amongst books

amongst books

Friday, May 22, 2020

Ottawa, May 22, 2020 – Trying New Masks, Long-Term Coping Strategies

Today Charles and I went to the grocery store. We wore disposable masks because we were testing them, as we want to be able to carry the masks and hand sanitizer in the future if we need to suddenly put on a mask if physical distancing is not possible. He has a great, experimental attitude about all this. He’ll get us to try things “as an experiment,” and this method seems to help me to cope. Often I focus too much on the permanent, when at this time, it is necessary to focus on the right now.

I found the disposable mask much easier to wear, more breathable and lighter. I had no issues with it at all. I didn’t feel claustrophobic. So the lesson learned, and perhaps this might help others who are having trouble wearing masks: try a different style of mask. Maybe another type will work better for you. It was a huge relief. We will continue to try different styles of masks, when we can get hold of them to see which work.

The other issue with the mask for those of us who have access to only communal laundry facilities is that cloth masks need to be washed after each use. While you can wash by hand, the best way is in the washer with the hot water and soap acting as sterilizer. This increases our time in a communal space and increases our costs. The disposable masks are about one dollar a mask. I’m not sure why we’re seeing people throw them on the street. Perhaps it’s a form of rebellion.

I find it very hard to see people on social media shaming non mask wearers.  Our national public health officer, Dr. Tam reminds us that not everyone is capable of wearing them, especially those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, the D/deaf and those with asthma. We don’t know why someone isn’t wearing a mask.

I have decided that I will unfollow on social media those who are scolding and shaming others at this time. This is a difficult decision. It’s not a punitive measure, it’s something I need to do for my own mental health and anxiety issues. I do understand that a lot of this comes from the fight or flight response that becomes active during crises, and from anxiety over one’s own health, the health of others etc.

If you find yourself lecturing or shaming others on social media, consider rest and repair or tend and befriend responses instead. I try to reach out to friends to check in.
Advice for the Rest of Us, the Google sheet of resources for Ottawa apartment dwellers, transit riders etc is still available, albeit there haven’t been a lot of new resources to add, but it helped me to make the list and to share resources with those who needed them.

My own strategies to help me through the anxiety and helplessness I feel during these unsettling times are as follows:
1. Take care of physical health of self and husband:
food, sleep, cleaning; exercise; sex;
2. Take care of mental health of self and husband:
avoid extra expenses if possible;
avoid social media shamers and others who stress me out through negativity or hysteria;
make fact-based decisions coming from only authorized sources of information, such as government health sites;
limit time on social media
limit time listening to the news;
take walks outside when possible (it’s ok when it’s not);
play music;  
read what I’m able to focus on;
help others;
set reasonable expectations – don’t try to do too much;
avoid activities that cause stress;
be gentle on myself and others.
3. Reach out to others:
mail and e-mail are the most enriching and least stressful modes of communication for me with others, if I can’t meet in person for one-on-one conversations;
working on the podcast helps me, as well as writing notes about books I’m reading and publishing them in various places;
my writing has always been a way to reach out to kindred misfits – I’m not writing as much, but I am writing here and there. this blog helps, for example;
work on community outreach through Bywords/AngelHousePress etc.
4. Develop mindfulness:
live in the present; my guided meditation and fitness classes through Carleton are helping;
notice and appreciate moments of joy.

I am working on all of the above; doesn’t mean I’ll always succeed but I’m doing my best.

With the so-called economy opening up, I do not intend to join in. I feel it is too early and I don’t like that those I care about, disabled friends and immunocompromised friends, for example, are in danger if these opening up measures are premature, and I believe they are. I will continue to avoid most public spaces as much as I can. If I have to enter a space where I am unable to practice safe physical distancing measures, I will wear a mask to protect others.

I’m expecting these strategies and plans to be necessary for the rest of the year, if not longer. I have hope with increased funding for vaccine development that we will eventually be able to move out of our fortresses of solitude, but I am keeping my expectations low, learning to adapt to a Covid-19 environment and finding ways to keep my state of mind calm and rational while still finding meaning and moments of joy. It’s a tall order. It’s not easy, not at all.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Mansplainer published in Queen Mob's Teahouse

Edwina Alien Po', Edgar’s 21st C. homologue, a twin, long gestated in the womb of a ghost has penned this piece of poesie in response to Edgar's the Raven.

She thanks Queen Mob's Teahouse for publishing the poem in Misfit Docs and editors Reb Livingstone and Russell Bennetts.

 Read the poem here.

And listen to Edwina read the Mansplainer here.

