The Corona Virus pandemic has led to a worldwide response involving forced home quarantine and isolation. Coupled with the hope for a cure, future uncertainty and possible mortality, the CoVid-19 experience has some resemblance to the experience suffered by someone with ALS. In this post, I’d like to share my experience with what you can do to handle home isolation.
One of the most difficult things to handle as the paralysis of ALS progressed, was the stark realisation that my life would never be the same again. I could no longer go out and do whatever I wanted. By and by, friends stopped visiting as life moved on and the inability to relate the same way dissipated. Home felt like a prison as the inability to move freely cemented into reality.
All these things and more are real for most people with ALS or similar degenerative disease. The same feelings may be arising in you or someone you know that’s new to home isolation.
However, the big difference to keep in mind is that the current home restriction will pass, you have every physical function intact and, therefore, you have a lot more options available.
There is nothing inherently difficult about being at home. In fact, it’s phenomenal because all our things are there. The difficulty is purely novel, temporary and mental. We’ve gone from a particular routine lifestyle to a sudden change in one place.
But as I thought about it, being in one place at home was no different to being in one place at work or a holiday. The only actual difference was that elsewhere my motivation came from a pre-determined source (employer, clients, strangers, schedules). In contrast, at home, I was solely responsible for the direction of my day.
I don’t know about you, but I find being at home extremely motivating. The only attribute that can hold us back is a lack of imagination.
After all, isn’t that why we like weekends, time off and a getaway? Don’t we generally whinge that we want personal time to do all the things daily life bars us from doing? Well, here’s your chance.
The only obstacle you have to enjoy home isolation productively is the mental habit associated with different environments. Get past that, and you’ll flourish.
1. Organise your home for efficiency.
Just like at work where everything has a place and purpose for productive use of time, perhaps you could go through each room sequentially and throw out, donate or sell what you no longer use. Making room by discarding useless things creates space for potential.
One of the first things I did as I started being confined at home with ALS was to organise every room and space. I gave away, donated or sold that which I would no longer be able to use—books, clothing, equipment, etc. Anything I would no longer use would go.
Next, I arranged the furniture for more space and access.
It’s always a surprise to find out how much unwanted and unusable garbage we have around. Clear it out; you don’t need it. Open an eBay account and sell some stuff online for extra cash. Give some to your friends and family if they’ll use it. Donate others to your favourite charity shop. The rest goes in the bin.
A cluttered house is a sign of a cluttered mind.
You will feel much calmer when you live in an organised, uncluttered, clean environment. Your brain won’t expend energy looking for things, and there’s a feeling of possibility with a cleared space.
2. Learn a skill
I wish I had YouTube available before ALS in 2005. Before YouTube, if I wanted to learn a skill, I’d have to go to a class, read a book or order DVDs. The stuff you can learn now via video is astronomical. From basic to advanced, whether it’s cooking a dish, to repairing, music, art, mechanics, school subjects, crafts, marketing, business, emergency preparedness, organising, languages, games—any subject, genre or problem you have has an instruction video for you to follow.
Consequently, I spent considerable time paralysed with ALS over the last decade at home learning new skills via YouTube. Although what I can personally do has to be through a computer, YouTube instructional videos have been instrumental to my success and sanity.
Learning skills on YouTube is beneficial to your state of mind because you’re watching actively to learn and use later. Constantly watching entertainment videos is detrimental to your motivation and productivity because it’s a temporary hit of distraction. Moreover, if you start watching videos of what you wish you could go to, you’re creating an unnecessary sense of need and lack within yourself.
If you learn skills in something you’re interested in by someone you enjoy watching, you’re planting a seed of opportunity and motivation in your mind. Whatever you learn, you can immediately trial and implement. The satisfaction in knowing how to do something new or better is quite a motivating force. Motivation is essential to maintain via focused purpose through usefulness.
You mustn’t allow yourself to slip into sloth.
Remember the law of inertia: an object remains in motion until an outside force acts upon it.
Be very mindful of your choices. What starts as a few animal videos can turn into hours and days of mind-numbing procrastination. Lead by example. If you wouldn’t want your children to waste their time on social media, texting or playing games, then enforce the same rules on yourself.
At some point, you’re going to have to grow up outside the expectation of being told what to do and take full responsibility for your choices and development.
Remember, your home is your sanctuary. It’s the only place where you have complete control over how you spend your time. Make it productive, make it fun, make it count.
3. Find an alternative income Stream.
Whether you were let go due to the mandated closures, unemployed, on leave, or still employed, you may want to consider different options for the future. As we’ve witnessed with this global crisis, many things we believed were secure (like our jobs) have suddenly vanished for an indeterminate length of time. In such circumstances, your ability to adapt is the greatest skill you can own.
