PART 1 – Life in Isolation

Lock-down. We’re finally here.

This is my twelfth day of self-imposed isolation (I’m asthmatic, so my husband and I weren’t taking any chances) and things are pretty normal for me. Okay, so, food shortages aren’t normal, but we’ve managed fine with our local farm shop taking online deliveries. Everything else, is pretty normal.

Managing my chronic illnesses, including generalised anxiety, means I have to pace. A lot. I can only really get into town twice a week, sometimes three times, if I really have to. But it takes a huge toll on my energy to be around people and the general busyness of the city. I’m happiest when at home, working away in my studio, with a mug of tea and a good book for my breaks. I make the point of going for a daily walk to stretch my legs, and it’s really the only exercise I can regularly do without causing additional damage (I have hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, so no Joe Wicks or Yoga with Adrienne for me!) But getting out into nature also does wonders for my busy and restless mind.

So not much has really changed in my life, even with the lock-down restrictions. If anything I’m talking to friends and colleagues more often, now that everyone else has more time. My days are now filled with writing and tea as they were, but peppered with video calls as we grapple with our newly shaped daily work, and brainstorm how to adapt and move forward in this crisis.  There’s been a real sense of solidarity, and though times are horrendous and strange, there’s plenty of laughter and positive thinking, which is wonderful. We are in this together.

So how do you stay sane, when you’re used to your daily commute (and favourite podcast), your designated break time, and burning the candle at both ends? For many of us, time is about to distort. What works in a busy office environment may no longer work at home – particularly for those whose jobs are no longer functioning, who cannot work from home, and also those who are parents, working full-time from home whilst trying to also entertain and educate their kids (you have my fullest sympathy – you are total stars).

You might find (and I can’t make any promises) that you are more productive in less time. That’s a tough one to get your head around for many who are used to units of time being a measure of productivity and value in the workplace. But generally speaking, there are much less distractions when you are at home, less interruptions (*see above about parents – true heroes) and more focus. You will start to hear your body’s natural rhythm, and for once, you have the power to respond.

When we shape our day around responding to our body, it can look very different. Some people are up and at ‘em at 6am (who are these people?) ready to take on the day after a punchy 5K run. They finish their work by 4pm, and have the evening stretching out ahead of them. (I wish I was like this!) Others, like my husband, will diligently follow the 9-6pm office hours with an hour for lunch. I think these people will soon burn out. There’s a very palpable pressure in office environments to be industrious about one’s time – retail is much the same. But some people may find they shift towards a pattern that better suits them.

On any given day I can be at my desk by 9.30am, feeling spry, and writing lists of plans for the week’s work. Other days and I’ll start after a nice long morning walk and a proper brunch. So 11am-12pm. I might work until 5pm or 8pm – whatever suits.

What’s important is I listen to my body. If I’m full of energy I’ll do most of my organising and planning, emails and communication. If I’m in pain or fatigue is kicking my butt, I may write an article or essay, and spend a lot of time on the couch reading or watching Netflix. Some days (and there are a few every month) I can’t work, only rest and recuperate.

So how do we plan our days? What can we regularly do, to give us a sense of consistency? Routine can vary, but it’s important to have it.

PART 2 – List of tips

Wake up slow. Pushing yourself to get up as soon as your alarm goes off can be jarring. In the same way we have a bedtime routine to prepare our body for sleep, so we should to prepare it for waking. We have found a Lumi clock to be very helpful in waking us up gently. A favorite upbeat song can help to start off the day with a positive attitude (today I woke to the easy plinking of Here Comes The Sun). Try not to look at your phone, instead lie in bed with your eyes open, and stretch out different parts of your body. Do ten deep belly-breaths to centre you and get the oxygen flowing.

Move. Once you’re awake, a little gentle yoga, or some standing stretches, or some jumping jacks, whatever you feel like, will help to wake up your brain as well as your muscles. A shower is obvious – it really helps to wash away all the strain of the day before and feels like a fresh start. The worst thing you can do is go sit at your computer and start working.

Walk. I’m putting this in the middle, because we’re only allowed out once per day, and you need to decide on any given day when that walk is most beneficial to you. Do you want the extra pep in the morning from an energising walk? Or do you want to take it slow in the evening, and let your frazzled brain be soothed by nature?

