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Bridge over troubled waters

By Cherie Binns
Bridge-Over-Troubled-Water_1.jpeg“All things tend toward decay. Flowers wilt, fires smolder and die. Even stars collapse on themselves.” 
-- Steve Pable

What the above quote tells us is that things will break down, become unusable, die if not properly tended. We understand that when it comes to maintenance of our cars and homes, weeding and mulching our gardens, watering our houseplants. But what about us? How are we tending ourselves so our spirits don’t wither and die and lose their usefulness?

I was on disability for years before being able to go back to work on a part-time basis working from home with some occasional travel. When I got into the routine of productivity, I found that I “awakened” to more energy, greater ability to solve problems, and seriously improved mood and joy in what I was doing. We all need to feel necessary and appreciated. That doesn’t just “happen” to us without us taking some steps for that to take place.

In the last weeks of being home mandatorily, I have to admit I have relaxed in my routines. I do not own a pair of sweats so I still dressed in slacks and skirts as I would have to do my work day at home for all of a couple of weeks. Then I began to relax. I started eating breakfast in my pajamas and robe, then moved to the computer to check emails without getting dressed. That naturally transitioned to playing my “daily challenge” games to “keep me mentally sharp.” It wasn’t long before I realized that I was not getting dressed to start my real day until mid- to late-morning and when I did get dressed, it was often jeans and a sweater rather than “business casual.” The contacts didn’t get in, the makeup did not get applied, skin care went by the wayside. Exercise routines disappeared. I ate when I thought about food and not always in a prepared meal with my husband. And my mood darkened. After a week or so of this, I began to think that I was in danger of slipping into a clinical depression (something I have not experienced in many years since getting back into the work force).

Last evening, as I watched 60 Minutes, a segment was run about the potential of a mental health crisis pandemic following the COVID-19 crisis. The psychologist who was being interviewed said, “We, as humans, need routine!” He went on to say that we have developed routines to normalize and optimize our days from our morning rituals of hygiene, dressing, eating, carpooling, child care, office or vocational chores. As we return home at the end of the day we catch up on email and other communications, reconnect with friends and family, eat a meal together, share a game or show, and go to bed at a set time to start all over the next morning, and we honor the routines that keep us productive and healthy.

I realized that, for my household of two, those routines have totally relaxed. We sometimes take cues from each other. If one sleeps late, the other might not get up and dressed according to past practice. If one chooses to eat in front of the TV or computer, the other might not eat at all or the food consumed might not be as well balanced and healthy. If one doesn’t invite the other to go for a walk or do an exercise routine, the other might sit in front of the screen all day in virtual social isolation when real communication is present under that roof. We are easily lulled into letting go of routines but in so doing, we can also let some of our reality and self-care slip and we begin to feel less well, not as important, unneeded, maybe even less valued.

Only you or I can identify what routines have been let go, evaluate whether they are appropriate for this time or not, and make the changes that help to get us back on track towards greater productivity and an improved sense of well-being. For me that means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and not being too relaxed about that. It means I get up, dressed and ready for work each day. It means continuing to eat three well balanced meals, getting regular exercise, taking my medication on a schedule. It means finding time every day to take stock of my body, soul, and spirit and see if any of them is uncomfortable or needs tending. It means adopting a real attitude of honesty with myself and those who are important to me as to what I need, what I may see that they are missing and how I might help me or them get back to what is needed.

We all have full-time jobs at this moment in time. A pandemic is a great equalizer where that is concerned. We all have a responsibility to self-evaluate and self-police so as not to move towards decay. We all have the responsibility to keep those we love and care about from descending into that state of decay as well so as to stave off a mental health pandemic that may follow this. We each have a purpose. I had lost sight of mine briefly and have found it again. What is yours and what do you need to follow it?