I woke up at 4:37 am today. After tossing and turning most of the night, I could not figure out if it was anxiety over the fact that I have to have a tooth extracted today at 10 am….or if it is excitement that I am actually getting to go out and do something different. I can’t believe those words are coming out of my mouth, someone who going to the dentist is right up there with getting a flat tire, or jury duty, or sliding off the road in a snow storm. I am afraid of those things and I dislike them immensely. But here I am, so excited about getting out that even getting a tooth pulled sounds good. What is this crazy quarantining doing to me? What is it doing to everyone?
I am sure you have noticed, as I have, how people around you are reacting. I have read some interesting and enlightening posts on social media expressing our struggles perfectly. Two of my favorites included one from someone I know and one from a stranger. The first one, from someone I know expressed the true struggle this has been for her. She expressed the dissonance lots of us are feeling: we want to do what is right and be safe, yet we so desperately want to get back to normal life. We are torn. We are scared, but we also can’t stand it anymore. The second post was long but worth the read. It was a great reminder that no, we are not in the same boat. We are in very very different boats fighting the same enemy. Some boats are pretty easy and fun. No small kids at home, sudden extra time to hang out at a beautiful home with plenty of funds for good food and Amazon purchases. Much different than the young single parent at home with two special needs children, living paycheck to paycheck (that they aren’t even getting right now) just to pay the rent, living in a busy city with no back yard and no transportation, no family support, no money for enough food or Amazon purchases. Yes, both posts were great reminders that we all have different circumstances, and we all are taking this differently (even differently day to day, or minute to minute). So, as I write this post, please keep in mind that I can only share my own personal trip on my own unique boat which is probably very different than yours.
However different our “boats” are, I am guessing you also may be noticing a few “themes” coming to light as to how some people are dealing with this. I have been paying attention to the comments of others when it comes to how this is affecting their daily habits, their thinking and ultimately, their health. So I have a few thoughts that might be worth sharing. I have noticed lots and lots of joking around food, eating and drinking. Oh and also some funny ones about being stuck at home with a significant other who may be driving you crazy, but since I am no expert on relationships, I am not commenting on that one! However, when it comes to using food and eating, or drinking/addictions, that I do know more about. And I know not everyone is laughing.
There are lots of people who “use” food to feel better in a very “normal” way. “Emotional eating” can fall on a spectrum in a certain way. It really isn’t a big deal to treat yourself with chocolate because it makes you happy. Or, if you had a rough day and your partner wants to take you out for a drink and luxurious meal (again, this may be chicken wings for some of us, lobster and escargot for others). The point is, the food and the eating are part of the treatment for feeling better. Think homemade chicken soup when you are sick. Lots of us can relate to that. When I stayed home from school if I was ill back in the day, my mom would crank open a can of that good ole Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, the kind with the big fat overcooked noodles and maybe three bites of chicken in every can. It didn’t matter, it made me feel better. Today, I make real chicken soup, because I know how to cook (not that mom didn’t but with four kids, Campbells came in handy). Anyway, it still works. Food makes us feel better sometimes. And that is ok. Comfort food, I love it.
Binge eating is not ok. By binge eating, I do not mean the kind of eating people are joking about right now. The jokes tend to be about being “good” all day, following a diet and then turning to cookies, chips, ice cream, pizza all night long. Some people think that is funny. To the “typical dieter” who may diet during the day and lose it at night, this may just be a pattern of eating they have gotten used to. Maybe it doesn’t bother them, maybe they do want to lose weight but they have fallen into this pattern and it hasn’t started to interfere with their life yet emotionally (getting depressed, poor self-esteem, etc). Yes, people think turning to food during a crises is funny. I don’t. Maybe because I know way too many people who actually do get affected in a very big way when they turn to food to feel better. I worry about those people now because this is one of those times where we all need some coping skills. If you have not worked on it in the past or gotten professional help to develop some healthy skills, using food in this way may occur and only add to the stress, not relieve it. That is the problem. When I read one of the posts that was supposed to be funny (and I am sure some people without any disordered eating DID think it was funny), well, it struck me that after all that eating in just a few hours, all you end up with is a tummy ache. The difference is one person can happily go to bed with that tummy ache while another is devastated.
