Through the Dark Window

These are stressful times on so many levels. Between the pandemic, the election, the news, the divisiveness, the anger, and the economy, it is impossible to bring stress to previous levels. These issues hit me on big and small levels. My income is greatly reduced. I have lost loved ones and seen others get sick. I worry about my family and friends, young and old. I worry about my own health, regularly thinking that I have Covid, even though I have no symptoms. The easy and natural thing to do is to revel, bask, and live in the pain, the darkness, the anger, the despondence, and the ennui. I am fighting these feelings with all my might. I don’t want to live like that. I can’t eliminate the stressors, but I can do my best to be cognizant of my body and emotions and find ways to give myself moments of joy, peace, and relaxation. I also try to create those experiences for people in my life who I love. Here are some of my techniques.

I am staying busy. Along with work projects, I am focusing on volunteer work. I’m starting a new project that I hope will utilize my skills, have a positive impact, and create a cool and important resource. I helped book and run Music in the Park in Three Oaks. Not only did we offer a full season of free concerts, but, due to the pandemic, had to regularly change the schedule. We missed the first week (a 63-piece concert band,) but filled the following 12 weeks with live performances, helping mostly masked and distanced audience members experience the arts and feel pleasure on a weekly basis. The performers were thrilled to have a gig (the only one on the books for most of them.) The audience was appreciative of the talent and the love emanating from the gazebo. Though it was daunting to try and keep the audience safe through distancing and masks, we did it. The police actually called me and asked me to try to make the sure audience complied with public health recommendations. We got through it with great success.

I am in a weekly zoom class to learn theories of psychology so I can offer “do no harm” counseling for my friends and family in need. The class is interesting, and it is a regular reminder that I can take care of myself and help others. Here are a few simple things I employ and recommend. I made a list of things that bring me joy that I can do during the pandemic. I included places to explore outdoors, public art I could visit, food I could consume, shows and movies I could watch, and everything I could think of to do morning, afternoon, or evening. I made a point of listening, often without suggesting an action or solution. Sometimes people just need to vent. I learned a little about “hypnosis” or trying to get friends to relax and associate positive memories with daily prompts. For example, I tried to get a friend to visualize floating in the Dead Sea and to recall that feeling every time he brushed his teeth. Unfortunately, he said that every time he brushes his teeth, he tastes salt. Nevertheless, it’s a technique. I learned a simple way to help people with traumatic memories reduce the pain.

I found ways to entertain and engage people through social media. I post lessons from my cooking mistakes. I post short videos of myself (poorly) dancing alone. I find topics that are not political or angry and give people a chance to dissociate from the constant barrage of anger battering us on social. I encourage people to think about self-care and pleasure.

I hired a couple friends to perform zoom concerts for private online parties. I hope to do this on a monthly basis. It helps the artists make a little money and utilize their talents. It provides respite for the audience. I wish more of my friends would take advantage of my invitations to participate. I love seeing my friends and family in the zoom event, reminding me we are still connected.

I am part of a weekly creative group is so important to my self-care. A group of creative friends meet every Sunday on Zoom and, if we are inclined, share something we create based on a prompt. We take turns giving the group a subject. I usually write something. In fact, this piece was written for my group. I am proud of the thought that went into my weekly writing. I also learned how to make a slide show and to make a short movie with editing. More importantly, it is a weekly way to maintain contact with people who are important and who I could easily neglect.

I work out at least a couple times a week at home. I also cook at home. I think it give health benefits, gives me a useful skill, and challenges me due to my lack of experience. I dance at home. I walk my stairs more than necessary. I take walks. I need to take good care of this body. I’m stuck with it and it took care of me for a long time when I neglected it.

I try to remember to give gratitude. In the psych class, we learned about taking an annoyance and making it a positive. When I get spam on my computer or a robo-call, I think of something that is a gift and offer a silent gratitude. The annoyances become prompts and reminders to give thanks. I have a great life. Life is short and I don’t want to waste any more time living in anger than necessary. Gratitude and inventories of my blessings help me combat those looming demons.

Along the same lines, I pray every night before going to sleep. I have been doing this since I was a child. I always pray that I recognize and utilize my gifts and skills to make the world a better place. Tikkun olam. Repair the world. I want the world to be a better place because I was here. I can’t make a big contribution, but I can make many small efforts.

I often have music playing in my kitchen and, don’t tell anyone, but I sometimes sing along. When I sing, I remind myself that I can breathe deeply. I try to smell things from coffee to body wash to remind myself that I still have my sense of smell. I need to regularly prove to myself that I probably don’t have Covid.

Writing things like this piece is also therapeutic for me. When I’m writing, my mind stays focused. Thinking of things to say is rewarding, especially when I have new thoughts and connections. It feels like I am getting to know myself better, and remembering how I got to where I am makes me feel like I have accomplished some things. Normally, I live in the future. Remembering the past, especially friends and family who are no longer with us, and writing about them, lets me pay tribute to those who should be honored. When I’m done writing, I feel like I am in the present. A lot of my anxiety about the future dissipates, at least for a while.

Finally, I periodically call someone. Sometimes a phone connection can me more healing than a text social media contact. The phone calls are meant to benefit the person on the other end of the phone, but they often help me feel better.

Let’s all take care of ourselves and help others. Once the pandemic is over, we will create new “normal” for ourselves. Hopefully, we will all be better in some way when the darkness passes. That will be part of my new nightly prayers.

I'm a midwesterner who is living this phase of his life in the arts.

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