coffee
  • use my newly-selected mantra for said meditation (which, if I had one, would be “I just need coffee now”)
  • do gentle yoga
  • do a short workout
  • take some time to plan my day, arranging periods of quiet and reflection and physical activity and eating nourishing food in a mindful way and connecting with friends and family and taking a self-compassion break and developing a gratitude practice and reading a novel and taking a bath before getting in bed at 9:30pm

First of all, I am not a morning person. This is not me:

Drawing of person doing impossible yoga position while smiling in bed.

I’m more like this:

Silly but true-to-life meme of animal in bed, with words “when your alarm goes off and you’re deciding whether to go to work or fake your own death”

But seriously folks: self-care regimens are very heavy on first-thing-in-the-morning activity. But even for those who ARE morning people, there’s a limit to the amount of time we can devote to early-morning self-care. For one thing, there’s a limited amount of early-morning time, and we all have to get a lot done before heading to work, school, and other important things we do during our busy days. For another, we have other priorities– like writing or reading or housework or other important tasks that have to be done sometime as well.

So I’m asking you, dear readers: how do you decide what to prioritize in that precious period (whenever it is), first thing in your morning? I’d love to hear from you,