THOUGHTS ON EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION AND BEING KINDER TO YOURSELF
By Shane Pinnegar
Self-isolation – quarantine, even. For many of us, there will never be a greater gift. We have been handed a golden ticket on a platter. Stay indoors. Focus on family and home.
Some of us will still be getting paid. Some of us will receive the government’s JobKeeper or JobSeeker allowances. With an income still coming in, with bills being paid, there will never be a better opportunity to take a few steps back from our over-busy lives and just breath. To learn an instrument or write your life story or sort through years of old filing or put up those shelves that have been gathering dust in the corner for months or years. One of our neighbours has built a patio. I planted a vegetable garden over Easter and did a myriad of home handyman tasks over a five hour period.
Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? But for some reason, for many of us, it’s just not as easy as it says on the tin.
Some of us will fall through the cracks of the government payment blanket. For those of us who are uncertain or at least still unsure whether we will have any money coming in for the foreseeable future, this is still a very stressful time. Distractingly stressful, I can attest.
Even those who have stalled their mortgages or put some of their bills on hold know that those bills will inevitably await us further down the track, with added interest, certainly in the case of the mortgage.
But this isn’t just about money.
It’s about the heightened state of anxiety we all feel. All of us. All around the world. Only a naïve person would feel nothing right now, with tens of thousands dying and many more sick, and the threat of a full outbreak hanging over us like a low, rumbling dark rain cloud. One month ago today the official global tally was 198,161 infections and 7,969 deaths from Covid-19. Today it stands at 2,183,942 infections and 146,873 deaths. How can that not scare us all.
I’ve noticed more conversations online recently about people feeling more sentimental and nostalgic than normal. I think it’s fair to say that we miss our freedoms – that’s what freedom means – while they are being restricted for the greater good. Some, of course, care only for themselves and can’t see how isolation will save many other lives. I can’t help but think that is a small part of the reason why the death toll is so great in the U.S., with so many people espousing their personal freedoms as an excuse why they shouldn’t have to restrict their normal lifestyle at all. High density, low income populations are another massive factor, of course. It’s agonising to watch for any of us with a shred of empathy.
But most of us are not ignorant or self-involved. We realise that isolating and socially distancing is important. It WILL save lives. There may have been millions of deaths had we not undertaken such seemingly extreme measures.
Many people are still working – health, food retail, essential services, aged care, police and fire services, there are even some politicians making a positive effort – and to you all I say a hearty and sincere thankyou. My wife and quite a few friends are among them, so we are well aware of the extra stresses that brings.
For the rest of us, though, with so much (so-called) free time on our hands you’d think we would be having the happiest and/or most productive time of our lives. The pressure is OFF, man, we can literally switch off and just live in the moment, not worry about the immediate future. Let go of the steering wheel and ease back in our seats, knowing that all we have to do is care for our family, do the grocery shopping once a week, and binge on movies or music or jigsaw puzzles or exercise or mixing metaphors all we like.
So, why are so many of us overeating or drinking?
I think it’s for comfort. It’s to dull that heightened anxiety. I’m not drinking more on any given day – but I am drinking more days than normal. Probably more days than is strictly healthy. I know I am eating more, possibly from boredom or stress, for comfort. I should just be exercising and writing, that’s what my brain tells me… but I keep reaching for the fridge. One look at the amount of memes on social media about isolation weight gain and alcohol consumption prove that I am far from alone here.
The manager of the local bottleshop (that’s an off-licence, England, or a liquor store, America), told me last week that sales were up around 50%. The news article below cites a 34% increase in alcohol sales country-wide – and that is with daily limits in place. [Of course, daily limits mean nothing if you’re prepared to drive between a few different shops to stock up – but do we really need more than one bottle of spirits and a carton of beer or 3 bottles of wine a day?!?] It’s also important to note that with bars and pubs and clubs closed, people are doing all their drinking at home, so this may or may not represent an actual increase in alcohol sales across the board, that point remains unclear.
After weeks of musing deeply on this, and dipping my toes into multiple conversations which have swirled around the subject and its offshoots, I have some thoughts…
I read about Executive Dysfunction yesterday. It’s the inability to organise, to time manage and focus and, if I interpret it correctly, to function productively. It’s common in people with ADHD, depression, dementia, autism and those who have had a traumatic brain injury.
And a lot of people are feeling it right now.
Is it any wonder we’re all tied up in knots? It really is a traumatic time – even for those of us without a single degree of separation to Covid-19. I know a couple of people who have been tested, but no-one who has been confirmed infected. But I still feel traumatised, anxious, stressed, worried, constantly on edge. There is real anguish for the loss of life, for the paranoia and stress and anxiety in the community. I know I’m not the only one not sleeping well.
I’ve begun to tune out of the constant live news updates. There was simply too much that was petty, greedy, hurtful, stupid, uncaring, troubling. I want the facts, not the sensationalised bullshit, the media asking the same questions every day (often over and over in any given press conference in the hope of tripping our leaders up for a sensationalised headline), the sheer self-serving audacity of some, the refusal to take responsibility by others, the buck passing, the political muck raking.
If nothing else, it has shown in stark relief how petty and rotten to the core our political, legal and media systems all are.
But through it all there are glimmers of hope. Some of our leaders have risen to the challenges and done a remarkable job. The likes of Mark McGowan, Jacinta Ahern. Anthony Albanese seems to be saying all the right things – I would like to see how he would have handled the crisis if in power. I suspect better.
And don’t get me started on the conspiracy theories. I know we’re all paranoid and anxious – we live in a time where a sore throat is cause for alarm – but let’s not look to the gutter for answers from people with a book to sell or a proven agenda to further or a tin foil hat to polish. I’d rather unfollow or unfriend anyone espousing such rubbish – these times are difficult enough without you showing your ignorance and stirring up people’s anxieties unnecessarily.
But I digress…
At the start of all this I felt it important – a responsibility to community, if you like – to share important updates as they occurred, and to spread some kindness and positivity each day.
I’ve had to back away from the updates for my own emotional health, and on the days when I’m struggling to feel positive I don’t want to lie and pretend to be, so I stay quiet or keep it short.
What I should be doing is writing. Articles, reviews, my next novel. But more often than I would like (or even fully understand) I find myself unable to do so. Just writing this article has taken hours and I’ve walked away from it many times, until I forced myself back to my chair.
But what I am starting to allow myself to do, is to take time out if and when I need it. To draw a line as to what (and who) I choose to listen to. To not engage with the ignorant. To grant myself time out to just be. To watch a movie, to sit in the backyard and listen to the birds, to read a book, even to eat ice cream for breakfast if that’s what I really want to do.
As far as social unrest and civil disobedience go, this is pretty lightweight stuff and not exactly a threat to anyone else.
In time – maybe in bursts of energy, maybe all at once – I will have the energy and motivation and creative spark to keep writing, to be productive. Heck, I planted that vegetable garden over Easter and I’ve been getting other, more mechanical (rather than creative) tasks done here and there. And watching lots of movies and listening to lots of music!
I’m going to give myself a pass. If I’m not focussed enough to write on any given day… I don’t have to. I’ll keep trying to eat well, to not lean on the booze so much, to get more exercise, and most of all, spend time with the family. The rest will come when it’s ready. After all, forcing creativity does not make for good art.
Be kind to yourself.
And stay the fuck at home.