Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you. ~Roger Ebert
For two weeks, I ignored my daily planner. Despite its bright hard-to-miss orange hardback cover, my quarterly planner sat in the upper right-hand corner of my desk, undisturbed.
During those two weeks, the first weeks of COVID-19 “Shelter-In-Place” I’d stack papers or books on top of it; but I knew it still was there, the orange spine peeking out from under a manila file folder labeled “Current Tax Year.”
There was a sense of dread and a little bit of guilt, looking at it.
Last week, on April 1st, during the third week of shelter-in-place, I finally got the nerve to open it. The pages were clean and stiff, absent of doodles and notations in the margin. There were 14 pages where there was nothing listed under “Tasks” or “Priorities” or “Morning Review.”
I flipped through the pages, reading a few of the entries under “Schedule”:
3/18: Nominating Committee Meeting
3/24: D.tech baseball game
3/26 – 3/29: Denver with Kev: college visits: CU-Boulder, U of Denver, Colorado State; (surprise Kev with playlist)
3/31: Hair Appointment
4/1: Leave for London and Paris with C – Yay!
I took my trusty red Flair pen and lined out each day with a big “X” and scribbled “Shelter in Place” on each of those pages, disappointed that none of those activities had happened; to make it worse: the governor had announced shelter-in-place would continue until May 3rd.
I sat at my desk and closed my eyes.
The first week of shelter-in-place went by quickly: My husband set up his laptop and three large computer monitors in the “boy cave” and started working from home. My older son acclimated quickly to remote learning, and my younger son required a little more effort. I continued my routine of getting up early, writing, and then moving on to take care of the kids, the dog, and the house. Everything felt normal.
By the time we moved into the second week, we were all getting cranky: the kids missed their friends, my husband grew tired of me nagging my younger son with his schoolwork. I craved my daily workout at the Pilates studio and its supportive community.
I had started to withdraw the first week, finding solace in reading and enjoying some downtime, but by the end of week two, I began binge-watching Netflix, struggled to keep my younger son on task with school, and started avoiding my planner. Each day felt like groundhog day: get up, shower, dress, and face another day trapped at home. There was nothing to plan, and I missed the peace of the house, something I need to write.
When I walked the dog, making sure to keep 6 feet away, people started saying, “Welcome to the new normal.”
The new normal?
People stocking up on toilet paper, hoarding antibacterial wipes, and wiping grocery store shelves – this is the “new normal”?
Spending spring break at home, unable to hang out with friends, attend Senior prom, and the possible cancellation of 8th grade and High School graduations canceled – this is the “new normal”?
Local stores had sold out of hand sanitizer, but a local distiller of gin and vodka started producing it – this is the “new normal”?
Waiting in line to enter the supermarket, the closure of all the local stores, salons, and gyms – this is the “new normal?”
Order coffee or food from Starbucks or a local restaurant and waiting at a locked door to pick up – this is the “new normal?”
Waking up 60 minutes later than I usually do, sitting on the sofa and binge-watching Netflix for two hours before dragging myself into the shower and dressing in yoga pants and a comfy shirt – this is the “new normal”?
On April 1st, as I hovered over my younger son to make sure his schoolwork got done – while resisting the urge to plop down on the sofa to scroll social media and create memes – I felt like I hit bottom.
I went into my office, grabbed my planner, and opened it. I flipped to March 17th and began to strike out each day with a big red “X’, as I did so, “grief” popped into my mind. Had I been going through the phases of grief?
I pondered for a moment and then googled “stages of grief,” up popped: Denial, Anger, Isolation, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
The puzzle pieces fit into place! Then I texted my friend, Ilana, an Advanced Certified Grief Recovery Specialist; she had texted me the day before to see if I’d like virtual coffee; I was curious to see what she had to say.
Recognizing the reason behind my discomfort, I put on my coaching hat and thought, “What is it that I need right now?” – I needed to feel centered and grounded.
I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote out a few questions:
What am I grateful for today?
What is one good thing that happened yesterday?
What did I do/accomplish yesterday that I want to acknowledge myself?
What is one thing I want to accomplish today?
Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
How will I take care of myself today?
Writing out answers to those questions and completing one task – using my planner again – got me back on track, and, as I answered each question, I felt like I was more in control; acceptance of this “new normal” began to take shape.
I have been answering the same questions for six days and continue to use my planner each day. I can’t help but look at the weather report for London and Paris (70 degrees and sunny), while Burlingame is rainy and 53 degrees. But while the rain comes down outside, I am relieved that I am no longer feeling like a ship without a rudder; instead, I have direction, I am present, and have reached the last stage of grief: acceptance.