For the first time in my nerdy life, I’m ahead of a trend. I’ve cancelled on parties, skipped going to restaurants, and given away hard-earned Hamilton tickets. I even missed my sister’s wedding in Italy.
But not as a part of the current social distancing in response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
My self-quarantining started in early 2019, not with exponential lines on pandemic graphs, but with two little lines on a pregnancy test.
I spent nearly 8 months on modified bed rest trying to make it through a pregnancy with hyperemesis and a lackluster cervix. And as it turns out, bed rest is great training for social distancing.
From Spring last year until my son was born prematurely (and healthy!) in the Fall, I spent most of my waking hours curled up under a window on our couch.
My world felt small and my anxiety felt great; the focus of each day was to make it through without a medical catastrophe.
So now that I am back on the couch, this time with a healthy baby, sitting with idleness and disquiet almost feels like coming home.
As everyone checks in on each other while the world adapts to quarantine, I don’t really know what to tell friends and family. Obviously, the state of the world hangs heavy on me, but in terms of being relegated to our home for an unknown timeline? I’m totally fine.
I am a social distancing champ and the internet is my oyster.
I’ve reconnected with the dogs I used to watch out the window, returned to an online group of strong women who were pregnant with me, and watched a lot of the Bachelor.
Hell, I even go for Spring-time walks and eat real food. Last time around, I could barely eat.
I know everyone is appreciative of the people who are risking exposure to bring us food, but after a year of hyperemesis, but I am doubly grateful.
And this time, I’m not alone in my self-isolation. Instead of having to search out other bed-rest girls in deep corners of the internet, everyone is here with me.
Our social calendar is fuller now than it has been in a year with FaceTime happy hours, and I’m heartened by the camaraderie happening on a global level.
But I know that being suddenly homebound is jarring. I mourned the person I was before bed rest and struggled to figure out my new identity as basically-an-incubator (and a terrible incubator at that).
What do you do with endless hours, in one room, when you don’t feel well either mentally or physically?
Honestly, in that moment, it can be pretty miserable but I now look back with some fondness on the simplicity of my life during my first social distancing experiment.
Since I am in a unique group who has already lived a long stretch of home isolation, I want to share some things I learned from my experience that I’m implementing again as we all face COVID-19.
Here is what bed rest taught me about social distancing:
Focus on the greater purpose.
One thing that kept me from feeling useless was constantly reminding myself that sitting on the couch was a purposeful act.
As I browsed weird subreddits and turned on my third rock-climbing documentary of the day, I was actually doing something huge – I was keeping someone else safe and alive.
I tried to revel in the unique opportunity to feel guilt-free about hours of mindless internet; every hour I spent on Instagram was really for my baby.
Keeping someone’s grandma from getting COVID-19 gives you a similar purpose, so relish the free pass as you scroll on your phone.
Don’t hang out where you sleep.
Save the occasional nap, I did not spend time in my bed during the day for two reasons.
First, it helped create a delineation between night and day, and helped me keep a sense of time.
And second, it kept my bed and bedroom associated only with sleep and rest.
If you have the space, take to your couch and get out of bed.
Get dressed every day.
Similarly, I changed out of my sleep clothes each morning even though I was not going anywhere or seeing anyone.
Sure, I changed into other soft clothes that were essentially day-pajamas, but the simple act of putting on a new shirt and pretending I was a real person made me feel more human.
Fake it until you make it.
“My friends live in my phone.”
Online connections buoyed me. People are already returning to phone calls and having webcam meet-ups, and I am here for it.
As I’ve said since leaving college, my friends live in my phone and it was never more true than during bed rest.
Our current contacts are an obvious source of connection but I want to additionally plug anonymous online exchanges.
I may have physically been on my couch, but mentally I inhabited online communities, like those found on lovely women-majority subreddits or blog comment sections.
Other women’s stories made me feel understood and less alone, and I cannot recommend them enough.
Lean into comforts.
Perhaps the most chilling similarity between bed rest and a sweeping pandemic is the constant, quiet understanding that you are teetering on the edge of a medical tragedy.
Is your body about to betray you?
Is someone you love going to die?
When you’re stuck at home, you have a lot of time to think about looming catastrophe.
I don’t know what will quiet those anxieties for you, but when you find something that helps, lean into it. It is okay to “waste time” if it helps you cope with your current situation.
Play phone games. Rewatch 30 Rock for the 4th time. Read a lot of blogs.
With a possible long horizon to our confinement and worry, prepare to go through a lot of distractions. There are going to be bad days and it’s okay if we need a lot of screen time to get us all through it.
If you need some ideas from my bed rest for your social distancing, I recommend: The Good Wife, niche women’s finance subreddits and the Netflix’s documentary ‘Tig’ (the resilience, the humor, the love story – it’s just too good).
Reentry into the world is wonderful, but complicated.
Not unlike a student returning from study abroad, my re-entry back into real life after bed rest was sweet but challenging.
I spent a lot of time contemplating my post-pregnancy bucket list (my rumspringa), and then it just…wasn’t like I envisioned.
I dreamed of afternoon tacos and mezcal flights with a newborn strapped to me like an accessory. What I got was physical therapy and a lot of inner work finding my ‘regular person’ identity again after months of being a ‘sick person.’
Look fondly towards the future where we re-emerge into the world, but with an eye to the fact that we don’t know how we’ll feel or what we’ll see when we cross the finish line.
Much like a first pregnancy, we have no frame of reference for how our lives are possibly changing right now.
Social quarantine forces you to straddle two contradictory worlds: in one you are captive, and in the other you are freed from your daily expectations.
The days feel long but I promise it passes faster than it feels. Living through a period of home confinement grew my appreciation for simple acts of living. I found new joy in moving through the world without complication.
A haircut wasn’t just a haircut, it was a triumph.
So as I sit here in a dark room with a baby asleep on my chest and no place to go, I focus on the coziness of making our world small, a simplicity I’ll likely not achieve again.
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