March 17, 2020 by Jean
A few days ago (Was it really only a few days ago?) when Maine’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, the head of the state CDC, Dr. Nirav Shah, advised us to “practice social distancing, but not social isolation.” As someone who lives alone, particularly as someone who is aging alone, I’m finding it challenging to follow that prescription. Normally, my greatest hedge against social isolation is organized forms of social engagement – my choral singing group, classes at the local Senior College, meetings of my Solo Seniors group and my retirees’ book group. All of those are now cancelled, and I’m finding that social distancing can quickly come to feel like solitary confinement.
Here are some strategies I’m using to keep social distancing from turning into social isolation:
- Framing: It helps to put a positive spin on my time alone. I can remind myself that I’m a person who loves solitude and who normally has to work at getting enough time alone. I’m also looking at all those undone projects that I now have time to work on. Just before the pandemic, one of my friends had been thinking about carving out a week or two without social engagements as a solitary “retreat,” but she was finding it nearly impossible to clear her social calendar. “Now,” she says, “I’m having my retreat.”
- Getting out of the house: Because I live in a rural area, I can easily spend time alone outside. An early spring this year means that I can get outside on nice days to work in the garden or to go for a walk. Now that I’m spending most of my time at home, time out driving around to do errands also feels like a treat.
- Treating some days like a “staycation”: It’s fine to take a day once a week for pure indulgence. I can make a pot of tea, put up my feet, and read a novel. I can spend an evening binge-watching episodes of Cagney and Lacey, the Midsomer Murders, or Murdoch Mysteries.
- Using telecommunications technology to stay engaged with others: Email, telephone, and social media are all ways to stay connected with others. I’ve noticed more sharing of pandemic humor and messages of support on Facebook. One of my choral singing friends responded to my concerns about social isolation by sending me a long email message about her daily goings-on. I spent two mornings this week in a virtual classroom, taking a Senior College course about how to use the video conferencing app, ZOOM. I was surprised by how engaging this was. We could all see and hear one another and could converse. In addition to learning the software, I got to catch up with friends that I would normally see at Senior College events. As part of the course, I got myself signed up for a free Zoom account, and I’m planning to invite my Solo Seniors group to a virtual meeting next week as a substitute for our usual in-person monthly meeting. I’m also thinking of hosting a “virtual open house” that I will invite about a dozen friends to – a chance for people to socialize and chat.
- Allowing myself a few carefully choreographed in-person social engagements: Before the pandemic was declared, I had lunch dates planned with two different friends whom I haven’t seen in months. (Both of these friends also live alone.) In both cases, we have decided to keep our lunch date, but to eat in instead of going to a restaurant. One friend will come to my house for lunch later this week. I will make the lunch, and she will bring dessert. The other friend and I are going to meet for a brown-bag lunch next week at the vacant house of a friend who had to move into a nursing home several months ago. I need to spend time at the sick friend’s house getting it ready to be put on the market, and this is a way to combine that challenging task with some pleasure. I should note that a number of public health sources have advised against having people over to your house. I’ve talked this over with both my friends and we’ve decided to risk it. I will set the lunch table so that we are six feet apart while eating, and I will use disinfectant cleaner on commonly touched surfaces at the entrance to the house, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen both before my friends arrive and after they leave.
I would be interested in hearing from others about how you are practicing social distancing while avoiding social isolation.