No, Social Isolating is Not Like Jail

I was up with the dogs this morning, letting my wife sleep as long as possible before she has to go into her shift at the hospital. She’s been put on duty to stand outside the elevator in a modified hazmat suit and take every visitor’s temperature who is coming into the respiratory unit and have them sign in and out. I was watching TV and heard multiple people complain that the social isolation they’ve experienced over the last four or five days is akin to jail.

Fuck off, no it’s not.

I went to jail for six months in early 2014. I was in county jail, not state prison, and I was in a minimum security pod under protective custody — in Maine. I don’t believe jail gets much more mild than that, and I’ll still take social isolation any day. The drama queens and hyperbole spewers need to chill out and recognize they’re in for a long ride.

In jail, at least when you get there, you have your underwear taken from you. Until you buy some from the commissary, which can take more than a week after you arrive, you’ve just got the thick, rough fabric of the jail pants rubbing against your parts.

You also, at most, only get to change your clothes every two days. You can change your underwear, once you get it, every day, but the uniforms are cycled in and out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursdays, they’ll wash your whites.

In jail, you get your meals when they say (6 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in my case) and while you don’t have to eat what they provide, they aren’t giving you a menu to choose. I stopped eating meat when I was there because I couldn’t identify it and heard horrible rumors about the low standards by which food for incarcerated people had to meet. I actually mostly survived off junk food and oranges.

In jail, basically every day is the same. Time takes on a different cadence. It’s surreal. Even when people come visit, it’s not like they’re the same people because their lives continue yet yours is same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

A book cart came around in jail twice a week with a very poor selection. Thankfully, I was able to get books sent to me as long as they came direct from Amazon. But that’s because I had the money to do it. Most guys don’t. There’s also only about a 14-inch TV that got about 12 channels. Once I was there long enough and got tenure I instituted a system for picking shows based on seniority, but in most pods I was told it was based on muscle. And I still had to watch 4 hours of country music videos every day which was like torture. I still can’t hear Marin Morris sing “My Church” without having flashbacks.

I wrote two books in jail. Wrote. No access to computers. Or pens. Or pencils of a proper length. While in jail, I estimate I wrote 500,000 to 600,000 words. All with those pencils that you score mini golf with that are one-third normal size and have no erasers.

In jail, you sleep on a mat similar to the ones you used to do push-ups and curls on in gym class, except even thinner. You don’t have a pillow. It’s lights out at 11 p.m., but the lights never go fully out, and a guard does a headcount every 90 minutes, opening and slamming a large metal door, waking you up ever damn time.

burnt finger

But, perhaps the biggest difference I’ve experienced in this social isolation that is not like jail is an injury I sustained yesterday. I burned the tip of my left middle finger and it’s now got a giant blister, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. In jail, there’s no access to any flames or heating elements (although I learned if you take a staple from a magazine binding and plug each end into a light socket, you can create a circuit that is capable of creating enough heat to light a cigarette) of any kind. How did I mess up my finger? By touching the top of the Crème brûlée I was making before the sugar cooled off after firing.

Yeah, social isolation is nothing like jail.

 

As Prepared as I’m Ever Going to Be

I finally made it to the grocery store this morning. I usually don’t do the shopping because I get everything wrong. (Apparently salted butter is a good thing. I figured unsalted was better.) But, with my daughter home from college and my son home from high school, I’m making their breakfast and lunches.

While my wife knows how to cook, I don’t, so I rely far more on frozen food. When she did her end-of-the-world shopping over the weekend, she missed a lot of frozen stuff because she doesn’t cook that way. So I decided to hit the grocery store at 6:30 a.m. because I was up and figured they’d stocked the shelves overnight.

It really wasn’t that bad. They seem to be phasing out a lot of the fresh produce and the toilet paper and paper towels were still gone — although there were plenty of tissues. The place was still very picked over and they were in desperate need of a Gatorade shipment, but I feel much better about my ability to feed my children.