 I'm sure Edwina had much fun creating this poem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ottawa, May 20, 2020 Panic Wanks, Blossoms and Mindfulness

My anxiety has increased with the government’s decision to allow more businesses and services to the public to reopen and to open up the parks and loosen restrictions.

I don’t know what to do with these feelings of anxiety. Since March, we’ve been told again and again to not interact with one another and now we’re being told to resume interaction, albeit with caution and still following guidelines. It feels scary to me and sudden. I scan news of spikes of new cases in other countries that have been attempting to open things up again. Then there’s today’s news. New cases in Ottawa: residents at the Shepherds of Good Hope. The panic sets in.

When I’m anxious, I wank more. I can’t focus. I did manage to get outside for a walk yesterday and was heartened to see May in full blossom as it usually is at this time of year. There’s something reassuring about seeing how the natural world is continuing, that it isn’t really affected by all of this.

I think I’m going to have to be stricter with myself about my exercise routine. Today I did both my meditation (twice weekly Zoom appointment) and my stretch and strength class (via Youtube, but normally twice weekly via Zoom; I can add more of the same class via Youtube). I feel still a bit anxious, but that’s the norm, I’m afraid. It’s not over the top however. So maybe I’ll be able to focus?

I miss being carefree. Was I ever carefree? Not sure. But I think I’d like to find a way to be…after all this? I think being carefree is about being in the moment, something that is called “mindfulness.” During my meditation sessions with my tai chi instructor, that is what I’ve been working on since March. Do you meditate? Do you find being in the moment difficult? Is your mind always busy? This is how I’ve always been. But these days, I find I really need to learn mindfulness.

Sex is a form of mindfulness, I guess. Whether it is with others or oneself. I wank by chatting with guys on Whisper or Snapchat (yes, I’m back). I’m not thinking about anything but the back and forth sex talk between us, the way they get turned on when they see my body, the way I feel. But even I can wank only so many hours in a day.

Walking used to be a way for me to live in the present or at least, away from the Internet and social media. But these days being outside is an angsty experience too.

Perhaps you’re a gardener and this helps you be in the moment. Or you’re a knitter or a surfer or a skate boarder. Tell me what you do to stay in the moment and try to take a rest from all of this fucking angst. I’d love to know.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Ottawa, May 15, 2020 Ode to Joy, even during a pandemic

Hello Fresh put two cans of Heineken non-alcoholic beer in our latest meal kit box, and damn if doesn’t taste like the real thing. I like it. Of course, I haven’t had beer in forever. Now I’d like a little sunshine and balcony time please.

I skipped my fitness class, I’ve postponed going to the grocery store until later this weekend. Spending the day responding to correspondence and cocooning with Charles.
Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus is accompanying us on sax and drums.

We’re at home with the luxury of a four-day weekend ahead of us. Ok 3.5 since Friday morning is near gone already. The fake beer is giving me a buzz and I like it.

I’m taking the weekend off from the pandemic. I’m going to forget it exists for a while. I’m not going to break any rules, I’m just going to enjoy the moments I have with my husband and allow myself to feel joy.

I am so sick of feeling like we aren’t supposed to be happy. A friend on FaceBook recently posted that her mental health is the best it’s been in some time, but that she felt guilty about feeling that way or perhaps about expressing it, given the times we’re in. I know what she means.

Look, we all know this pandemic is a terrible thing and it’s going on and on and on. I’m not going to list all the reasons why it’s terrible. I acknowledge the awfulness of living under Covid-19, but I also think it has to be ok to appreciate whatever good comes our way at this time. Today I am grateful for this long weekend with my darling husband, for the delectable breakfasts he makes us, for the music in the background, for the bubbles in this fake beer, for the fact that I wrote “fake bear” at first, which made me smile.

I doubt you need my permission, but here it is anyway:  I give you permission to feel joy. I don’t think your joy makes you a bad person; I don’t think your joy means you don’t care about the grief and suffering of others. It is simply joy. And we fucking need to feel a little joy now and again, don’t we?

and here’s a flash mob doing Ode to Joy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Ottawa, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 – Waking up to the moon and planets

I’m so hot all the time in the bedroom that we often have the window wide open and the curtains as well so that I can feel the cool air. This morning I was woken by the moon, which was still bright and almost whole. I watched it move to the west and noticed several glittering objects, which I realized later were planets. For the next few days, the waning moon will introduce us to several planets, according to this article. We’re getting closer to Jupiter, Mars and Saturn for a bit. More articulate explanation in the aforementioned article.

