Lately we’ve become very aware of the precarious and precious nature of health, and the urgency for self-care. In order to protect ourselves, this unprecedented Twilight Zone quarantine has plunged us headlong into a lifestyle of no frills and a return to basic needs. In a short time, our lives have been nipped, tucked, and rendered practically unrecognizable. To the outside world we certainly look different in our masks and protective shields.
What isn’t as obvious are the strong emotions boiling just beneath the surface. Harnessing these sudden changes is exhausting, both physically and mentally. Still, there’s no choice but to forge ahead in this strange territory as best as we can.
Are you waking up each morning feeling blurry and disoriented and wondering when this is going to end? Where is the light at the end of this foggy and winding tunnel of isolation?
Mundane errands, such as grocery shopping, demand that we arm for battle. Suiting up with masks, gloves, and lists galore enable us to move quickly and efficiently through the aisles. Some stores even hand out time allotments in which to complete shopping. One, two, three — and go! You’re zipping through the aisles and throwing food into your cart like a contestant from “The Price is Right.”
What used to be a social outlet is all business and social distance now. Forget about chatting with a friend while checking produce. They don’t recognize you under all that gear, and there are only a few more minutes until your shopping time expires anyhow.
Some people are circumventing the grocery store scene and are opting for food deliveries. I recently joined the bandwagon for the first time, and now have enough romaine to last me to Shavuot. You may use this as a cautionary tale. Be very specific on your order list.
Pesach also looked different this year. Streamlined without company, many of our tables were surrounded by empty chairs and sparse settings. The themes of the Haggadah resonated clearly — from slavery to freedom. Tasting the bitter maror, we experienced the sadness for the missing people at our seders. All the while, we were yearning for freedom from this pandemic and a return to our routines without constraints. Next year, b’shana haba, ideally in Jerusalem. But we’ll be happy to be reunited with all of our loved ones anywhere, with quarantine in the rearview mirror.
Some of us recited rusty Mah Nishtanahs for the first time in decades. “Um, what was that tune I used in the 70s?” On my search for the afikoman, I recalled my father promising me a new album — you can google “album for record player.” One grandma friend said, “I found the afikoman. Now my husband owes me big time.”
Beauty salons are shuttered and closed indefinitely. Cutting our own hair has been hit or miss. After cutting my bangs, I walked around the house looking like the old advertisement for Buster Brown. Hair roots are growing in and taking over our heads mercilessly. Some of the brave among us are using at-home hair dye, hoping not to end up with purple-hued hair. Unpolished finger and toenails are exposed after who knows how long, coming up for air.
All the polishing, primping, cutting, and shaping are forms of relaxation that have disappeared for now. And we miss that special and important beauty therapy. It’s the getaway time that was provided by our various salons and our beauticians, who groom and let us vent to our hearts’ content.
How do we take care of ourselves now, when so much has changed?
According to Nancy Siegel of Teaneck, an educational consultant who specializes in mindfulness education and teacher training, it’s important to acknowledge our emotions, and not to push them away. “A person can feel grateful for their homes and food in the pantry, and yet feel deep grief,” Ms. Siegel said. “Our lives now aren’t the same. We’re not feeling safe, because our health, both physical and emotional, is at risk.
“There’s illness, loss of life, and tremendous uncertainty. All of these elements intensify emotions such as anxiety, grief, and loss.
“Name the feelings so that you can tame the feelings. These are healthy kinds of emotions and are tools for self-protection, and yet they can be uncomfortable. Acknowledge your feelings with compassion.
“Imagine talking to yourself kindly, as you would to support a friend,” Ms. Siegel continued. “When you feel emotions like fear and anxiety, say hello to them, and thank them for doing their job to protect you. Breathe into those feelings and tell them that it is okay. I’ve got this.
“Self-regulation leads to empowerment,” she said.
As an educator Ms. Siegel feels that this challenging situation also can provide a valuable teaching opportunity. “When children observe their parents coping and naming their emotions, it teaches them to give voice to their own deep feelings during this pandemic,” she said.
Name it, so you can tame it. When you speak to yourself, your family, and friends, let yourself go there.
Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist, language arts teacher, and writer.