March 23rd Covid19 Journal

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.)

How to Not Get Traumatized From This Thing (As Much As Possible)

Crucial information on how to live through trauma as healthfully as possible.

The following is copy/pasted wholesale with permission from a FFB post by friend-of-a-friend Halle Ritter. Ever human being needs this information right now.

[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?

  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

March 22nd COVID19 Journal

Some of my thoughts on this Sunday, March 22nd.

Forget what I wrote yesterday about asthma

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 posted a few updates 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.

Isolate like an astronaut

I really enjoyed this Scott Kelly article in the New York Times on how he survived isolation in the space station for over a year.

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.