I’d guess in a regular week, we probably spend around $200 on food for us and the pets. In the last week, by my numbers, we’ve spent about $700, but I don’t feel like we’ve been hoarding compared to some people’s carts I’ve seen today. Seriously…do you really need 6 cases of water and 12 full-size frozen pizzas? I feel like we have enough food, medicine and supplies for 3-4 weeks of comfortable living, maybe even more. As long as we’re not buying this much every week, it’s not hoarding…it’s preparing.

I see a lot of people talking about the hype of what’s coming and denouncing how people are preparing, but we’re in strange days. Strange days, indeed. It’s like a tsunami is coming. There’s a giant wave somewhere out there, and we’ve been given time to prepare and we’re just waiting for this wall of destruction to hit us. It’s hoarding right now and it’s hype right now because we’re probably just at the beginning. I hope our actions leave those people who complain about everything to say, “We told you it wasn’t going to be bad” when it’s all said and done. That’ll be a win for all of us.

My book, which has been doing well when it comes being purchased by libraries, has obviously stalled. When every library is closing, there’s really no point in getting new books. I’m assuming that most new books, like most movies, are being put on hold, so hopefully it picks back up when this whole thing subsides, but even if those sales are over, I’m quite pleased. I can confirm over 200 libraries have it, but I know it’s far more based on sales numbers. At some point in the next week or two I’ll post a list of where they are.

Ironically, I’ve had a few clients offer me more work than usual. Since the world seems to be headed toward a standstill, they want to produce more content for their websites and blogs to keep their clients engaged. It makes sense and reminds me of the old adage that even in great times of crisis, including economic crisis, there’s always somebody making more money. Wish I’d purchased a bunch of stock in a toilet paper company about three weeks ago.

While my daughter’s college is going online, something that they were well prepared for since some of their classes have been online for years, I’m curious to see how my son’s school system handles the transition. I have a feeling that they are testing it over the next two weeks to see if they can pull it off for the rest of the year. That’s a decision I wouldn’t want to have to make.

Years ago, when I was on my City Council, I really hated making hard decisions that were going to hurt people. We’d get requests for tax abatements (people wanting us to forgive their tax situation) and while there were several councilors who had no problem saying no, I always did. Yes, these people often made more decisions with their money, and you do have to treat everyone equal, but I equally think everyone deserves a second chance. I also didn’t like how, at budget time, we had X amount of dollars to give away in public charity, but the number of charities we heard requests from far outstripped the money we had to give. How do you pick between Little League, A Social Club for the Elderly and a Book Program for Poor Kids? You’re hurting people while you’re helping others. I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

Now there are a lot of people in positions of power who have to make tough decisions like they never have before. I’m also glad I’m not running a film festival or magazine anymore. I don’t want the responsibility of making decisions that will deeply effect other people’s lives. I thought that made me powerful in the past, but I now recognize I just wanted control in my own life, not power over others. I would have made a great cult leader 10 years ago, but now I’d be a better Thoreau living on Walden Pond.

You think those Doomsday Preppers are having a giant case of “Told you so!” from their unground bunkers? To them, I say, “Good on ya.” You were right, we were wrong.

If you’re super bored and have never heard me on a podcast, it seems like a bunch that I recorded (including one from November I totally forgot about) have just been published and you can find them on my appearances and interviews page.

I’ll wrap this up. I don’t know if my babbling is a good read or it’s just more me communicating things I’m thinking and needing to know someone is reading them. Since most of us are good at this digital communication and isolating thing, make sure to stay in touch with those extroverts who are probably going through withdrawals since all the bars are going to be closed this St. Patrick’s Day and view weeks at home as a prison sentence. We’ll probably be the mentally prepared ones and the healthier ones over the next few weeks. Their world is radically changing.

Oddly Enough, the Anxiety is Lifting, and I Think it May be Because of COVID-19

With the exception of a snarky photo I posted, I’ve written how I’ve been feeling anxious over the last few weeks, but how I knew it had very little, if anything to do with COVID-19, which I’m now using in writing, because I found out it stood for Coronavirus Disease 2019, which sounds way more official.

