Hello, readers, thanks for your emails, your support, and your questions in this time of global pandemic. How’s everybody doing? (Yes, I know the first iteration misspelled COVID as Corvid, I ravens and crows and have been doing it all week, what can I say).
Image: Meme stating that I have gone zero seconds without touching my face.
Personal update: Mr. Awkward and I are both virus-free as far as we can tell (which is no guarantee), but we’re both high-risk people and we are keeping our asthmatic, seasonal-allergy-prone asses home except for one or two essential medical errands. We’re very lucky to be able to do so, and I’m sending so much solidarity and appreciation to people who do the essential jobs to keep everyone fed, housed, not drowning in piles of our own garbage, and receiving necessary medical treatment.
The pharmacy has been out of my ADHD med for almost a month and doesn’t know when they’ll get resupplied. I run out Friday, so, I do not anticipate regular intervals of focused productivity, but who knows what inspiration may come in the hyper-focus zone. Last week, I did what I could to help former colleagues make the sudden switch to online teaching (release the tutorial-kraken!) and I’m working on a piece for Vox (who are doing some very good explainers) about scripts for getting relatives to take this seriously that will go up within the next day or so. I’ll share a link here when it does.
My general plans are to keep writing my morning pages with the #ArtBuddies, pet cats, wash my hands, keep my writing schedule as much as I can, wash my hands, read a ton of books, wash my hands, check in with friends (especially my extroverts) regularly, wash my hands, bug my electeds a ton about getting our collective shit together and getting relief to *people* (not just *workers/employers*), wash my hands, and play many games of “I didn’t know we had this in our pantry, let’s put it on some rice!” in between hand-washings.
And, you know, try not to freak out entirely.
Would you like to look at cats? They almost never share the lap peacefully, so this was a rare pleasure.
Image: Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat (closer, darker swirls) and Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger (further from camera, lighter stripes) share a rare moment of peace on my blanketed lap.
Now for some questions! We’ll call them #1258 and #1259.
#1258: How can I help friends and family whose livelihood is being affected by the pandemic?
I was hoping for advice on how to offer my aid (financial or emotional) in a kind and non-condescending way to friends or family who are not working right now because of COVID-19. These would be people who might need financial assistance to live because they typically live paycheck to paycheck but now they do not have a regular source of income. My husband and I are lucky to have remote jobs but I don’t want to come across like a patronizing privileged asshole. Thanks!
Hello! You are nice!
Financially-speaking, I want you and your husband to think about your budget for helping and think about concrete offers you could make, like, “Would a $100 gift card for groceries help out right now, or do you want to text me a list and I’ll drop whatever on your porch when I go to the store? Would [store] or [store] work better for you?” or “Do you need help making rent, we could cover up to $X this month.” These aren’t necessarily the exact scripts for making offers, but I want you to be specific and realistic with yourselves about what you can and want to do, and think in terms of concrete offers you could make within your limits.
A stressful thing about being offered (even highly welcome!) financial help is not knowing how much or what you are allowed to ask for – Is this the situation where all the theater and film kids and activists in Chicago have been passing the same $20-50 around since 2003, or are you somebody who can keep somebody’s lights on for a bit? Being able to gently reach out and say “We’re lucky to be able to work from home, we’ve set some money aside to help friends & family cover financial emergencies right now, anything from grocery gift cards or help with bills, please don’t hesitate” and also make clear “This is a gift, pay it forward when you’re on your feet, not back” will take the stress off everybody. It’s the same principle behind taking a friend who is struggling financially out for a meal and saying from the start, “I’d love to buy you lunch” or “Remember, this is all on me.” Knowing where your budget and boundaries and intentions are before you offer help removes the guesswork that leads to worry that leads to the person you’re trying to feed up ordering The Water and The Bread just in case you didn’t really mean it.
Emotionally-speaking, if you’re offering help, that’s also a good place to ask what people need (before helping) and also specify what kind of help you can offer and when. “Let me know if you need any help” puts the onus on the person who needs help to brainstorm stuff at the intersection of what they actually need vs. what you can actually do. If you say “I can do x and y, could you use help with any of that?” a person who needs different help they can always tell you, “No, but could you do ______?” and you can figure it out together. Some things I’ve seen:
“Need me to do Skype story-time with the kids so you can take a shower and hear yourself think for an hour?”
