Caregiving in the Time of CoVid-19, #12: The Developmental Stages of Social Distancing

As a lifelong educator, I tend to consider challenges, be they learning or life-related, by observing the developmental stages that people pass through. When I think about family issues, learning problems, unusual challenges, or ongoing predicaments I deconstruct the steps needed to address an issue, learn about it, and, if necessary develop coping skills. Most of us move through stages as we solve problems, and learning how to solve them is personal caregiving.

peony social distancing stagesNot surprisingly, I am discovering that my life during this period of CoVid-19 social distancing appears to be going through stages, There are challenges, fears, good times, periods of sadness, ups, downs, and much more. I am moving through them right now, as my family is on day 17 of this ongoing stay-at-home adventure. (Note: We started earlier than most people because a person trained in epidemiology is a part of my household).

 Stage  #1 — Puzzlement
The first few days were filled with curiosity and surprise as I asked questions about how I might deal with staying at home all the time with only a few exceptions for groceries and pharmacy needs. I figured out what I wanted to do to protect myself when I did go to the grocery store, and I had no idea how long the social distancing endeavor would go on. I understood the concept of flattening the curve. Things were changing fast, though, and my puzzlement lasted for several days.

Stage #2 — I Can Do This
As we settled into our social distancing routines — meals, music, exercise, reading,  projects around the house, and time spent connecting with others, my attitude morphed into a period of certainty, and so, apparently, did the attitudes of many of my friends. I went to the grocery store a couple of times a week, learned how to make my own bleach wipes, read a lot, exercised, and in general thought about the strange time that we all were experiencing. My parents were settled and as protected as possible in their assisted living community, and the amazing staff ensured that I was able to FaceTime with them. My church went online. We can do this, I thought optimistically, even if it takes three or four weeks. Like many of my friends, I shared a bit about my life on Facebook. I was feeling quite good, even if we had to continue for more than a few weeks. And then, after nearly a week I wasn’t feeling so good.

Stage #3 — Anxiety and Grief
I woke up one morning, around day 11, with extreme anxiety feeling tearful and a bit panicky. Suddenly I was asking myself a lot of “What ifs and what abouts?” What about my elderly parents, my physician daughter (specialty — lungs!), whose baby sitter couldn’t come, the possibility of getting sick, the groceries that I did not thoroughly wipe down? I thought about the dozens of kids who were missing school, some with no graduation (Is there anything more important for a high school senior than the last months of school and graduation?) Oh, and what about the country? And my retirement investments?  This period lasted less than a week, and it was tough, but things began to improve — gradually, especially as I discovered that I wasn’t the only one moving through this stage.

Stage #4 –Acceptance, Kind of
While my anxiety is still strong at times these periods become shorter and shorter, I am growing stronger, beginning to focus on the things that I can control and set aside the things I can’t. I do not panic when one of my sojourns back to stage #3’s grief occurs. Music has helped me a lot — listening to performances by friends Sara and Matt, by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to symphony orchestras, and even the Metropolitan Opera. I am starting to sew masks. And as I’ve calmed down I’ve made some rules for myself:

      • Help others and sew masks
      • Try not to read coronavirus news stories after 8:00 in the evening.
      • Do not watch, under any circumstances, the White House daily briefings.
      • Focus on enjoyable evening meals.
      • Practice the piano and listen to music.
      • Enjoy my yard.
      • Stop and say the Serenity Pary — often
      • Read
      • Exercise
      • Stay connected with friends and family.
      • Take it day by day.

So most of the time I am accepting of the challenges we face today, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

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