Keep it Simple is a bumper sticker slogan. Life during a pandemic has been anything but simple, and the holiday season presents (not the gift kind) its own special challenges. So does living alone and trying to stay humanized. In his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Surgeon General-elect Vivek Murphy describes loneliness as associated with increased risk of mental and health difficulties in the BC era (before COVID-19). All the more so within such a challenging year of physical separation and trying to maintain a connection with others, with ourselves. So much angst, uncertainty, loss …
And yet … here we are poised at the brink of a new year with vaccines being distributed and a true sense of hope and healing. We’re medical educators who teach health professions students and professionals about resilience and adapting to adversity, but here we are, needing to walk the talk. Big-time. We met via Zoom for a Virtual Tea to share about our lives and not just our work. There was some laughter, the best medicine. And we reflected on negotiating living alone and the stuff of life that sustains, even enriches. Daily “little sparks of joy” can help. We offer you our “21 for ‘21” and hope the simple can be profound.
1. Before Christmas, I wrapped 11 presents myself, and every day together with my 77-year mother who lives in The Netherlands, in our daily video calls, we select one present and unwrap it “together.”
2. I try to send out a postcard or letter to a friend or neighbor or elderly person, in general, someone that does not get many visitors, and imagine the smile (or happy tears) it brings to receive unexpected mail.
3. While working from home at my “designated work from home desk,” I burn a scented candle. The warm light makes such a difference in my mood.
4. I have a small vase that fits only three stems, and it contains a branch of fresh green spruce. It has such a lovely aroma.
5. I have a passion for cards and buy the cards I really like. I select cards I like the most and use them to write motivational messages for me, including tasks and goals. It is the kind Monica that speaks with compassion to the “struggling” Monica. It helps to reread them, and it helps to remind myself to be kind to myself and to others.
6. Mondays and Thursdays are my “meeting” days, with meetings often scheduled back to back. It is nourishing and invigorating to include a scheduled recurring ‘fun’ meeting: a 30-minute skype call with a 94-year old nursing home resident who cannot have visitors. Yes, shouting is required (she is deaf), but even so, it cheers me because I know it brightens her day.
7. Once a week, I have a meeting (albeit virtual) with a colleague from abroad who has significant challenges. We intentionally discuss wellness strategies we use for “pandemic survival.” We send each other pictures of progress – for her, for example, the progress of her 1,000-piece puzzle. For me, progress of creative projects I’ve started. This has been life-enriching.
8. I kept my tapes and CDs. Yes, I did. I noticed that I was usually selecting CDs that were close at hand. So now I choose a CD out of the CD box with my eyes closed. I have rediscovered CDs that I have not listened to in five years and tapes that bring back childhood memories.
9. It can be tough to sustain engagement in large team meetings via Zoom in which information is delivered, and there’s less interaction. I have discovered I’ve started to enjoy them since taking up embroidery…
10. I love my informal, comfortable clothing, but I realize after working from home since March, I also miss wearing my nice blazers, patterned tights, and high heels. Sometimes it feels good to sit in my Zoom meeting wearing high heels. What shoes can do.
11. There’s cannot and there’s also can. I cannot visit my niece and nephews this year. I decided to read a Christmas story and record it. Every day I send them five minutes. I’m not sure who is enjoying this most.
12. My alternative Christmas card for my friends is a (Dutch) Christmas story I have recorded for them.
13. Cyclical breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. “In your calm is your strength” is a German proverb.
14. Self-compassion. You’re not alone. It is a shared humanity. We now share a global narrative of a pandemic. And also one of increased kindness. Using the infinity sign for breathing in compassion and breathing out compassion. See #13. Bringing compassion to others. According to the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
15. Finding a belly laugh each day. Texting the funnies to my family and friends as a way to say, “I love you.” Jimmy Kimmel’s holiday Fauci was too much. I’m still laughing.
16. Lots of exercise. Swim, bike, walk, Like a triathlon but not quite. Serious endorphin work. Saying thank you to the YMCA lifeguards.
17. Music as healing. Sharing classic tunes brings pure joy, and sharing them in Twitterverse (e.g., #docswhorock) creates connection. @ericlast3 reminded us recently about “Wade in the Water” (Ramsey Lewis) on his playlist that is now on mine. Finding and immersing in full concerts on Youtube from magnificent artists helped fuel motivation for exercise -Van Morrison, Eurythmics, Tedeschi Trucks, Clapton, Prince, Coldplay, Sir Elton, Sir Paul, Steely Dan, Gaga, The Boss, Sheryl Crow, and Earth, Wind & Fire are keeping me company on long walks. With the applause and shouts, you feel you are there. A way to brighten your day…
18. Joining a support group of kindred spirits. A structured time and place, well, in cyberspace, that is. Friendship and authentic caring go a long way. Kindness to others has been called a lifestyle.
19. Writing a paper about resilience with 134 references and dedicating it to frontline health professionals and staff. And trying to live what I’ve learned. Every day. Every cherished moment. Reflective writing, in general, can be therapeutic. So can reading a poem, writing a poem.
20. Random acts of picking up a phone and calling someone who has emailed me. “Hi, surprise (!), I felt like speaking with a human being today.”
21. Placing thank you cards from family (including the grandchildren), students, and colleagues on my work desk to keep me company and bring inspiration. One of my favorites from the University of Arkansas School of Nursing: “Your positive approach to teaching, learning, and living inspired us all.” It works both ways. Gotta love those nurses.
The South Carolina state motto is Dum spiro spero, Latin for “While I breathe, I hope.” It’s true; look it up. We breathe, we hope. Take it with you and always remember, JOY stands for Just One You.
Hedy S. Wald is a clinical professor of family medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI. She can be reached on Twitter @hedy_wald. Monica van de Ridder is an assistant professor, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University/Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids MI. She can be reached on Twitter @MvdRidder.
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