As I watched the moon and its cronies move out of my line of vision, I thought about how nothing stays the same forever. I’ve been anxious about my period, which is here again after six months gone. I’ve been anxious about the pandemic, which is here now and will likely be here for a while. 

The thing is…all of this will change. I found comfort in watching the moon, its obnoxiously bright belly waking me up at four in the morning. I was glad to see it, but I was also glad when Charles shut the curtains, just before it went westward and out of my sight, so that I could get another hour’s sleep or so. 

The point is that things will be the way they are now possibly for a while, but eventually things change. The planets move further away from us, the moon won't always be the sun’s bright opposite.

Anyway, it gave me comfort to see the moon and the planets, then see them leave. Perhaps this is an odd reaction to the moon, but it’s my reaction at this difficult time.

I hope you are coping. If you have coping strategies, please share them. I’m off to do the dishes and make tomorrow’s coffee.

Current song playing: Neil Young – After the Gold Rush from 1976-03-08 Fukuoka: Acoustic Set

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Ottawa, Sunday, May 10, 2020 Breathing and Bleeding, Priorities, Kindreds

On Friday Charles and I went to the grocery store together. He said he would be my mask buddy, which is a great thing, and one of the reasons why I love him.

Since we both wear glasses, this is one of the challenges of the masks. I had experimented with wearing the mask high on my face while inside and it seemed to work fine.

In the elevator my breathing increased as the panic set in. I worked hard to slow it down, but it didn’t really do so. My heart was racing. We made it outside. It wasn’t long before our glasses started to fog up. The masks had slipped down a bit. I’ll try the soaping up the glasses trick the next time we go out to the grocery store, or we’ll sew in a bendable strip to each mask, which will stop the air from travelling up to the glasses.

It was cold on Friday but I already found the mask made me feel hot. As a woman in my 50s whose temperature is already hot thanks to hormonal changes, I do not do well with added heat. The mask I have is very light and was made by a friend.

In the store, I noticed that many of those without masks did not attempt to stay away from us and give us the necessary amount of distance. Some people even gawked at us. I felt as if we were doing something wrong. We managed to do our whole shop with the masks on.

Once we were outside, I couldn’t keep mine on any longer. I didn’t let my hands go anywhere near my face. I removed it from the loops on the ears behind my head and I refrained from touching my mouth until after I’d washed my hands at home. I have to say, it felt so good to breathe freely without obstruction. I took great big gulps of air.

We put our masks in the wash and have another pair of masks for our trip to the grocery store next Friday. I will keep trying to wear the mask and to make the necessary adjustments. It was difficult, but I do understand the importance of protecting others and I will work on overcoming my claustrophobia so that I can wear the mask. It is only a matter of time before all public spaces will require masks, I believe.

How are you feeling about this opening up of the economy already? I’m sad and annoyed by it. I don’t believe we are ready to do so. I am trying not to panic. But I think this is foolhardy.

In other news: after not having a period since last October, I had the pleasure (sarcastic) of seeing it return on Thursday. The last time this happened, I had a two-week long blood bath. This is not unusual in perimenopause. Despite the myths, many women stay in perimenopause for years and continue to have irregular periods. And after menopause many of the associated symptoms—breast tenderness, heightened emotions, fatigue, etc continue. I found myself in free-floating anxiety mode early Friday morning at about 3am, which is when I typically get anxious. I couldn’t remember my gynecologist’s name. (I looked her up later. )I imagined having such severe bleeding that I would need to go to the hospital. I would have to go alone because they aren’t allowing anyone but the patient at this time. And on it spins. The heightened anxiety is the most serious aspect of the hormonal changes I am experiencing.

I had a polyp removed in July. Before that I was having spotting. I haven’t had the spotting since. I will contact my gynecologist at some point if I keep having these periods, but right now isn’t the time. I am quite tired and slept a lot this weekend so far.

Weekends with Charles are always pleasurable and peaceful. He made us delicious breakfasts. I find comfort in breakfast. I love eggs. And we made paninis for lunch. And we made meals from our meal kit for dinner. I love cooking with Charles. We have fun. It’s our main social activity these days.

I responded to e-mails. I’m enjoying long correspondence conversations with a few friends via e-mail these days and it’s lovely. I will spend half an hour crafting an e-mail to someone. I will even edit it. And I’m learning so much about people through these e-mails.

I’m figuring out what matters to me, changing some of my priorities established before the pandemic. I want to be close to those dear to me, and I don’t want to spend time doing things out of obligation or expectation. I want to run and AngelHousePress to provide meaningful and playful sources of engagement and to promote and support the work of those who create such. I want to continue to work on my own writing to do the above as well. To live a peaceful and fulfilling life with Charles. To indulge my libido and that of others when there’s a good and satisfying way to do so.

