Tag Archives: mental health

Tips for Surviving Social Isolation, from a Chronically Ill Person

Are you in isolation because of Covid-19, voluntarily or otherwise? Is it really starting to get to you? Welcome to my world! This is how much of life is for people with chronic illnesses. In my case, I get sick more often than others do with various respiratory infections and isolate myself to keep my roommates, students, and others safe until I am well again. I’ve picked up a lot of information about isolation and coping mechanisms over the years. Here is my primer for you. And guess what? I’m super poor, so almost everything in this post is free if you have computer access.

Body Health

Being stuck at home means your body movement is probably dramatically reduced. Exercise is part of several processes that keep you happy and healthy. If you can find a way to get your body moving on a regular basis, you are going to be a lot better off. Ways to exercise at home:

  • Use free videos from YouTube for stretching routines. Who knows, maybe you’ll come out of this way more limber and in way less pain because of daily stretching! Here is a great video you can follow along with from a doctor.
  • Use free videos from YouTube to do workouts on your own floor at home. You can find lots of them that don’t need any equipment. Here is a good one for strengthening your core, which I like to recommend because it talks about how to safely perform the exercises. Core strength is an important place to start with workouts because it supports all of the rest of your strength, so if you are a beginner, start with this. Also: Your abs are not your core. Your core muscles are underneath those muscles. (By “underneath,” I mean more internal, not lower down on your body.)
  • If you are able to do so, go on walks in your neighborhood.
  • If you have stairs in your home, walk up and down them extra times every time you pass by them.
  • Some may find this suggestion a bit crass, but you can also masturbate. It produces some of the same physiological benefits of exercise and typically takes up less space.

Mental Health

Most people have some kind of personal balance between alone time and social time. Very few people truly enjoy constant isolation, and even then, humans tend to prefer to do things voluntarily. Add financial distress and pandemic-related emotions to the mix, and it makes sense that a lot of people are struggling a lot right now. Here are some things you can do to support your mental health:

  • See the body health section above. Everything up there will support your mental health. Here is info on why and how.
  • Be careful about your sleep patterns. If you can set up your life so that you are going to bed at about the same time every day and waking up at about the same time every day, you will likely notice several benefits, including mental health improvements.
  • Establish a routine. Losing yourself in social media and the bowels of the internet for a few days is one thing; doing it for weeks on end can be destructive, especially with all the horrible news permeating every part of the internet right now. Use alarms for things like bedtime, meal times, when to start a regular activity, and other significant routine markers if you are someone who loses track of time. Avoid setting alarms for meal times if this strategy aggravates an eating disorder. Here is some information about the likely benefits of family routines.
  • Sit down, take a look at the time you have, and decide intentionally how you will use it. Are you going to look for online work, and/or work from home? Are you going to learn a new skill? Are you going to create something? Are you going to start a revolution? Now is the time to figure out how you are going to use your time. This will support your ability to establish a routine. It will also give you some control over your own life, which will support your mental health as well.
  • Have a meeting with yourself and figure out what your unmet needs are. It may require some daily thought to figure them out. Once you identify what they are, you can make a plan to find alternate ways to meet those needs. For example: if you identify that you need your quiet bus commute time to feel centered but you aren’t using public transit right now, you would then be able to establish an aspect of your routine that is designed to meet that need. This may be a useful conversation to have as a household if appropriate.
  • Find a healthy way to express what you are feeling. Maybe it’s journaling, or writing a song about it. Maybe it’s making a model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and destroying it. Maybe it’s talking about it with your therapist or deity if you have one. There are all sorts of options; find one that works for you. If you aren’t accustomed to doing this, I recommend starting with looking up more options until you find a few you want to try. It may take trying several before you find a way that works for you.
  • If you have never dealt with depression before, read up on what it is and how it works. I mean “depression” the clinical term, not “depression” the colloquial exaggeration for “I feel sad.” It is not unlikely that many people who haven’t dealt with depression before will experience it for the first time, seeing as social isolation can cause depression. Those of us in minority groups know this well.
  • See the social health section below. Meeting your social needs as best you can will definitely support your mental health.

