It’s Monday, March 23rd. I just have three recommendations today:
Please, everyone read this short primer on how to minimize the trauma of this moment.
Jason Kottke’s captures the moment well in his “Some People” piece. It’s a quick read.
We are so screwed. If you aren’t convinced of that, or you’d like to better understand what’s happening from a global systems perspective, listen to Ezra Klein’s interview with Ron Klain. This is the most clear and information-dense piece of journalism I’ve found to put this moment in perspective. (The Ezra Klein Show is an absolute must-subscribe if you like current affairs. 😻😻😻😻😻 — 5 PODCATS.)
[obvious content note is obvious. No TL;DR: skip to the two numbered lists if you’re bored/short on time]
This is something I haven’t seen basically any of, so even though I can only be an intermediate conduit, I convey to you here the information communicated to me by Bessel Van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score”, in a weekend-long intensive workshop last September.
We know the general types of situations that tend to traumatize people, but we don’t have a complete understanding of mechanistically how it occurs. We have a few hints, though.
Pavlov (in addition to the famous stuff) studied traumatized dogs by accident when his laboratory flooded. The dogs couldn’t get free, so unable to flee or do something, they created new stress-based pathways. Many changed personalities afterwards, and they seemed to have lost their instinct of purpose. Post-9/11, researchers expected an enormous spike in trauma disorders in New York that never materialized as much as anticipated, whereas post-Katrina they came out in spades. British children in WWII who stayed home with their parents and got bombed tended to do better long-term than the ones evacuated alone. “Merely” neglected children develop trauma disorders at nearly the same rate as actively abused children. What are some major themes here?
Stress hormones are for doing things. For running away from the threat – whatever form that may take – for working and fixing where possible. They don’t play nicely with being stuck, or with being physically prevented from taking action.
“Attachment trumps trauma”. When you run home, (physically or even metaphorically) you’re going to be ok. Who is going to be there to receive you? Humans, even adult humans, need safe attachment relationships in which they experience care and not neglect.
Validation defends against internalizing. When everyone around you is sympathizing and telling you how understandable your feelings and reactions are, it puts you less at risk for turning pain inwards and developing a narrative where you’re to blame for some fundamental self-aspect.
How can we apply these themes at this time? Please note that these are not “handy tips”; they’re things that could actually change the future course of your next few years.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: be on guard for any narratives that sound like “I am trapped/it is futile” and “It is my fault somehow”. From the inside, trauma sounds like those narratives stuck indefinitely into the future (even after the situation has passed). See if you can work to prevent them establishing in the first place. Talk to your friends about them, so they can help you. Agency and self-compassion are critical.
Quarantine poses a very real risk of generating “stuck”ness. (Spoiler: government responses are not guaranteed to prioritize your long-term mental health.) It’s really important to find ways to run and do. Probably the running doesn’t have to be literal, but it can be. Check in with yourself and figure out what would feel best for you.
Quarantine also poses a risk to attachment relationships and community connection. This is very real and should not be minimized. Hold your loved ones tighter. Reach out to people who might be isolated. Treat this as a top health priority, and treat disruptions with the same seriousness you would a fever.
Feel stuff. Emotions have functions – to move, to regain physiologic equilibrium, to regulate the distance of other members of your species towards/away from you. They get squirrely when you stuff them down.
For fuck’s sake, validate people and don’t minimize shit. No “it’s not that bad”. No “well, it’s for everyone’s good”. No “you shouldn’t be feeling that way.” Not in a box, not with a fox.
We can talk more about the “after”, hopefully, later. But this is for now.
I’m subscribed to Oregon Health Authority email updates. Despite what I wrote yesterday, today the update included asthma as one of the conditions that “may” put you at increased risk. Asthma was also featured in a PSA from the CDC that ran before tonight’s Westworld episode (S3E2).
Maybe officials are just playing it safe — it sure seems like asthma ought to be a risk factor — or maybe I just haven’t found the science, which is no surprise.
Either way, it changes nothing: I’ll keep isolating.
How to stay productive
The closest experiences I’ve had to this disruption of normal life is snow days as a child. Snow days feel like excuses to be irresponsible. That’s fine for children, but as an adult I sadly must resist the temptation to run the snow day script if you will. On top of that temptation is the trauma we are living through, and the grief of our suddenly-lost normalcy. This isn’t a great recipe for high functioning adulthood.
Yet, there are still bills to pay and chores to do. This will last weeks months, if not longer.
So, we are using a Scrum style kanban technique — basically, a whiteboard with tasks written on sticky notes that we move left to right from Todo, Doing, and Done columns — as visual motivation to stay productive. Catherine’s posteda fewupdates to Instagram about our efforts to KonMari our apartment during the quarantine. We’re starting to pick up steam. Yesterday I felt my normal self for the first time in a week. Today was the most productive day I’ve had in a week. There will be bad days, but we’ll keep soldiering on.
Limiting media consumption helps
My friend Valerie recommended a restricted media diet for mental health: Checking the news no more than twice a day, and setting a timer to pull yourself out of it.
I must’ve averaged at least four hours a day in the past week just reading news stories and scrolling social media feeds — so I needed this for more than just mental health; I needed to get my time back.
So today I took Valerie’s advice. I decided to limit myself to two hours. Still a lot I acknowledge, but this would be a big improvement. It was difficult for me to stick to, but I did it, and I’m very glad. I don’t feel I’ve missed anything important, still feel quite informed, and also managed to get a lot done.
His key recommendations were to do all of these daily:
Schedule your time
Read physical books (physical books won’t distract you with notifications or invite you to open another tab… I’m using my Kindle mostly because it shares those properties)
Go outside (Mr. Kelly couldn’t, of course, but that just made him more aware of its value)
Stay in touch with loved ones via video conference
Keep a journal
I’m trying to incorporate these into my daily habits. I guess you can expect more of these journal entries.