Exercise. Again this depends on your own rhythm. If, like me, morning stretches, and a walk are the only exercise you’re getting and you’re happy with that, then that’s this part covered. Everyone else might want something a bit more intensive (and I urge you if you are able, to try and find time for this). Cardio helps to keep your heart healthy, your brain clear, your endorphins boosted. It’s a warrior protector. From the NHS to Joe Wicks, there’s something online that everyone can get into. Make time and your body will thank you.

Set up aworkspace. As best you can. We’ve all seen the viral tweets about people setting up shop on top of their laundry baskets etc. People are making the best of what they’re got, as they should. My husband and I are very lucky that we were able to get him set up with his own desk and chair in the studio, and we sit at opposite ends of the room. Having this dedicated space helps to get our brains into work mode. If it’s your laundry basket, a corner desk or a kitchen table, try to leave it set up and out of the way, otherwise, pack it up at the end of the day. Signal to your brain that you are beginning and ending the working day.

Have breaks. We all need them. Take as many as your brain needs to be productive in working hours. Whether it’s a cuppa and a quick Zoom chat, or sitting down to an episode of Fleabag (best TV ever) – give your brain permission to think about something else for a while.

No Phones. We’ve all been glued to our Twitter feeds as the pandemic (I can think of a few better words) rolls out. It’s hard to step away but for the sake of our sanity, we must. Try to leave your phone in another room for a few hours. You’ll soon notice how your anxiety levels reduce. Your body and mind will thank you.

Play.  It’s not just the kids who should be having fun during lock-down. Get out the board games and set to it. There’s nothing like a bit of competitive gaming to get you out of your head (and off your phone).

Create. It’s time to flex those creative skills. Creating art of any kind is soothing to the mind. Whether your painting or making Instagram videos, or decorating a room – being creative nourishes different parts of the brain.

Learn. Now is the time to put Duolingo to good use! Let’s stay positive and plan for our future travels. Whatever the hobby – now is the time to get good at it.

Socialise. It’s already made the world of difference to my every day, having calls with colleagues and friends.  Emails have reduced, and instead we sit and chat face-to-face, over a cuppa. We see into each-other’s lives. It’s much more human and builds a sense of solidarity. We feel less alone, which is vital in isolation. Call your family too, keeping in touch reminds us that none of us are facing this alone.

Observe. Make use of that daily excursion. Watch the clouds, the birds, the trees in the wind. All of it. Paying attention to the minutiae of life takes us out of our heads. Appreciating nature and connecting to it, is calming. Being out in the world reminds us that there’s more going on than what’s on our screens.

Be comfortable. Make your space comfortable, whatever that is for you. Big cushions on the floor, candles, incense, music – make a space you want to spend time in. Change it up depending on your energy. Keep it cosy and relaxed or bright and energised.

Most importantly, be kind. To yourself, and to others. We are not alone, and it’s our solidarity that will get us through this.

Remember these days, and take what you’ve learned forward with you. The world has changed, and it can’t be the same again. Be an active participant in shaping it for the better.

About Julie

I’m a queer, disabled writer and accessibility consultant living in Edinburgh. I write fiction and narrative non-fiction, and I’ve recently completed an own-voice, contemporary, coming-of-age romance novel, for young adults.

My novel, Fractal, has received a notable mention from the Write Mentor Children’s Novel Award 2019; and in 2018 I was selected as a runner-up for the Jericho-Marjacq Bursary for Under-Represented Voices

I was recently a finalist in the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2020 and I’m one of four participants in the Diverse Critics Scheme, a new programme delivered in partnership between Creative ScotlandThe Skinny and Disability Arts Online.

I write about things I care about; mental health and illness, disability and diversity. I’ve been a children’s bookseller, a literary agent reader and I have an honors degree in Biomedical Science.

What’s next? It’s my hope to help to improve access to development opportunities for these writers through consultation and raising awareness of the barriers to development. I’m currently also studying courses in screenwriting at Screen Academy Scotland and business start-up at Creative Bridge

If you enjoyed reading Julie’s tips, please think about donating on her Ko-fi page:

https://ko-fi.com/juliefarrell

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