The Mental Games We Play
Confinement week 6….I’ve stopped counting the days and started tracking the whole thing in larger increments. It’s a small change, but it seems to make it easier to handle in the ‘ol noggin.
Of course, we’re chugging along doing our usual day-to-day; working, cooking, taking lessons online, doing zoom get-togethers and other such things to keep physically active and sane. It’s what everyone is doing these days so it’s nothing special, but it has felt different this week, at least for me.
I have to admit this whole lock-down situation has been harder than I imagined mentally. I don’t know if it’s my natural wanderlust, or the fact that I’ve always been prone to depression (sadly, a weight I’ve carried my whole life), but being confined has been draining both emotionally, and physically. And I know I’m not the only who’s been thinking this way. Last week two separate friends told me they’ve been feeling weepy for no reason at all, and yet another expressed how very weary she was, physically and mentally.
I think these are all normal feelings right now.
Apart from the select few, humans are not well-made for solitude and internment. There are well-researched psychological effects that happen when folks are isolated, and they can range from anxiety to paranoia and (even) the inability to form coherent thoughts. It affects your waking day, but it can also affect your sleep, causing you to panic for no reason when you finally lay down your head to rest at night (I get that one). It’s the real side of the whole “going stir crazy” thing.
So, why am I writing about this??
Admittedly I don’t always know where a blog post will go once I start it, so there’s that. But more importantly I guess it’s just what’s on my mind this week. Sharing thoughts like this, as painful as they are, can be cathartic not only for the person writing, but also for those reading. Knowing you’re not alone in feeling how you are, can sometimes make all the difference in the world. It’s not just a question of being in this together (we all are), it’s the very specific thing of knowing you’re not going singularly nuts.
I think some of you can relate….
So We Play Games
So yeah, we’ve been playing tricks on ourselves recently, to keep it all sane.
The mind is a both a wondrous and frustrating thing. It can solve complex problems, create infinite happiness and lead us to explore the world. And yet it can also plunge us into dark, destructive and repetitive thoughts. The two are not mutually exclusive either. It can happen in the same mind, just in different times and different environments, especially if you are prone to such things.
We are in one of the latter phases here at HQ, which means my brain can easily get the better of me unless I work to derail it. So, I play games & tricks on my mind, both mentally & IRL (“in real life”). For the most part it works, but on some days it does take exceptional work.
As Aeschylus, the father of all Greek tragedy so famously said, sometime around ~460BC “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times”. Of course, this was the same guy who also said “wisdom comes through suffering”, so I don’t think he was the happy-go-lucky type all-in-all, but he did have a point. The mind can be trained to be positive just like any muscle in the body, by thinking positive thoughts over and over. It’s the practice of affirmations, and it’s an ago-old brain trick that can be incredibly powerful. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend giving it a go.
But I also think there’s more to it than that.
The brain and body are a fine equilibrium of chemicals & hormones, any one of which can throw us through a loop if they go out of whack. There are physical ways to manage these (e.g. the endorphins released after exercise are one of the easiest, and most reliable “happy” chemicals), medical ways (e.g. prescription drugs, some people simply can’t function without), food ways (e.g. foods that improve our well-being), and of course just plain ‘ol distraction, which can really effective when all else fails.
I’ve been working mostly on that last bit, this past week.
We Plan To Distract
Every night, I try to plan my next day right before I fall asleep. I’ll take myself visually through the day, imagining what I’ll do and when. It’s a little mental trick I do to give myself a sense of purpose in our otherwise “groundhog-day like” existence, and the structure helps to keep me on track.
I might plan a bit of social & news media in the morning (not too much mind you), some work in the afternoon (always a given), some cooking, some checking-in (with friends/family) a bit of exercise, and then something for the evening. I try to stick to the routine pretty strictly, but I’ll also try to throw something “new” in there so I have something to challenge myself and look forward to. Both aspects (routine & newness) seem to be key for my sanity, and I find myself slipping if I miss on either one or the other.
So, for example tonight we made a fish curry with a brand new recipe that we’ve never tried before (it was delish). And for my exercise, I’ve recently started following a 30-day Pilates challenge on YouTube with a lovely English lady who’s quarantined down in Dubai. It’s another thing I look forward to (or dread, depending on how I’m feeling), but it really does help to keep me feel better once I do it.
Paul is doing much the same. In fact he’s way better than me in all this, and is incredibly well-disciplined in his day-to-day. He works every morning without fail, then he breaks up his afternoon between French (he practices daily, plus he takes 1-1 weekly online lessons), guitar (he follows a guy on YouTube and recently started taking online 1-1 lessons with an Argentinian guy who happens to be quarantined up in Toulouse), and exercise (he uses the DownDog Yoga App, which is FREE at the moment, for 30 mins every afternoon).
Plus of course Polly keeps us ALL sane and on-track. If we happen to miss doggie feeding time by more than 10 minutes she’ll stand and stare at us until we get the message. I don’t know how she manages to know what time it is, but she could rival the Atomic Clock for accuracy. And of course the way she stares is both intensely despondent and terribly unnerving. You don’t know what you’ve wrong, but you feel bad…..very, very bad.
And Tomorrow It All Starts Over Again….
So those are my thoughts for the week. This was a bit of a heavy one today, I do realize that, but it was what was on my mind and maybe (just maybe) it struck a cord or helped one or two of you realize that you’re not alone. We all get our ups and downs, and this quarantine, or “shelter in place” thing, whatever you prefer to call it, certainly brings out all of those emotions.
In any case, tomorrow is a whole new day, and anything (well, not quite anything….maybe just a few specific things) could happen. Either way, I’d better get started with my planning for that.
Have you felt more emotional during this time? How are you all coping? If you feel like you want to share, I’m here to listen so do feel free to talk about it in the comments below.