Scheduling my time today was a big part of what made today so productive. I’m definitely sticking with that.
A walk in the park ain’t what it used to be
All the official guidance I’ve seen continues to affirm that getting out for a walk is not only alright, but is encouraged for health due to the benefits of exercise, fresh air, and sun exposure.
Tell you what, though: It’s super weird to be out in public right now.
We live near to the North end of Waterfront Park, where the cherry trees at the Japanese American Historical Plaza are in full bloom. That’s where we usually go for our walks.
The first weird thing is the Plaza is full of would-be Insta models (I guess?) posing for portraits amidst the cherry trees. There are dozens if not hundreds of these people, dressed super fly, smiling for the camera like they don’t have a care in the world. These people aren’t taking selfies, mind you — most have photographers with SLRs directing them around. You’d never know we were living through anything significant, let alone the most apocalyptic moment most living people have known. I can make guesses as to what they’re thinking, but I don’t really understand it. It is completely surreal.
The second weird thing is of course navigating a crowd while trying to keep your distance. Most folks take it seriously, but enough aren’t that to keep your distance you have to adopt a defensive driver-like attitude. That makes walking about as relaxing as driving (which I don’t find very relaxing). Plus, it introduces a roadrage-like element, where I’m constantly biting my tongue to avoid sniping at the ignorant, inconsiderate, or idiotic delinquents of social grace around me.
What I’m working on
Marie Kondo’s “paper” de-cluttering phase is so much work!
Although SOAK is unlikely to happen on schedule if at all this year, I’m continuing work on the MBS lighting software. In the best case, the MBS will be gloriously lit if SOAK goes ahead, by some miracle. In the worst case, I’ll have some applied experience with Arduino, C++, and embedded electronics, each marketable and useful skills.
I’m making sure we eat well and are especially good at minimize food waste. Our freezer is now stuffed with vegetables I’ve processed and home cooked meals ready to re-heat, and the fridge has soups, homemade pickles, and meals marinating for the week ahead.
Today is Saturday, March 21st. I don’t know how regularly I’ll do this or even if I’ll continue at all after today, but I’ve been thinking of recording news, thoughts, and observations for a few days, and am finally making time to do it.
Portland’s first day of “Don’t call it shelter-in-place”
Oregon’s gov’na and Portland’s mayor asked people to stay home except for urgent and essential trips last night, but it was a confusing message.
I’m generally a fan of Gov Kate Grown, but from local reporting it seems many local leaders want to go further, but she’s trying to be moderate. I’d urge her to both go further and be more decisive. If it were me, I’d skip right ahead to full lockdown, the logical conclusion. The lesson of countries ahead of the US in dealing with their own outbreaks is very clear: Each day we wait for a lockdown is a day we’ll regret not having locked down. (Also: Gee whiz, am I ever glad I’m not in charge!)
Today’s been like every other day this week for the most part: We’re home. I’m spending too much time reading the news. It’s hard to resist; I’m fascinated. But it’s clear that I’ve been overdoing it.
I think I’m learning to do better on the mental health front, though! Doing something, anything to be helpful turns out to be the best thing I’ve done for my happiness all week. I’m surprised at how much of a weight I feel has been lifted.
Hey, it worked for Rapunzel
We were visited by my brother and sister in law Owen and Hana this morning. They stayed on the sidewalk and we talked to them through our 2nd story window (the main floor is a separate apartment).
So great to see them though! As contrived as it feels, I still find socially-distanced-through-the-window, in-person visits are more sustaining than video chats.
Reddit is hip again
No disrespect to my primary sources of information (which have been Vox, NYT, and The Oregonian), but I’ve been wanting a greater diversity of sources, as well as also more technical information.
A professional medical researcher friend pointed me at r/Coronavirus as among the very best sources of news right now. Right away I saw what she meant: It is a rich font of information from a broad array of sources — and with surprisingly little BS!
That subreddit is also recommending r/COVID19 for scientifically-sourced information, strictly enforced. That in turn led me to LitCovid, a publicly searchable database of individual scientific papers on the novel coronavirus. It doesn’t get more direct than yet-to-be-peer-reviewed papers. (I think. If you know of a source that’s even closer to the frontlines, let me know!)
My asthma is probably not a major risk factor
I saw a rumor on social media that very few patients with severe symptoms had pre-existing asthma. I’ve been trying to determine whether this is correct.
In summary, it is too early to say for certain, but asthma by itself does not appear to be a risk factor for severe infections. This is based on very limited early research, and nobody with credentials to make proper sense of this information has said anything definitive either way.
I am an untrained amateur making the best sense I can of scientific papers. Given the terrible, pneumonia-like end-phase of severe COVID19 infections, it’s prudent for me to continue taking isolation very seriously.
We gathered emergency provisions a couple weeks ago, but had to restock our normal cupboards again on Thursday. This time we spent significantly more than normally, with the goal of not having to return to the grocery store for at least two weeks. (That’ll be hard, but we’ll try.)
On our second trip we bought a lot more peanut butter and bread, based on what we ran low on.
We also splurged on cheese, which we usually limit or avoid for health reasons. This decision was based on asking “what will bring us joy in this dark moment?” but I’m already regretting the choice. My stomach no-likey.
I would have gotten more soap and TP had they been available. On our next trip to Winco we’ll be there when the doors open at 7am so we have a shot — and hopefully don’t perish in the stampede.
We’re making full use of Imperfect Produce Foods for fresh delivery. You should consider other delivery options to minimize trips to the grocery store.