Self Care Comes in All Forms

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My life with my husband, Sem, has been nowhere near as dramatic and traumatic as all of our lives have become lately, with the appearance of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The internet is full of articles about how to cope, and things to do for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to stay home during this time (and I cannot stress enough that if you can, you should… please, just stay home!). I’ll say up front that I have no training in mental health, no clinical knowledge, or answers. What I do have, though, is an understanding of relentless, grinding anxiety in response to an unseen enemy, for lack of a better term. So what is it that I can contribute? It’s this: be gentle with yourself.

Whatever gets you through this period of isolation and worry, do that. By all means try different coping mechanisms to see what helps you, if what you’re doing right now isn’t working. There are a lot of great suggestions online to try, so look around until you find what fits you best. Most of us are winging it because let’s face it, I’m pretty sure none of us have gone through a global pandemic before. We are trapped in a cycle of fight-or-flight without a clear ending point and with a real fear of suffering and death, for our loved ones and ourselves. We can do things to minimize our risk of becoming infected with the virus, but even if we do everything exactly right, there is no guarantee of safety. It’s no wonder we are overwhelmed.

I’ve been reading about things that people are doing, while they are self-isolating (please, please, self-isolate as much as you can). They are learning new languages, taking online art classes, reading the classics, starting new exercise regimes, decluttering their homes, redecorating rooms, tidying up their gardens and using their time at home to make big, positive changes in their lives. And that’s great. If that’s what is keeping them sane, I’m all for it.

Maybe, though, you are like me. When things get to be far too much, I shut down a little. Self-improvement? Hah. It’s more like self-preservation, for me. What I want to do is go face-down into whatever carbs I can find, so I count it as a pretty big win if I drink a couple of glasses of water instead of diving into a bag of tortilla chips and eating my way out. Some days, not doing myself harm (in a general sense) is enough; indeed, it’s often all I’m capable of, in times of great stress. I can’t focus on that novel that rattles around in my head or force myself to do some high-stepping laps around the apartment, but at least I can stop myself from wolfing all the bread as fast as I can butter it. Sometimes.

Those of you who know me well, know that my life with Sem – while amazing and beautiful, miraculous and downright astounding – has also been an exhausting, terrifying rollercoaster ride since around 2011, when he started doing peritoneal dialysis at home. That’s when stress and fear became my daily companions. We battled the invisible every day, with hand-washing protocols and hand- and surface-sanitizing practices before each dialysis session, diligently undertaken to prevent contamination. Peritonitis was the spectre hovering over each day: was that just an upset stomach, or had Sem contracted an infection? Did he have a fever, or was the heating just turned up too high? Was the drained dialysis fluid crystal clear, or was there a hint of telltale cloudiness in it? Similarly, these days most of us probably ask ourselves questions like: is that just a sore throat, or is it coronavirus? How’s my breathing? Is that a temperature? Are those muscle aches, or did I just overdo things yesterday? The fear is there. Every. Single. Day.

I come from solidly pragmatic Teutonic stock. I am grateful for my heritage, for the mental strength I am fortunate to possess, and for my upbringing which taught me that collapsing is not an option. My parents were children during World War II, in Germany. They endured fear and hardship for years which I cannot even begin to fathom, and their experiences shaped who they became, which in turn sculpted me into who I am, now. I’m not particularly strong or brave, but I know with certainty that I cannot – dare not – collapse. That is a luxury not afforded to me. But not collapsing comes at a cost, and when it’s time to “pay” it means I need to shut down for a while. I’m still vigilant, still worried and anxious and frightened rather than in a blissful heap of oblivion, but it is still vital to how I cope. I just need to drift for a while, not doing much of anything at all. It’s not for everyone, I’m sure. But right now especially, I’m a big believer in “you do you” as long as I can do me.

After Sem had to transition to hemodialysis we had nine grueling months (far worse for him than for me) of traveling a thousand miles a month, just to get to and from dialysis. As a result, much of 2016 is foggy in my memory. We were finally able to move closer to the hospital in 2017, but after moving day we were on our own with no friends or family to help sort out the unpacking and organizing. Sem was very ill and had just been in the hospital during the week we moved. I was exhausted and anxious. The physical, mental and emotional stress were crushing.

Three days a week during the hours when Sem was at dialysis, do you know what I did? I played solitaire on my laptop, surrounded by boxes, with the violent shouting of battling upstairs neighbors in the background. For hours and hours at a time it was all I could do, clicking through the games mindlessly before picking up the reins of responsibility again, when Sem’s wellbeing and healthcare were handed back to me by his wonderful dialysis nurses. Sometimes I unpacked a few things, once or twice I tried to do yoga when we cleared enough floor space, but mostly… solitaire. I “graduated” to watching stuff on TV, once we got that set up. I’m proud to say it wasn’t trashy daytime TV, at least. I can’t even remember most of it. I remember blasting my way through ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Queer Eye’ but beyond that, I have no idea. I’d always go back to old faithful, though – solitaire. And d’you know what? That was okay.

