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Living As Well As I Can

What bedrest taught me about living through a pandemic

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I like myself pretty well, but enough is enough!  Living alone during a pandemic is giving me too much “me time.”

It reminds me of another time in my life.  In 1984, I was 20 weeks pregnant with twins when premature labor started.  My obstetrician’s advice was clear, “Unless you go on strict bedrest, you will lose the babies.”  Strict bedrest meant lying down, mostly on my left side, ALL THE TIME.  I got up to use the bathroom, to take a shower every other day, and to visit the doctor.  Otherwise, I was lying down.  And even with that, there were no guarantees about the babies’ health.

I happened to be visiting my parents in Minnesota when I got this news.  But I lived in California.  So, I was stuck at my parents’ house, on bedrest, while the babies’ father was in California, finishing a master’s degree.

Being at my parents’ house turned out to be a gift.  They took me to appointments, cooked for me, and did my laundry.  Every evening, they carried the kitchen table into my bedroom and ate next to the bed, so I wouldn’t have to eat alone.  One night, my mom made ham.  Lying on my side, it was impossible for me to get the right angle with the knife to cut the ham, so my dad offered to help.  When he returned the plate to me, I burst out laughing.  He had cut the ham into perfect, tiny squares, as if I were three years old.  That story became part of family lore.

I got through three months of bedrest by creating a structure to the days.  Mornings were for reading, writing letters, and knitting.  I took a nap in the early afternoon.  I religiously watched Steve and Sharon on “Good Company,” a local interest TV show, at 4:00.  In the evening I watched videos on the VCR or connected with loved ones on the phone.  I focused on the things I could do, more than the things I couldn’t.  I remembered the importance of what I was doing, and how it would be worth it in the end.  I knew it wouldn’t be forever.  I tried to live as well as I could, despite the restrictions and fear.

Did I maintain that positive outlook all the time?  Nope.  I had days when fear or sorrow or frustration took over.  One day I came back to my room from the shower and found no clean underpants in the drawer.  I fell apart sobbing.  I cried for a long time.  My parents tried to calm me.  My mother even offered me her underpants, but I just needed to cry.  I hated being dependent.  I couldn’t even take care of my own underwear!  But most days I managed to stay calm.  And those babies are 35 years old now.

Now I’m restricted by the pandemic.  I live alone, and I haven’t been out with friends since March 12.  Due to some high-risk conditions in my family, we are isolating pretty strictly, each in our own home.  It reminds me of bedrest:  restrictions on what I can do, the element of risk, the fear that something precious could be lost.  I find myself considering, once again, how to live as well as I can, during something that scares and limits me.

The same strategy that I used during bedrest helps.  I’ve created a kind of routine for myself.  Morning are for work and taking a long walk.  Afternoons, I’m writing and taking a couple of classes online.  I connect with friends and family regularly on Zoom.  I try to have some kind of creative project going.  I’m able to walk a lot and get out in nature. 

I focus on the things I can do, more than the things I can’t.  I remember the importance of what I am doing.  I let myself laugh and cry when I feel like it.  I remind myself that it won’t be forever.  I live as well as I can.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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