Social Health

This is the one everyone is buzzing about on social media right now. How do we meet our needs for connection when we can’t leave the house or touch people when we do? The answer is: It’s time to get creative. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Group or one on one video chat is available via a variety of free systems and apps, for both computer browsers and smart phones.
  • Good old fashioned phone calls can be amazing when you haven’t heard someone’s voice in ages.
  • Use texting and messaging apps to connect if you wish to avoid social media.
  • Swap snail mail letters.
  • Group audio chat on a free system such as Discord allows you to hang out with your friends while doing other things.
  • Play video games or tabletop RPGs together via free services such as Discord or Roll 20.
  • Hold a virtual tea party via group video chat (funny hats recommended but not required).
  • Simultaneously watch the same show or movie while keeping a chat window open to chat about the show (there are multiple software options for simultaneous streaming).
  • Use the above strategy to hold a virtual Bob Ross paint-along.
  • Cook “together” by video chatting while cooking (extra cuteness points for making the same meal).
  • Hold an art swap with your friends. This works like a Secret Santa except after you draw names, you make and send art, either digitally or via snail mail as you and your group prefer. Here is a site that conducts the name draw for you for free, and has a variety of options for how to send the drawn names.
  • Play Pass the Cookie Jar with your friends. The first person makes and mails cookies to the second person, who makes and mails cookies to the next person, and so on until the last person makes and sends cookies back to the first person.
  • Record a song “together” by singing/playing it separately in your own homes, then digitally editing the tracks together.
  • Work together to write some fun fiction using Google Docs or other software that allows all participants to have the same file open at the same time.
  • Hold a virtual dance party via group video chat. This can also help with the exercise issue mentioned above.
  • Build something together by designing it together digitally, and having each person make a component that is meant to be combined with everyone else’s. When all this blows over, you can come together to build the final piece.

It’s going to be so much easier to use these strategies now that everyone else is also isolated and seeking them out. Remember this experience next time one of your disabled and/or chronically ill friends reaches out to you for digital connection. It may be the most socialization they get in weeks.


On Saturday morning my alarm went off at 7 am, just like every Saturday. I rolled off the couch where I sleep now and changed into jeans and a T-shirt. Everyone else was still asleep so there was no need to use the bathroom to change. I pulled a sweatshirt over my T, grabbed my large bag full of reusable shopping bags, and walked half a mile to the church where I get food.

I plopped my bag down at the end of the line of bags, boxes, and small 2-wheeled carts and joined the group of milling folks waiting for numbers to get handed out.

“Whoa, nice, is that a Call of Duty bag?” someone said, peering down the stairs at my bag. It wasn’t, it said something else on it.

“Nope,” I said, just as my new acquaintance realized it for himself.

“Oh man. I thought it was a Call of Duty bag,” he said.

We then proceeded to discuss video games, role playing games, and of course zombie apocalypses. It was a brief but rousing conversation.

“I had no idea you were a nerd,” he said after a bit.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve seen you around and all, but…I just…IĀ  would never have thought you were a nerd.”

“Oh?” I asked, wondering if it was just because I’m quite obviously female-shaped, and conventionally attractive to boot. “Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. I just never would have thought it.”

“We never know anything about anyone until we start talking to them,” I said.

We continued to discuss nerd-related topics before the conversation turned to our current situations. He essentially asked me in a less rude way what I was doing at a food bank if I was so clearly intelligent. I told him about my double-major at our local community college in chemistry and physics and my intention to become a chemical engineer after I transfer and complete my second bachelor’s before returning the inquiry.

My companion expressed a discomfort with his situation. He told me that he was between jobs at the moment, and that it was difficult for him to find work because he never graduated from high school. After hearing more about his work experience and lifestyle, I recommended a local company with a culture that seemed particularly suited to his needs. He looked them up online with his smartphone and started to get very excited.

By this time it was 8 am. The person with the number distributor device under his arm called out that he was ready to distribute numbers. Everyone moved to stand next to their boxes and bags and carts and tubs, and walked past the distributor one by one to take a paper number. Mine was 327. I glanced up at the lit display to see that the starting number that week was 295. Excellent.