Similarly, right now we don’t have to take every moment at home to improve ourselves or our surroundings in some way. We don’t have to learn to cook new meals, trim our grass with nail scissors or alphabetize our spice racks. Unless we want to, and it soothes us, and our minds are distracted for a time from this world situation. But if all you want to do is lay in bed today and watch cat videos, or play solitaire, or – my current escape – find dreadfully trite (and cheap) Kindle downloads about plucky women who inherit cupcake shops and find true love with the local handyman, then… do that. Am I proud of the cheap collection of absolute brain-junk-food-fiction in my ‘Kindle Cloud’? Nope. So will I stop reading it? Double nope. It’s mindless, and it helps.

Sem has been delighted to make use of virtual museum tours because art is totally his thing. He has downloaded tons of stuff from the Gutenberg archives. He has worked on his watercoloring skills, he writes about fountain pens, and this week he started going through our many bookshelves to clear out the books he can bear to part with (hint: it’s not many, but he is being brave). Meanwhile, I sit here and read the literary equivalent of cheese fries, when I’m not playing solitaire, that is. And that’s okay, too. (Mmmm… wish I had some cheese fries…)

Nothing can hide the fact that the world is currently a very frightening place, and will be for the foreseeable future. If you’re super-active and re-vamping everything, and that helps you, that’s great! And if you need to spend a day on the couch with a bag of Fritos to help you cope a little bit better, that’s great too. If you’re somewhere in between, like me – dealing with the basics, but needing to zone out on utterly useless things for a couple of hours a day – then that, too, is perfectly acceptable.

Self-care comes in all forms. Whatever it is that you do to cope, know that it doesn’t have to be anything at all like what someone else does. I had to remind myself of that when I started noticing all these people wringing productivity out of every moment, because it made me feel inadequate and bad about myself in comparison. But that’s not the way to think, especially because right now mental health is extremely important as we try to weather this storm however we can.

Sem and I are trying not to let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s hard. The collective consciousness of the world is saturated with it. Even the memes that make me laugh are often coronavirus-themed. It can become inescapable, if we let it. In fact, I should apologize for contributing to it by writing a second article on the subject, but there you go. That’s our world right now. If someone would rather I write a column about something absolutely NOT related to coronavirus, I am happy to do so; just say the word and I’ll try to think of something different and distracting to write about. Maybe you’ll roll your eyes and decide it’s irrelevant to these trying times and skip it, or maybe it’ll be just the gentle redirection your mind needs for a few minutes while you read about something other than That Virus.

In the meantime, do what calms your mind and gives you balance. Whatever that may be, whether it’s active or passive… I’m behind you 100%.

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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54 Responses

  1. Avatar Erika Kilborn says:

    I feel like you just gave me a big warm hug. Thank you. I’m going to go play some Solitaire.

  2. Avatar Tonya Carter says:

    Great article. You’re so right, we have to give ourselves permission to just be. Be still, be silent, be relaxed, to jut BE!

    To your point, I’m going to take the day off and binge watch TV, sleep and stare into nothingness. I’ll finish cleaning my closet out tomorrow.

  3. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    This pandemic is wearing me thin like I never could imagine, and I feel like there are days when staring at the wall for five hours. It hasn’t come to that yet, but at least I don’t feel like it would be crazy if I did. Thanks for the soothing words and pictures that always, always seem to help.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      It’s a time of anxiety and trauma unlike anything most of us have ever experienced – and that’s on top of what already have been anxious times, of late. No wonder we’re feeling worn down.

      If you do decide to stare at the wall for five hours, make sure you’re wearing something comfy, sitting with your feet up, and staying hydrated. Whether that’s a glass of water, a ‘growler’ or a mug of hot chocolate is entirely up to you 😉

  4. Avatar Jeannine Gillan says:

    What a lovely article…full of compassion and practical wisdom. For me it’s not been Solitaire but a number combining game called “2048”. Check it out!

  5. Avatar bruce vojtecky says:

    I have been watching Outlander on Netflix but after the first season it was becoming too steamy to watch with my 9 year old granddaughter who, along with her three sisters, live with me.
    Claire, the main person, is a WWII nurse transported back to 1700’s Scottish Highlands. She has been inoculated from Smallpox, a major disease then, and like she states in the movie she can walk through a room of dying men unaffected. This makes me wonder if someone from the 2200s was transported to our time if they would be inoculated against COVI.
    Thanks for the always welcome update and love the pictures.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I fervently hope that someone transported back to the present time from 12-18 months in the future would be vaccinated against it, Bruce! We’re counting on it, since the chances of my husband surviving a bout of COVID-19 are slim to none, so the sooner a safe vaccine is developed and administered, the better.

