Calm in the time of COVID-19

Photo above by Hanna Skoromna on Unsplash

Everyone: Well, 2019 was a crap year. Surely 2020 will be better.

2020: Hold my (Corona) beer!

Well, this year went south really quick, didn’t it?!

The religious amongst us might be wondering if the End of Days is upon us here in Australia – first we have Death thanks to a summer of bushfires and floods, now we have Plague/Pestilence (corona virus), likely to be followed by Famine for the tens of thousands now out of work. Or due to panic buying. All we lack is War to complete the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse box set. (Although, give Donald Trump a bit more time – he’s bound to piss someone off badly enough to cause trigger fingers to itch.)

Despite the travails currently assailing our world, I find myself generally calm (for myself, at least – I am very aware that many, many others are not faring so well, and that being white and middle-class lends me a level of privilege denied to many). And there are a couple of reasons for this – gratitude and stoicism.

I am stoic about:

The current situation. The basic principle of Stoicism being to concern yourself only with those things that you can influence or are under your direct control is helpful, I find, in filtering out the noise of all that is going on around us in the world and keeping one’s focus in the only place it can actually have any effect. I have David Cain’s blog Raptitude to thank for this approach – I wouldn’t have discovered it without his ongoing efforts to, as he terms it, get better at being human. Do yourself a favour and bookmark his blog and/or follow him on Twitter. He covers a wide range of topics that make for interesting reading and discussion.

Stoicism helps me to keep my temper (which isn’t that great at the best of times – I’m getting old and curmudgeonly, apparently) when I see people disregarding the advice to keep a level of spatial distance between themselves and others. I can’t force others to follow the medical advice, I can only move myself away if people are too close. (I do, however, have two words for you if you’re one of those people – natural selection.) I witnessed family groups at a large shopping centre on the weekend – surely you do not need to take your children shopping if you have two adults in your household? Especially when they’re young enough that they just won’t do the spatial distancing thing and can’t stop touching everything in sight? I can’t control people who choose to buy up big on non-perishable goods and other items such as hand sanitiser, thereby depleting available resources needed by others. I can only adapt to manage with what I can source when I shop, and use whatever mitigation strategies might be available to me for non-food related shortages.

I am grateful for the following things:

First and foremost, that my family are all well and uninfected, although my sister has resigned herself to the likelihood that she’ll get exposed to it at some point as she works in the health field and has close contact with multiple people throughout her day.

Social media and the internet, for providing an easy way to remain connected with family, friends and colleagues, and a source of information (and new recipes!). The creativity that spatial distancing has engendered in some people is remarkable – so many funny and clever videos and memes are floating around that are keeping me amused. And also, amidst all the horrible news stories and drama, Facebook groups such as ‘The Kindness Pandemic’ and the local Bear Hunt groups for the kids remind me that there is so much good in the world, and people are, generally speaking, caring and generous.

Being mentally healthy (these days – I’ve had times in the past when this wasn’t the case). I know so many people who have depression and/or anxiety, and I feel for them with all this going on, as I know that they are finding it hard to cope because the ongoing uncertainty and constant changes to the advice coming out from the authorities makes it hard to keep up and manage their conditions. If all this had happened a few years ago I too might not be coping quite so well.

Secure employment with the state government. You never know, of course, whether things may change in the face of such upheaval (allegedly, our old nemesis, “Can-Do” Campbell Newman has been bleating in the media about sacking public service employees again), but for now I am not only still employed, but the nature of my work allows me to do it from home thanks to computer technology, the internet and a proactive employer. In fact, I am deeply grateful that my particular area of my department got on the front foot with the working from home thing – almost as soon as it became clear that it would probably be required, our management told us to start doing it as soon as we possibly could. I have been working from home for the past three weeks, with only a couple of days here and there when I’ve needed to go to the office. It has no doubt ensured that very few, if any, of us have or will come down with COVID-19 (at least, not due to workplace exposure). This has also allowed me to work on things that, if I was in the office, would be almost permanently stuck on the “back burner” because they’re a lower priority, yet they still need to be done. As a bonus, I’ve also been able to pretty much set my own timetable, which has freed up time in my day to take care of personal matters – including writing this post!

I have an emergency fund of what is now easily 9 months living expenses, assuming I don’t go anywhere or eat out – more, if I include my holiday savings. Thank you, thank you, thank you Scott Pape (the Barefoot Investor). My life has been immeasurably improved by Scott’s book and those wonderfully easy to follow steps to financial security. It’s been almost three years now, and I can’t remember feeling so comfortable and in control of my finances ever in my entire life. A few years ago I couldn’t have been so sanguine about these events. Even if my employer was to stand me down for the next six months, I know I’d be okay. The subsequent exposure to, and joining of, the FIRE community has also been helpful in maintaining my motivation. It’s been great to connect, even though it might only be on Twitter, to other like-minded people.

The world has become quieter around me. As I get older I’ve found myself less and less tolerant of loud noise and crowds, so finding fewer people in the shops (especially as I can now more easily do my grocery shopping on a weekday, rather than having to wait for the weekend) has been a very pleasant experience. People are also not fluffing around when shopping either – they’re getting in, getting what they need, and getting out again. The streets are also quieter. There are fewer people moving around, and considerably less traffic than normal. It was weird at first, but I’ve quickly grown used to it.

Being single. I’m primarily an introvert and living alone is my normal, so the isolation doesn’t bother me one whit. My home is my sanctum sanctorum; I can no longer imagine sharing my peaceful space with another person. (Multiple cats, yes. People, not so much.) As long as I have reading material, I’ll be happy.

I get my toilet paper and tissues from Who Gives a Crap, and I received my scheduled order only a couple of weeks before the sh*t hit the fan, so I avoided the panic buying of TP. Small mercies, folks, small mercies. 😀

Going forward…

No doubt other things will occur to me to be grateful for (or stoic about) as the COVID-19 situation progresses. It is heartening, however, to hear on tonight’s news that the rate of infection seems to have slowed a little. Hopefully, as long as people don’t suddenly decide that they can now ignore the advice about keeping spatial distance and practising good hygiene, this change will be a continuing trend and the period for which we need to take these measures will be briefer than anticipated.

I wish you, dear reader, and your family the very best of health during what is, for many, a frightening and uncertain time. I hope that we all come out the other side of this thing with our lives and sanity intact.

Stay safe, hang in there, keep your spatial distance and wash your hands!

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