Friday, November 06, 2020

COVID Diaries Chapter Five


 Hearing Voices

No, I'm not having a psychotic break, despite the isolation and craziness we've stumbled upon in 2020. I live alone in a small attached townhome.  For me, it makes sense to stay home and suck it up, so that's what I've been doing.  The voices I hear in real life are generally my rude neighbors with whom I have some grievances, but that's a story for another day.

Since March, screens and devices have taken over my world.  I've always been kind of a geek. That proclivity came from some of the men in my life - past engineer colleagues and men I've dated.  One taught me Quicken back in 1994.  Funny what you remember about a person. 

Since the stay-at-home orders started in March, I am almost always looking at a screen.  In the film "Social Network", a friend of Mark Zukerberg predicted that with the advent of Facebook, we would live on the Internet. This is me.

I often wake up in the night and turn on PBS on my bedroom TV.  I like this channel since it is just audio, no video and no commercials.  On the downside, NPR reporting starts at 4:00 a.m.  Before that, it's BBC.  I strain to understand the accented English; even the British English is a challenge.  The whole idea is to go back to sleep not strain my brain to follow the dialog. Sometimes I turn it off and power up my iPad to listen to a relaxation app.  The worst part of turning on the iPad is *not* checking email or social media when I should be sleeping.  Not an insomniac's best practice. 

I start my morning taking my phone out of the charger and switching it on.  I then prepare my tea or coffee in the kitchen, and tidy up before sitting down to check messages.  I sit either in my reading chair in the living room and look at my phone, or sit at my desk in my home office on my desktop PC with a decent size monitor.  I'm postponing cataract surgery due to COVID and I'm pretty sure I'm getting more lines in my face from squinting to read the damn phone.

In the Early Days, I was obsessed with hearing the latest news and I'd turn on my bedroom TV while I made my bed and dressed.  I wanted to hear Governor Cuomo brief New Yorkers of the steps he was taking to flatten the curve.  His leadership stood out to me as sincere and competent.  During commercials, I would channel surf between CNN and MSNBC.  If someone important was speaking on Facebook Live, I'd take my iPad into the bathroom and listen after my shower.  

To distract myself from current events and try and recover some equanimity, I registered for webinars that were advertised on Facebook, mostly concerning aging or personal development.  Fun things such as bird watching, concerts and author talks also appeared in my newsfeed.  Those Facebook algorithms know me well.  I still watch Facebook Live when California's Governor Newsom or my County have a presser. And although I'm not really a church goer, I've been watching two Facebook Live New Thought church services on Sundays and enjoying their music and meditations.

As another antidote to news overload, I also began to load my iPad with podcast subscriptions and my e-readers with audiobooks.  To reinforce a more positive mindset, I listen to something spiritual or uplifting instead of news.  My mental health improved with this decision.  I am desperately sick of news, especially politics.  I'm not thick skinned enough for politics so I have to set boundaries.

My Chair Yoga and Creative Writing classes through our local community college transitioned to Zoom, as did my library book clubs. My new History of Film class is all online, and includes a weekly video lesson and the movie of the week to watch and critique. More screen time.  I first search Netflix and Prime for the film, so I can watch horizontally, from my couch.  The college has a movie server so I can watch on my laptop although the WiFi in my living room is not great, especially on battery.  Watching a movie at my desk doesn't appeal.  Modern problems.

To ramp up the badly needed endorphins and serotonin, I sift through literally hundreds of live and on-demand exercise videos.  I have the laptop on my dining table and there is a very small space in my living room that I can exercise, but so far I haven't knocked over my antique lamps.  When I'm too lazy to dial up a video, I have several notebooks of exercises I've collected through the years and I pull up a chair in front of my living room TV, the biggest screen I have, and watch TV while I do them. Typically, this would be around the time for PBS Newshour.

 I eat dinner in front of the TV on the sofa, then clean up the kitchen and it's horizontal for a couple of hours, with my feet elevated.  I guiltily scroll through my phone when I'm watching TV, and I know this is really bad.  If I'm following a plot, I'll put down the phone and if something compelling shows up in my news feed, I'll mute the TV. If it's a British detective mystery (one of my favorites…) I have trouble understanding the audio and must pay close attention even with Closed Captions on!

 Then, a final phone check for messages before powering it down around 10:30 p.m.  The minute I walk to my bedroom, I reach for the remote and turn on my bedroom TV, usually to MSNBC for more news analysis. I put the timer on for one hour and somehow this puts me to sleep.  Sometimes I'll read something on my Kindle or Hoopla book readers and play Music Choice New Age music in the background.  This is way better than news to set me up for a decent night's sleep, but news is a habit going back years when the news wasn't so horrible each and every day.

A months long downsizing project has brought some imaginary voices into my head.  I've been sorting through boxes of old photos, family memorabilia and collectibles. Although nothing like the voices coming from YouTube and Zoom, the voices of my parents still rattle around in my brain.   In a "Jane box", I ran across a poem my dad wrote me in an autograph book from my 6th grade graduation in 1961.  I was 11.  It was so sweet and brought me to tears.  I had to put it aside. Dad's voice in the autograph book is a keeper. 

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