Something monstrous is staring us in the face, and I don't mean COVID-19. Yes, getting sick is going to be awful, but an even greater number of us may end up sharing another experience: the silent deterioration of isolation.
As someone who really likes solitude, I can attest that the recluse life can be brutal even for introverts. I once lived in a remote swamp for 3 months with only a cell phone that I barely touched, and by the 3rd month, I craved media, strangers, civilization. I really thought I would last longer; and when I think of humanity at large living that way, it scares me. I think we're facing a profound mental health crisis that probably won't be noticed right away, due to more exigent fears over COVID-19 and finances. But I've already noticed an uptick in aggression among strangers, and anxiety, depression and self-sabotaging behaviors among friends. Have you?
There have been countless jokes online from introverts and nerds who say that nothing will change for them. But even people who consider their social life on the thin side probably have outlets they count on. It might be a weekly visit to a comic shop, weekend gaming tournaments, movie nights, or just talking to a favorite barista or coworker. If and when that all goes on hold - the absence will be palpable.
We may or may not wind up staying home in the coming months. I know many of you still believe this will blow over, but you only have to look overseas to understand why clinicians are predicting the worst. So if that comes to pass, here are a few ways we can all stay healthy and connected this spring and maybe summer:
- Catch up on old TV shows and movies you missed. Younger nerds may have missed Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, Firefly; even not-so-young nerds may not have yet seen original Star Trek, classic horror movies or series like Outer Limits.
- Start (or complete) lengthy comic universes like X-Men or Love and Rockets or Strangers in Paradise.
- Organize your collectibles, sort through old comics and DVDs, and figure out what you can toss, sell, swap or donate.
- Launch home projects. YouTube is full of tutorials if you don't know how to operate an electric drill or put up drywall or stencil your fireplace surround or refinish your kitchen cupboards. And there's no better way to improve your kitchen skills.
- Start creative projects. Now's the time for people to jump into the novel, comic book, game or art they've secretly wanted to create but were paralyzed by fear of failure.
- Step into science. Get into astronomy, rocket building, electronics, quantum physics, botany. You can do a lot of these hobbies alone now and then join clubs later if you find you have a passion for them.
- Take online courses. Some have a fee but there are a lot of free or reasonably priced options to enhance your marketability or just learn new skills for the fun of it. The market will recover at some point so if you want to get started investing later, do your homework now.
- Set up virtual parties, reading groups and hobby clubs. I know it's easy to do this with your friends, but you're going to want to see fresh faces at some point so consider creating or joining a more public online event.
- Get in shape. Many of us stuck at home will hear the siren's song of eating ice cream on the sofa every night; take up yoga, pilates or strength training and burn off the chub. Look into online therapy apps too to stay mentally in shape.
- Go outside. Assuming we never reach the point of being literally confined to our homes, I think hiking, biking, climbing and swimming are going to be crucial to feeling vibrant and hopeful. Of course, there's a danger to doing activities alone in desolate areas and it can be challenging to find places away from filthy humanity. I hiked way off trail the other evening into what felt like pristine wilderness and still found a wrapped edible on the ground.
- Finally, create a timetable. Anyone who works from home will tell you how helpful boundaries and demarcations are - where you physically work in your house, the importance of getting dressed and not working in your pajamas, observing consistent start and finish times. As we spend days and nights at home, structured time will be a good way to restore discipline and vitality to life - maybe you get up by 9 am, get online till 10 am, then learn a skill/do work until noon, where you go for a walk, etc. Any kind of structure will help kill the aimlessness that can turn into depression.
Just a few ideas. The future isn't set in stone so we'll all have to roll with any oncoming changes and make the best of wherever we find ourselves. Do your best to stay connected and maybe be more proactive about reaching out than you normally would. We're going to need each other.