  6. Indeed. My two sisters have done all sorts of cleaning and reorganizing of their homes. Me? I’m surviving watching stand-up comedy on YouTube – Michael McIntyre, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney — I just want to laugh until I cry. Also – reading novels set during wartime – filled with people who face fear and hardship with courage – is distracting and gives me hope. Thanks for the uplifting words. I do have a request — I’d like permission to try to paint that picture at the top of your column – the stone wall and the green? That might be a perfect project right now. Take care.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I sometimes watch snippets of ‘The Graham Norton Show’ for silliness and laughs, and there are a few stand-up comedians I like, too. I can see the attraction to wartime novels as well – good examples (fictional or non-fictional) of people toughing it out through extraordinarily difficult times.

      Absolutely, you have my permission to paint the picture – in fact, please take this as blanket permission to paint any of the photos that I post, I’m happy for you to use whatever inspires you! I love that photo too – it’s always interesting to see nature in action, especially when trees start growing inside the ruins of old croft houses.

  7. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Thank you for these perfect words, and photos, Deb. To me, time is passing more slowly, which is fine, but I keep forgetting what day it is. Which is fine too, I suppose, as all my ‘usual’ appointments are cancelled. I have a feeling of walking on eggshells, though, as in ‘what’s next?’
    Sending good wishes for you and Sem to be well.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, Eleanor, thank you for telling me. The lovely woman who runs Puffin Croft Farm in John O’Groats has started creating drawings for each day of the week, and every day she has one of her animals ‘pose’ with the picture. She then posts it on her Facebook page so that we all know what day of the week it is – because she was having the same problem as you noted, forgetting what day it is. Worth a look just to see her lovely animals – brand new lambs, this week.

      There is, for me, a feeling of holding my breath similar to your ‘walking on eggshells’ feeling, I suspect. These are difficult times. I’m glad we have these friendships and connections across the miles, to not feel quite so isolated, in our self-isolation.

      All the best to you, I hope you will stay safe and well.

  8. Avatar Sandra Ellison says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your lovely article gives me permission not to feel bad because I’m not doing all the useful things I could be doing — rearranging kitchen cabinets, filing the piles of papers that have accumulated, etc.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and feel more able to be kind to yourself in all this! Doing useful, practical things is all fine and well, but taking care of our emotional and mental wellbeing also counts as useful, I firmly believe that!

  9. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I went through a solitaire phase when I was a young man. I remember thinking of it as a crutch, but a crutch at a time when I really needed one. The simple rules, clear finish line, singular focus, and dependable repetition were just what I needed to keep my mind right.

    Your photos of Scotland never fail to give me wanderlust. That’s not a bad thing right now—it’s a reminder that when this passes and I’ve hopefully made it to the other side, I’ll appreciate travel all the more whenever I get to indulge. I’m sure that’ll be true for many of us.

    As always, Deb, you words are like wrapping up in a blanket in front of a warm fire.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      The simplicity of solitaire is just what I need, sometimes. I’m glad it was there for you when you needed it, too.

      Here’s to travel being safe again, eh? I’m glad you enjoyed the piece – I like your description of the feelings my words evoke. Thank you for telling me.

  10. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    Just what I was needing today! I have been feeling so guilty because I haven’t gone thru all my drawers, cupboards, closets, and bookshelves and piled everything I purged in the garage …all the places that take donations are closed and I expect they will be inundated when they open up again. So, no point in
    de cluttering, right? Lots of food and being out in the yard work best for me! My best to you and Sem..
    Stay Well!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Glad it was fortuitous timing, Peggy! I had similar thoughts about all of this STUFF that people are going to want to get rid of, all at once. Plus… will the second-hand shops etc. feel safe in accepting them? Probably not for a while, since they don’t know if the homes the things are coming from have been exposed to the virus. So I’m with you – less decluttering, more self-care!

  11. Avatar Linda Cooper says:

    Ah, Deb, you got me at your reading list! “Plucky women who inherit cupcake shops…” I seem to have the attention span of a pea as I call it these days, and my reading material has been leaning in this direction. Or, as a librarian once told me with a nice smile, “we read for pleasure.” Thank you for the article. And long live Scotland!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Hahaha Linda I’m really glad my reading list didn’t put you right off the rest of the column :-D. It’s about all my brain can handle at the moment, too!