“Are there some bureaucratic phone calls I could make for you? Do you need help filing for temporary unemployment or filling out forms for rental assistance?”
- “Want to text me before and after your doctor appointment? You can tell me how it went and I can distract you.”
“I can do some free tech support for your grandparents if you want someone to teach them about webcams and Face-Time.”
People are stretched thin and sensitive so this is a good time to refresh sympathy vs. advice vs. distraction best practices:
- “Do you want advice or are you venting?”
“Do you want to talk about it or do you want to Studiously Not Talk About It?” (Do you want commiseration or distraction?)
- “I’m happy to listen, but before I forget, is there something specific you’d like me to do?”
People asking for emotional support can help remove guesswork by saying what they need even if the listening friend doesn’t ask: “If I want advice, I’ll ask, but right now I just need to think out loud.” “I’ve had a terrible day and I don’t want to talk about it, but I could use some distraction. Are you caught up on Better Call Saul yet?” Give us an idea of the threat level, if possible. “I am spiraling and I urgently need someone to talk me down *right now.*” Ok! Let me drop everything, or find you somebody who can. “I’d really love to hear your voice and see your face in the next couple of days, can we make a Skype date?” We can work with that! We’re in an emergency, and emergencies call for directness. If you ask somebody how they are, expect to hear the real answer. If you need something from somebody, help them give it to you.
One thing I’m personally noticing about long-distance emotional support: This is obviously a “my diamond shoes pinch” situation because I do have many kind people who want to check on me, and that is a lucky thing, but seeing a bunch of messages and texts and emails all at once that just say some version of “How are you?” is stressing me out, especially when it comes from people I don’t talk with very much under better/normal circumstances. Are we connecting or am I reporting back? Thanks for checking on me, I don’t have this number in my phone, can you remind me who it belongs to? It’s making me feel a little like when Mr. Awkward was in the hospital and I suddenly ran a 24-7 medical update and general chitchat line, fielding prayer offers from everybody he’d ever met who wanted to know how he was doing.
People love him a lot and this was mostly very good, and I do not regret sending 150+ “Thank you, I’ll tell him you were thinking about him” texts or generally handling this for him. (It’s how I could help.) Checking on friends & neighbors & relatives is a kind & good & necessary thing that I definitely don’t want to add a “you must get the wording right” pressure to (Please, 100% risk doing it imperfectly vs. not doing it!), but what might help me right now is people who want to get in touch out of the blue and/or people I don’t talk to very often sharing something about how they are doing as they check how I am, so we have an obvious thing to chat about and can work in the “how are you” exchange organically, like so:
- “We built a soap dispenser out of Lego today (photo). How are things with you?”
- “Please enjoy these costumes I put on the dog/the houseplants/the children (photo). How are things (d)evolving in Fort Awkward this week?”
- “Found this old photo of us getting ready to go to prom (photo). Can you still make your hair that big?”
- “I’m feeling strangely calm (or is it dead inside?). Howabout you?”
- “I used to be jealous of people who worked from home. Never again. How do you do this all the time?”
- Like I said, even “Hey, I’m really freaking out right now, can we chat on the phone for a little while?” helps me get in the right frame of mind, whereas if you start with “How are you?” and make us do the polite back and forth it just makes more anxiety for everyone.
Again, this is personal to me, about a thing that is stressing me, specifically out, not a guide for what everyone should do in every case, but I offer it up in case it would help anybody else. Definitely feel free to adapt it for your online dating/flirting purposes by replacing boring “Hey”/”What’s up?” texts and IMs with sharing a thing [NOT AN UNSOLICITED IMAGE OF UR NAKED GENITALS, COME ON, KEEP IT CLASSY] and then asking a thing.
Now for the next question:
#1259: “I’m an extrovert. Social Distancing is my nightmare.”
Hi Captain Awkward & Co!