My last bit of anxiety was last Thursday night, when my wife came home from work and said that she heard we might want to buy a bit of extra toilet paper. She wasn’t really phased with the hype because she works at a doctor’s office and the doctor she trusts the most told her not to worry about it too much last week. Most people who visit that office have a doomsday story to tell even in the best of times, and she doesn’t follow a lot of news, so she didn’t understand the shift in a lot of people’s demeanor from “this is nothing” to “this is a very big deal” when, within minutes, the President made his first nationwide address and the NBA cancelled its season.

So she went out and purchased the toilet paper and came back telling me that she couldn’t believe how crazy things were in public. I tried to explain to her that the tone of America changed hugely in the last 24 hours, but she didn’t understand it and I actually said, “You don’t get how serious this is to everybody now.” I don’t know why, but it’s like my anxiety lifted after that.

On Friday, around lunch, she called and was audibly shaken. That same doctor who said it wouldn’t be a big deal a week earlier had changed his tune. He started talking worst case scenarios, both in Maine and the United States and the kind of lives we could potentially need to live in the next month or two, and it was bleak. It really scared the hell out of my wife. She said she’d handle grocery shopping after work but I should go buy enough pet food for a few weeks.

By that point, the grocery store was pretty empty of the large sized bags that when you have three dogs and three cats, you need to buy. So I went to the fancier pet store and paid way too much ($130) for a month’s supply of dog food, cat food, kitty litter and a few dog treats. At least if we have to resort to cannibalism, we can start with our well-fed pets.

She got home from the grocery store that night $300 lighter. What’s actually kind of funny is that we already had a month’s worth of food in the house. Her dad didn’t have a lot when he was little, so when he had a family and could finally afford it, he kept their house well-stocked and she’s always done that. But now, we have even more, and I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry although I can tell I’m going to lose my taste for Kraft Mac and Cheese if this thing goes on too long.

Since she works in a respiratory doctor’s office next door to a hospital, she’s not going to have to worry about being put off work. Even if normal patients with things like asthma and COPD stop coming in, they expect to be very busy as COVID-19 testing kits become available.

She’ll spend her days at work, my daughter’s college has gone online for the rest of the semester and today, my son’s school district called things off for at least two weeks. I have a feeling life is going to seem very, very different come Monday and its only going to get weirder as the days go on.

Ironically, I feel like I’m going to be the least-effected person I know next to my retired parents. I’ve been working from home for the last five years and my workflow doesn’t show signs that it’s going to be altered very much. Maybe that’s why my anxiety doesn’t feel as strong. For most of my readership, we’re introverted, anxiety-ridden, mentally ill, self-imposed shut-ins anyway…now the other half gets to see how we live. We’re more prepared for this than anybody! While the numbers of those who may get infected is certainly scary, I think a lot of anxiety out there is about people’s lives being disrupted. Most of the people I talk to on here? I think our lives are among the least shaken. Funny how things work out.

I can’t really say anything about COVID-19 that hasn’t already been said by that kindly gray-haired doctor who seems to be on every TV channel simultaneously. These are times when people usually step up to the challenge. Take care of each other and don’t forget the joy in life like those Italian people signing on their balconies with each other who are in quarantine. That’s true community.

And yes, I will admit that a week ago, I wasn’t taking this as seriously, like many weren’t.

I have a coping mechanism through getting through hard times aside from just detaching. It’s reframing. Try to look at these times not as scary, but interesting.

We’ve heard about these kinds of things in other places, in other times, but never thought they would happen to us, like we were too evolved with our technology and could put one over on Mother Nature. We don’t know what happens next, but we do know we’re living through history.