I have noticed there arn’t any jokes about the opposite end of the spectrum: not eating as a means to cope. I don’t think people have concerns about people who diet or starve themselves. Maybe because our (messed up) culture sees restricting food as a “virtue”. I am worried about the people I have known with eating disorders who are going through this. If you are a typical eater, when you feel hungry you don’t like the feeling so you eat lunch, feel better and move on. For others, not eating and feeling empty numbs them. It is a very dangerous way to deal with things, and it is much more complicated than I can even explain or even understand. But it is very important that we don’t ignore children, spouses, relatives or friends who are now suddenly losing weight, skipping meals or not eating. It is extremely important for those who have already been diagnosed with an eating disorder to pay attention and stay connected to support systems.
I have also noticed lots of joking about drinking. Again, some of these are funny to those of us who have some control over how much we drink. I totally relate to the use of wine to connect with people during this time over virtual happy hours and outdoor “social distancing” happy hours, etc. But I also know people who have worked so hard to figure out how to stop drinking because they needed to. This is not an easy time for them. Epecially since lots of the coping skills involve social support systems where people connect in person, whether it be a meeting or church or whatever. Now what? I am guessing we are all learning much more than we ever knew about social meeting apps, Zoom, Facetime, etc to enable us to keep these good things going. At least we all need to be aware of those around us, and try to be supportive as much as possible to enable loved ones to continue on their positive path.
Finally, I have noticed some funny comments about being lazy. Here again, we are all different. One person may be climbing the walls, cleaning every cabinet, rearranging every room, walking miles a day, biking, painting walls, cleaning garages, knitting sweaters, building lego towers, painting portraits, and on and on. Another person my not get out of their pajamas all day. They may walk from the coffee pot to the couch. They may be using this time to catch up on all of their Netflix series. And then go to bed to do it all over again the next day. And sometimes, we can alternate between these two. And I think that is ok.
I wish I had some brilliant advice to help everyone get through this when it comes to eating healthy, being active in a balanced way and coming out of this better than before. The only thing I can think of is to remind yourself that you have never gone through anything like this before, so therefore however you are dealing with it, whatever is getting you through is ok……as long as it is not seriously interfering with your mental or physical health. If you are someone who has had issues with depression, eating disorders, or addictions and you find yourself slipping or struggling to cope, don’t ignore it. Go back to your resources, your support system, your therapist or doctor or whoever it is that helped you before.
If, on the other hand, you are one of the lucky ones who’s boat is pretty simple, then use this time to learn about yourself. If you really don’t have any serious issues with eating or drinking or maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but find yourself ignoring what you are eating, getting out of your routine, drinking a bit more than feels good, then maybe it will be helpful to take back some control. This whole thing has taken a lot from us. It has robbed us of our freedom and fun, family and for some it has taken lives we loved. Now that we have been doing this awhile, maybe it is time to look back at what used to work for us. Did we eat three good meals a day before? Maybe instead of snacking out of stress it is time to do some meal planning to help feel more in control. Maybe you used to go to the gym at lunch time at work, or maybe after work, but you can’t do that right now. Instead, why not take that same time and go for a walk, or do some stretches or dance to some music to let out your energy? Was bedtime 10 pm before because you had to get up for work, and now it is 1 am? And you don’t feel so great the next day? Try getting back to your regular sleep schedule. Maybe controlling the things you actually can control will help.
Or maybe not.
If you just feel like taking this time to do whatever you want, and you are feeling just as happy and just as energetic and just as healthy, that’s ok too. The point is, whatever floats YOUR boat is what is best.
Oh, and wish me luck on my exciting adventure today! I hope you get to do something different today, too. Something more fun than going to the dentist.