My heart imploded when I knew for sure that my hands and speech would never be functional again. After all, my manual and vocal communication skills were two of my most prized strengths. What options are there to be productive, useful or self-sufficient if I don’t have a voice, arms, and legs that work? It seemed like an impenetrable impasse.
However, I have a curious mind that looks for efficient solutions. I try to find efficiency in most things, even if they’ve been constant and unchanged for a while. Although I couldn’t use my hands to do something, someone else could be my hands.
Furthermore, I could use and update my prior skills in website development, business and complementary therapies to adapt to my new reality. Luckily, we live at a time when computers and the internet exist, allowing for vast opportunities limited only by the imagination.
Over the next decade through focused skill-building and adaptation, I completed an Advanced Diploma, Bachelor Degree and built an online business that’s very close to my heart. Currently, I’m studying and learning to trade the financial markets through technical analysis. It’s just another skill in my toolset that may support me in the future while keeping me focused and motivated at home.
As you can tell, I also love to delve into ideas and sharing some potential wisdom through writing. Whether I’ll publish a book down the track or keep to blog articles is entirely irrelevant. As long as I keep writing and feeling that my experience or perspective serves to make your life better, the medium isn’t so important; reaching you is.
However, when it comes to employment, there’s an observation I made many years ago. I noticed the fields of security, military, healthcare, food, transport, repair and utilities (vital services to maintain minimum order in society) will always exist and usually flourish in times of crisis. That is, any profession in those fields that provide essential services will still be needed. So if you’re looking for future security, perhaps looking to train and move into these fields may be an option to research and consider while you have the time at home.
4. Plant some food and herbs
Whether you have a backyard or not, there is always an option to grow plants you can consume. Fruit trees are an excellent investment that will yield returns for decades, as are herbs in pots.
Ever since I’ve had my own backyard, I always end up planting citrus trees, particularly lemons. I’ve also had mandarins, oranges and limes. Considering how expensive they can be, having a free yearly supply is fantastic.
But fruit trees aren’t your only option. How about planting one or two of your favourite vegetables? Potatoes and carrots are straightforward to grow, as are beans and tomatoes (but these require a lattice).
What about herbs for cooking or health?
Do you use garlic, chilli, rosemary, sage? These are extremely easy to grow and don’t require a lot of space. They’re useful for your meals and ailments.
What about peppermint for digestive issues, feverfew for migraines, lemon balm and lavender for relaxation, dandelions (leaves great as a diuretic, roots for your liver), or fennel for digestive upsets and increasing breast milk?.
Have a particular ailment and some space?
How about planting Hawthorn for cardiac health, passion fruit (use the leaves in a tea for anxiety), Chaste Tree (use the berries for hormonal regulation), Ginkgo for circulation, Graviola if you live in sub-tropical climate (a phenomenal plant used for cancer).
There is something extraordinary about growing something to consume. Whether it’s for food or an ailment, I challenge you to produce at least one plant (in a pot or yard) to benefit from. You can choose a favourite cooking spice, medicinal herb or both, but please pick the one you use or need the most and reap the benefits of nature.
This practice is vital to your sense of empowerment because this one task is one less thing you’re reliant on others for. If you’ve never grown anything before, look on YouTube for instructions and remember to have patience in waiting for something to grow.
There’s an old saying: The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago. The second best time is now.
In times of crisis, the infirm, disabled and elderly are the hardest hit. Not only are they in a weakened position, but they are utterly dependent on outside help to survive at a minimum. Think of any skills you may have that can help someone in need or within a charitable organisation.
Can you cook, clean, entertain, nurse, care for, transport, repair, offer advice, man a telephone, or run errands for someone specifically or an organisation?
I can tell you wholeheartedly that no matter what my mind motivated me to do, nothing would’ve come to fruition without the dozens of people that have been my hands, feet and voice over the years. Without volunteers and paid help, I would not be where I am today.
Consider volunteering as a viable option. It’ll benefit you in two ways.
- You’ll get some much-needed fulfilment and appreciation from someone reliant on your existence. Their relationship to their now diminished life is directly proportional to the quality of your service.
- You’ll learn new skills and make new contacts that may benefit you in the future. You never know, you may get such fulfilment from the work that you may even consider the industry as a possible future direction.
There are many places always looking for skilled and willing volunteers to help out during this pandemic
- Cooks or drivers for Meals on Wheels
- Animal shelters and rescue centres
- Telephone support lines for domestic abuse, depression or suicide
- Home care and support services
- Child care, education and minding
- Supply management and transportation
- Hospitals, hospice and care centers
- Emergency services like the SES, Marine Rescue, and Fire Emergency service
- Go to volunteer.com.au to decide an area of interest and organisations near you.