Whether it was 9/11, the Challenger exploding, or JFK being shot, we remember where we were when pivotal moments in history happen. This is one of those moments. Write down your thoughts, record what is happening so those after you can feel what it’s like to experience whatever we’re about to go through. Most of us live our lives with our heads down, going day-to-day with little variation. We can’t stop things like this from happening, but we can observe with fascination. Things may not be so bad, or they may get very, very bad. But we’re all about to have a unique, yet shared experience.

I hate to say this because it makes me sound more mentally ill than I am, but I think my anxiety may have been jolted by the adrenaline that things are very spontaneous and unknown right now. It’s got to be a chemical reaction and I may be singing a different tune in a few days, but for now, I have supplies, I have my family, I have multiple means of getting information. I’m ready for what’s next. Try to keep it as positive as possible.

No, It’s Not The Coronavirus That’s Making Me Depressed

The thing that sucks about heading toward a depressive/anxiety episode, as my body is telling me that I’m doing is that there is very little I can do to stop it. It’s just part of the deal with bipolar disorder. I can call the doctor and ask them to up my meds, which I may do in the coming days, provided they don’t demand an office visit. I refuse to pay $152 for something they can just do over the phone. When they insist, I usually just tell them “Never mind, I’ll try to get by” and then I get my way.

I have to make sure that I’m also not helping along some self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t want to feel shitty and I have to constantly make sure that I’m not overblowing it. My grandmother left me scarred as far as knowing when I’m actually sick or not, so I constantly have to assess the situation and make sure I’m not telling myself that I’m better or worse than I actually am. It’s a little easier with a physical ailment, especially if it’s bleeding, but with a mental issue, I have to double-check that I’m being honest with myself.

One of the slightly annoying things is that I don’t feel like I have the manic upswings I once did. If I have to have the lows, the trade-off should be the highs that I experienced when I was younger. Maybe it’s a good thing they don’t happen now that I think about it.

I’m off to see my therapist in about an hour. I only visit her about once every three weeks now, but I’m going to suggest that we make the next appointment a little sooner. I really hope she doesn’t ask me what my mother and wife have: “This doesn’t have to do with being scared about the Coronavirus does it?”

I wrote about it last week and may have dismissed it a little more than I should have, but no, it’s nothing to do with that. I do think if Tom Hanks dies from it, we should rename it Tom Hanks’ Disease, like we have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Maybe that’s morbid. No, that’s definitely morbid. The thing that hit me last night was that my uncle who died in late January has no idea that any of this happened. I don’t think his death has actually hit me yet. Maybe it won’t.

Mother Nature can be a bitch, but I think it’s important that humans are reminded now and then that we don’t have the power we think we do. We still can’t control the weather, nor natural disasters and we still can’t control pandemics. The world has had its share of volcanic eruptions that destroy the ecosystem or floods and fires that wipe out huge swaths of land. We’ve seen hurricanes and tsunamis take hundreds and thousands of lives and yes, there have been many diseases and plagues that took the lives of even more.

All that said, the human animal is resilient. We’ve gone 200,000 years and we’re going to go a lot more. In the coming days, you’re probably going to hear a lot more negative news and a ton of new cases, which is going to cause some people to have fatalistic, “the sky is falling” attitudes. To this, I say, “I don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

It’s interesting how people who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety think it works. When most people hear depression, they think sadness and when they hear anxiety they think scared. While I do get helpings of each, it’s more about a physical and mental paralysis with me. I physically feel both a tightness and a sense of detachment from my body and mind. For those who have smoked marijuana, it’s a little similar to that high. I just can’t operate at normal speed as I feel impaired.

Last year, I had a horrible bout of this, but I don’t see this one being even half as bad. I think what may have made it worse last year was that I didn’t recognize it soon enough and get the necessary rest to help move things along. I’m not going to make that mistake this time. I’ve cleared a bunch of my work for the next couple weeks and aside from a major radio show this weekend (if you’ve got Sirius XM, I’ll be on Sunday at 6 on Channel 131) I’m stepping back from marketing the book.

Anyway, I think I just needed to get this babbling out of my system before I see my therapist. I hope everyone has a good day. Wash your hands.