I am planning a more solitary life in future, less socializing in groups, which I really have never enjoyed much, more one-on-one time with those dear to me and those I haven’t met yet, but who I find out are kindreds.

What about you? Are you thinking about ways in which your life and priorities may need to change? I’d love to hear.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Ottawa, May 6, 2020, Empathy, Masks, Social Media and Covid-19

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy in general and particularly during Covid-19. I find it difficult to tolerate those without empathy. And nowhere is this lack of empathy more apparent than in the world of social media. It is one of the things about social media I have trouble with: the quick rush to judgement. It’s not that I always believe everyone is kind and means well, but I don’t automatically presume ill of people unless I know them personally or by reputation. Even that gets complicated for me. I may presume I know about someone, but that isn’t a given.

In addition to psychological conditions where people lack empathy, there can also be times when a person’s sense of empathy is overridden when they feel they or a loved one are in jeopardy. The Covid-19 pandemic is such a time for many of us. We are told that we must all work together to flatten the curve. When people are not following guidelines set out by health departments, it is maddening. Why can’t they just do everything necessary to prevent this virus from spreading? Why aren’t they following the guidelines? It is very difficult to understand why someone wouldn’t just follow the guidelines. It is easy to assume that if they aren’t following guidelines, it is because they are uncaring.

See this article by Dr. Julia Shaw in Psychology Today on “fundamental attribution error”: “just because someone is acting in a way that may lead to the death of others who become infected by COVID-19 does not mean they don't care if their actions cause people to die. But our brains naturally jump to that conclusion. We assume that people who act badly, are bad, even in uncertain and complicated situations like a global pandemic.”

I have a high sense of empathy. I’m not sure why. It’s so strong that I often feel physically upset when I hear about harm and injustice to people. But this pandemic is messing with my sense of empathy, and perhaps it is also messing with yours.

My emotions are close to the surface. I found it infuriating recently on social media when a friend wrote that if someone was not wearing a mask when outside, she would stay far away from them because she knew that meant they didn’t give a shit about her.

I wasn’t annoyed that she would stay away from them, and I absolutely thought they should wear a mask if they were able to, but I found the leap to their lack of caring about others to be unfair. I think there are many reasons why people are not wearing masks, including reasons I can’t imagine. I don’t want to automatically assume they aren’t wearing a mask because of a lack of care.

I admit that my annoyance was a personal reaction on my part. I am not wearing a mask; instead I do everything in my power to stay far away from people in grocery stores and any other space where it’s difficult to maintain the necessary distance. While doing this, I also feel anxious and guilty that I am not wearing a mask.

I am highly claustrophobic. In 2009, I was intubated for 14 days in ICU and restrained so that I could not pull out my Central Line and other lines that were monitoring my condition and keeping me alive. I have no memory of this because I had a dangerously high fever and the drugs they were giving me took away my short-term memory; however, my body must remember. For a long time after, I would lie curled up in the fetal position in bed, as if to protect my body. I clenched my jaw shut, and still do this occasionally. To this day I cannot lock the doors of small bathrooms for fear I will get trapped. It is getting better over time, but I am still dealing with claustrophobia.

I have been trying to get myself to wear a mask since we learned that wearing masks might stop people from infecting others. At first when I put it on, I felt faint and my heart started to race. I broke out in a sweat. I had nightmares about it. Despite that, I’ve been trying to get myself to wear one. I am at the point where I can put one on in my apartment and wear it for about maybe five minutes. I’m going to keep trying to wear a mask. If I can keep a mask on for longer, the next hurdle will be to keep it on while taking the elevator, which fills me with great trepidation.

But the other aspect, the main thing I’m writing about here is empathy. We are all feeling threatened. We all have circumstances that others do not understand. When I reacted negatively to my friend, someone I care about deeply, thinking that others are uncaring because they do not wear masks, I wasn’t even thinking about her circumstances. I had forgotten that she lives with an elderly parent. That every time she is close to someone who is not wearing a mask, she must feel she is putting this parent in jeopardy. That her parent will die if exposed. This is a frightening and awful possibility and it is borne out by evidence. Once she explained that to me, and it pains me that she had to explain that to me, I felt terrible. I realized that I had lost my sense of empathy for others because I felt judged as uncaring.

I’m going to try to remember to be empathetic, even with those who seem not to be showing empathy. And I’m going to try to remember that social media is a place where people, including myself, rush to judgement.

References and Resources