Your options are only limited by your zeal to be of assistance to those in need; particularly the elderly and disabled. Many are alone or circumstantially isolated from their family or friends. Many already struggle to live each day normally, but the pandemic would make their life even harder.
However, let me offer you one piece of advice if you’re going to be a support worker/volunteer in someones home.
Remember, they haven’t invited a stranger coming in to their home and doing things for them by choice. No one wants that. They have someone come in to help because they’re physically or mentally unable to cope. They’re frail, ill, disabled: temporarily or permanently. Always remember that even though you’re there to assist them, you’re still a stranger and a guest in their home. Always give them their rightful dignity, autonomy and agency.
Since you are in effect their physical surrogate, you must keep discovering how people would like things done. Few won’t care, but many will be eternally grateful for someone humble enough to put their ego aside and be willing to assume and replicate the sufferer’s autonomy.
If you’re washing, cleaning or cooking, just ask them:
- Would you like me to just get on with it, or is there a way you’d like it done?
- How did you do it before?
- Is there something, in particular, you would you like done?
- What order would you want me to do this?
To someone in need, the difference between someone who asks and doesn’t is worlds apart. While it’s good enough and appreciated to have any help, it leaves them feeling disconnected to the process and uninspired—particularly if the sufferer has nothing else going on. That kind of service is okay when you’re healthy and capable because you’re busy and motivated by other things.
However, when someone’s life is wholly dependent on external assistance, their only locus of control is their immediate environment. Psychologically it’s a boost to morale if you replicate their prior actions because you’re reminding them and enforcing their autonomy. You are gifting someone their dignity.
There is something quite irritating and demoralising at feeling as if one is a burden to family, friends, carers or society. Especially since we’re not disabled, aged or infirm by choice. Try to remember you too are going to age, become sick or disabled eventually. How would you like to be perceived and treated when you’re at your weakest? With respect and consideration, or as a task to be managed?
Asking someone in need for their guidance and instructions is no different from receiving guidance and instructions at work. That is, wherever you work, even if it’s in the same field, you will have to learn their particular way of doing things. This is no different.
6. Volunteer at a business
The other place many people don’t consider volunteering for, is at their current job or another place of employment.
Let’s assume you were let go because your employer couldn’t afford you due to a drop in business. Perhaps they’re still open and operational. If possible, why not volunteer to help out if you enjoyed working there and your boss was good to you. You may have had to apply for social security anyway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working if it’s possible.
Perhaps you could volunteer for another industry that may be struggling even if they have enough paid employees. You may learn new skills, make new contacts and have direct experience in discovering whether this new field is something you’d like to do in the future.
Often, we become entranced by our habits. We’ll only work for a business if we’re paid. Yet, this attitude is extremely limiting. You’re missing out on other advantages over a paycheque. However, in essence, it’s no different to volunteering for a charity or service. You may choose to be there a few hours a day to a week and then volunteer elsewhere. Again, you’re only limited by your imagination.
Do what others won’t, to get the results others vie for.
I was a welder in my youth, and often, there would be more welders than work. However, I would offer what no one else would: a free trial.
If there was a particular company or project I really wanted to work on, I would offer my skills for one or two days for free. In that time, they could see if I was someone they’d want on their payroll, and I would get to determine if they were a company I’d want to work for.
8 times out of 10, the supervisor would be so impressed by the initiative, humility and skill that they would hire me after the trial. If they couldn’t hire me, they would eventually call me or recommend me to another company. Of course, there would be trials where nothing happened but that’s fine too. The trial experience is a numbers game.
Consider if you were an employer and someone turned up not asking for a job but offering their service for free in a time of crisis. Would you remember that person and try to help them in the future?
I would. I think you would too.
Go get it!
These six suggestions are a good start to keep you motivated, productive and sane during home isolation. They’ve been instrumental to my psychological health before and after the spectre of ALS. If I can survive and thrive while being confined to my home for ten years while becoming paralysed, you can outdo me 100 times more if you just start, remain disciplined and keep going.
Remember inertia. It’s easier to keep going if you don’t allow yourself to sloth around. Small, incremental, but useful and productive tasks every day is the way to go.
- Get up in the morning and get dressed as if you were going to work.
- Make your home your workplace and maintain discipline.
- Don’t allow yourself to do anything during “work hours” that you wouldn’t do at work: no texting, no social media, no lazying around.
- Have the personal pride to be as responsible to yourself as you would for a paycheque.
I know it’s initially challenging to go from being told what to do, to being self-directing. But fundamentally, this is only a problem of perspective and habit.
Change your attitude towards self-directed tasks, repeat them diligently, and they’ll become a habit.
Stay safe. Stay rational. Remember to look up and forward.
Also published on Medium.