As numbers are not called until 8:30 am, folks tend to settle in on benches or drift across the street to the park. I was in the second group, where I drifted back into close proximity with my conversation partner from earlier. He was looking forlorn again and told me that he didn’t think he could do the job at the company I had recommended. Turns out he’s practically illiterate. My mind went immediately to the seminar I recently attended about learning disabilities.

“If you struggle with reading, that could be the entire reason school was so hard for you that you dropped out,” I told him. His friend who was standing with us nodded.

“What do you mean?”

“Learning disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. If your struggle with reading was preventing you from learning, well, of course school was hard.”

“Oh I’m not disabled,” he said, and his friend frowned and looked like he was struggling to figure out what to say.

“The definition of ‘learning disability’ is just anything that makes learning more difficult,” I said, “it’s really a very loose thing.” His friend nodded. We waited while unknown thoughts crossed his face.

“It does seem to hinder me,” he said with a sad sigh.

He went on to say something that I can’t remember clearly, but portrayed a self-image of a lack of intelligence. His friend looked like he wanted to face-palm.

“You seem pretty smart to me,” I said, and his friend nodded.

“I do?”

“Yeah. That much is clear just talking to you. There is actually a high correlation of learning disabilities with intelligence.”


“Yeah. See, people fall on a bell curve,” I said, drawing one in the air with my hands and following it up with appropriate gestures. “Most people fall somewhere in the middle, then on either end we’ve got people with less intelligence and more intelligence. Our school system is designed to meet the needs of the people in the middle of this bell curve. It makes sense that folks who fall to either side – no matter which side it is – would struggle with that system and therefore meet our loose definition of what it takes to have a learning disability.”

He stared at me, dumbfounded.

“See?” his friend said, “I told you you were smart.”

“If you’ve had trouble reading, of course you’ve had trouble learning. Our public school system is based on the presumption of literacy. The thing is, there are programs out there just for this. Our local community college offers reading classes and they’ve got a disabilities services office that can help you figure out exactly what is going on so you can address it and move on with that information.”

“I…need some time to think…” he said. His friend and I nodded and stayed put while he walked away.

“I keep telling him he’s smart,” his friend said. “He has what it takes. He just doesn’t have the confidence,”

I nodded, thinking again about the seminar I had just attended and how lack of self-confidence seems to be a commonality among folks with learning disabilities, especially in people who don’t know that they have one. The disability students I tutor are often clearly lacking in confidence, sometimes to the point where it seems to be its own disability. Some of them have even consciously identified it as an obstacle they intend to overcome.

I wandered back across the street to check the numbers. The sign had been updated to say 300, but no one had gone in yet. Excellent. I was even closer to the start of the line.

When I came back across the street, I found my new friend sitting on a bench. I was going to give him space but he waved me over. When I sat down, I saw tears forming in his lower eyelids.

“I never thought I could…This is so…Wow,” he said, unable to articulateĀ  his feelings.

“Do you feel overwhelmed?” I asked.


“Hope can do that to you.”

He laughed and sniffed, and we sat in silence for a moment.

“You really think I can do this?”

“Yes,” I said, noting inside my head that he had been able to look things up online without ever having had any help for his reading troubles. “Have you ever wondered if you’re dyslexic?”

“All the doctors I saw just thought I was making things up,” he said, looking at his feet. My heart sank.

“Well, like I said, the people at that office I was telling you about offer extensive evaluation services. They can help you figure out exactly what’s going on. You might have to enroll as a student though, I’m not sure.”

“What kinds of things do they have?” he asked.

As we talked, our conversation meandered between opportunities, services, observations of those around us, and some really intense introspection on his part. His comments sometimes betrayed what appeared to me to be a very strong intellect and awakened critical thinking skills. I took care to point it out to him whenever this happened and let him know that it’s not something other people find easy to do, as I have learned in my tutor training that it is very important to encourage this kind of confidence in people. He was surprised each time.