  12. Avatar Sue Keller says:

    Your article – photos = all YUM!!!!!

  13. Avatar Rick Zeller says:

    Thank you Deb for a great read! I find myself in between my To Do list and zoning out in front of the tv or playing my handheld Blackjack game. And any of those are ok. Stay safe.

  14. Deb, you have a knack for saying the right thing at exactly the right time. Thank you for this, and for reminding us that we all cope in our own way. Me? In between ANC work I’m ignoring a few big projects I could do – SHOULD do – like painting my bedroom and cleaning the garage, and instead am learning to grow my own sour dough starter. Whatever floats our own boats, right?

    I appreciate your words of comfort and wisdom so much. Stay safe!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad, Doni, it’s great hearing that my column has been a help to folks. You will be flooded with ANC work right now I’m sure – and those projects will wait patiently for you to have the time, energy and inclination to get to them :). Hope you stay safe, too!

  15. Jon Lewis Jon Lewis says:

    You had me at ‘literary equivalent of cheese fries’

  16. Avatar Bonnie says:

    My sig other does home hemodialysis. My stress is compounded by not being able to get my partner a transplant which was scheduled for the 15th. Your husband is lucky to have you by his side. It does add another layer to the stress. Thank you for reminding us that’s it ok to indulge in mind junk food. My current obsession is yatzee.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      You’ll be having all kinds of stress then, with home hemo AND the delayed transplant on top of coronavirus worries. I am so sorry the transplant won’t be going forward yet, but I hope that when this is all behind us, your partner will be able to have the op quickly. They’re fortunate to have you supporting them in this, it is bound to be frustrating and difficult.

      My husband can’t have a transplant unfortunately, so we take each day as it comes. Some days that means going briefly out into the back yard, and other days it means Netflix.

  17. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    You have expressed exactly my feelings on this! Cheers to those who have been constructive. And cheers to those who are making it through the day! I have one friend who is organizing weekly online reading of classic plays and getting folks to volunteer to play parts, including dressing up, etc. It’s great fun for all, especially those of us who just watch and encourage them. Meanwhile, my motto is; Don’t do today, what you can put off until tomorrow! Most days anyway. It’s crucial to recognize that everyone has different coping skills and hopefully they will find them.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      That is fabulous, Ann, your friend seems to have brought a lot of you together, in just the way each person chooses to participate. How lovely!

      I’m good at putting things off until tomorrow ;-). I’m glad you are finding ways to cope.

  18. Avatar Tyrrel says:

    Like Doni, I am making natural sourdough starter…day 4 tomorrow. Have been making no-knead cast iron Dutch oven bread the last two weeks. AND today, I made sauerkraut! Am cooking (and eating) up a storm and sharing with the neighbors. Of course, the yard and garden are good outside activities and I have two good books going. Best time-killer is the free online bridge games I have discovered!

    • I hope you’re having better luck than I am. Oh well. Nothing but time at home to get it right, right? Good luck!

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        Doni, I bought an ‘additive’ for making sourdough without the need for a starter – it’s a packet of magic (I presume) that you add to the dough. I haven’t been able to try it because I have no yeast yet, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to get some and then there will be experiments!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Sounds like you’ve got it covered, Tyrrel! I bought a few packets of a sourdough ‘additive’ which supposedly I can just add to the dough in place of having a starter. I would love to try it but I still don’t have yeast! Or much flour, at this point. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to get some. Glad you’re finding great ways to cope!

  19. Avatar Connie Koch says:

    You are such a gifted writer! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, ideas and suggestions! You captured my attention and I get immersed in your words and beautiful pictures every time! Thank you!

  20. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    Oh Deb . . . feel like you are a sister from another mother. . . . Your coping mechanisms are so familiar. And just having you say it’s okay to self medicate with a game (or 100) of solitaire was the permission I needed to help shush that voice in my ear (usually my grandmother) shouting the “L” word: LAZY!!! Self-care is ever so much more affirming than LAZY!!
    Starting next week I have to go into two weeks of isolation. (long uninteresting story) THANK GOD I have a T.V.,a computer, a Kindle and a PIANO . . . who could ask for anything more?

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you liked my column, Adrienne! Sounds like I’m in good company, with our particular brand of coping mechanisms. I’m sorry you have to go into two weeks of isolation. I’m glad you have things at the ready to occupy your time!

      Hoping you will be safe and well…

  21. Avatar Linda Coplen says:

    Wonderful article…..soothing words we all needed to hear out loud…..and loved the photos too. ?

  22. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Deb, you’re amazing. With everything that you and Sem are going through, your ability and willingness to share what Steve characterized as a “blanket in front of a warm fire” shows an incredibly kind, generous heart. Thank you.

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