“What’s the catch?” he finally asked me. “Every time I think there’s an opportunity there’s some kind of catch. What’s the catch to everything you’re saying?”

“The catch is that you have to decide for yourself whether you’re going to embrace all this, and if you do, you have to put in a very large amount of work, time, and effort.”

“Hard work I can do,” he said with fierce determination. “I am going to contact that office and see what I can do. This is how I can get my life on track.”

An Amazing Food Bank Day

Food Bank Food

Saturday morning, I woke with the sun in my eyes, just rising over the hills outside my window. Excitedly, I hurried to dress and fetch my reusable bags. Today was the day I would finally get good food to eat. Food that would not be rotting. Food I would enjoy eating.

I drove across town to the church where the distribution would be. It doesn’t start until 9am, but some folks had already been there for two hours when I got there at 8. I placed my bags on the ground behind the line of bags of those before me, and dashed into the bathroom. Before I got back, they started handing out numbers, so I lost my spot, but I was still #437, and they started that day with #413, so there really weren’t many people ahead of me.

I walked through the courtyard in search of a patch of warm, direct sun. People, mostly 40+ (and probably half of them were 65+) intermingled, laughed together, and partook of free coffee and pastries provided by the church program. That atmosphere was so much more pleasant than the one of the Wednesday morning location – despite a large degree of crossover in the user group – that it struck me once more as being a beautiful bit of social engineering.

When my number was called, I took my place in the food line. I wrote my name on the sign-in sheet, a little “1” for number of people in my household, and “0” for number of children. Every time I do that I pat myself on the back for good choices. Some folks make poverty and children work out okay, but it’s not a thing I desire for myself.

I looked up from the table to see a line of food tables down the middle of the church gymnasium. Each one was piled with food, with volunteers standing on one side to control portions and to help stack more food on the tables as they emptied. A line of hungry people stretched through the gym on the other side of the tables, slowly trickling along.

The first table I came to had two coolers so big I could probably fit inside them – and I am rather tall. Each was filled with packages of raw meat, most of it from Trader Joe’s. As I was only one person, I was limited to one small package, but I got to choose which one I wanted, and that is part of what makes all the difference about this location. I am treated like a person there. Folks address me by name, and ask about my life, and assume that because I am a human, I will have my own tastes and preferences in food, and that this is normal and to be respected. They even refer to the process of going through the line for food as “shopping.” The fundamental ability to choose is really far more humanizing than a lot of people understand, I think.

After meat was the dairy table. Beyond that they had an entire table dedicated to the specialty grab-and-go sort of things that expired that week at grocery stores, but were still good to eat. Sometimes they have sushi. Prepared salads are the most common. After that was the one table in the whole row that has nonperishable food. We are usually given our choice of one small bag of one type of grain, and our choice of one can. It totally destroyed my image of what poor people get from programs like these.

The next three tables were covered in fresh fruits and vegetables. Whatever is in surplus from local farms, or about to expire in local grocery markets, is what we get to eat. This place (unlike the Wednesday place) never gives us rotten vegetables with the expectation that we should be happy we are getting anything at all. Vegetables at Saturday’s location may look a little droopy sometimes, but when that happens the workers all look apologetic, which I find adorable and heartening. Again, this place is humanizing in ways all the others could take a lesson from.

The last table was covered in dessert items. Cookies, pies, cupcakes, even sheet cakes sometimes, and more! The last thing after the tables was bread. There was a set of wheeled shelves that has the freshest bread, and each household got their choice of one loaf from that, but there was a row of boxes along the far wall with the rest of the surplus bread. We are usually asked to take as much as we want from those boxes, lest the surplus be thrown away. The only exception is when there is less bread than usual and/or more hungry people than usual.

When I got home, I took the above photo of the food I had chosen. I will eat very well this week. (In fact, I already have.) Not only that, but the way this place runs their program has boosted my mental health by giving my self esteem a dose of validity, and that is just as valuable to my success in life as is the nutritious blueberries and pork chops. Indeed, it is more likely to boost me towards a life where I don’t need their services than the food itself.