I’ve been avidly following your column for years, and it’s been very helpful to me, especially since I’m a serious extrovert who mostly swims in introverted waters (I work in tech, and my hobbies include gaming, crafting, etc – basically my entire social circle is introverted. It’s a balance, to keep friends without being obnoxious or annoying.)
The pandemic sweeping into the US is throwing me for a loop, though. For background, what I mean by “serious extrovert” is, my way of staying mentally stable and healthy is literally other people’s idea of hell: I go out in crowds by myself and talk to strangers. If I don’t do this regularly, like once or twice a month, I dive pretty badly. I get anxious, and withdrawn, and tired. I can’t focus. I sleep too much. Everything makes me irritable. My household has a code-phrase to gently throw me out of the house to go socialize until I’m myself again; it’s a little bit of a joke, at this point.
Clearly, that’s not going to work for the next few months. I worked from home this past week for ONE day; after 5 hours I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I fully expect within the next week, my office is going to mandate remote work for everyone indefinitely. Which is the right thing to do! In theory, I approve of all these measures, they’re very important!
I have a two-fold question, though. For me, and other extroverts like me, do you have any ideas on how to stay sane? How can I fill that social need at least enough to get by for indeterminate amount of time? I have depression and generalized anxiety disorder*, enough that I have several minor anxiety attacks a week when things are going well. When they’re going badly, it’s a few a day and several panic attacks a week. I don’t want to backslide (I do have medication and a therapist) more than I have to to keep my community safe.
And on the other side, naturally all my social media feeds are filled with “Introverts! You’ve been waiting for this!!” ‘joke’ memes. I get the need to make fun of the scary time we’re in. I don’t resent any particular one. But the deluge of them is killing me; I feel completely othered, and like I can’t talk to a large portion of my circle about why I’m so anxious about this. (My partners are great, it’s everyone else that’s making me twitch.) Normally, I’d just shut off social media for a few days or a week, but I’m not seeing anybody either! Doing both feels impossible. Is there a solution I can’t see?
*If I get any “bUt EXtRovErTs DoN’t hAVe AnXiETy” comments, I’m going to cry. I have to fight that battle too much as it is. That’s not how GAD works.
Social Butterfly (they/them)
Dear Social Butterfly:
Hello, thank you for your timely question.
For people who need a social distancing explainer/review, this one is very good. See also: This graphic/explainer. For our purposes, I am going to assume that people know these four things:
- Social distancing is an incredible act of solidarity. Those of us who can stay home are saving lives by “flattening the curve,” i.e. slowing the spread of the virus to hopefully allow overwhelmed medical facilities and researchers time and resources to handle urgent cases and work on vaccines/treatments, respectively. If you think or know you are sick, stay home, and call your doctor/urgent care on the phone for instructions before you show up at a clinic. If you are not sick and you can stay home, then stay home except for absolutely necessary trips out. When you must go out, keep your distance from people and avoid crowds.
- Not everyone can stay home right now. Some people are saving lives in doctor’s offices and hospitals, keeping us fed, preventing us from being buried in piles of garbage, delivering our necessities, keeping the lights on and the toilets flushing. That’s before we even get to people who are going to work because they need to earn a living. We need to be really kind, thoughtful, and supportive of these folks, always.
- Staying home (for those of us who can) for the next few weeks helps the people who cannot. The people who cannot do all the necessary work that helps us stay home. The more we can help people stay home (by canceling social events we’re hosting, with mutual aid, and by say, pressuring governments and employers to make it possible for people to afford food, rent, medicine, etc. and access necessary testing and care instead of going to work sick or at risk of infecting people because they need to pay bills), the more lives we’ll save.
- The challenges many of us are suddenly dealing with are not new – Disabled people have been fighting to work at home, to have meds and other necessities delivered, to have telemedicine covered, and to have 1,000 other accommodations that go from “special treatment” to “the norm” as soon as “everyone” needs them. People with suppressed immune systems and other conditions that need isolation and effort and expense around keeping a sterile, clean home environment have had to make whole social and professional lives work from a safe distance. We can learn from them now, we must fight for and with them – and against ableist eugenics and fascism forever. When things go “back to normal” for able-bodied people, we can’t leave anyone behind.
I’m leaving comments on this post because I think our community could use the discussion and connection right now, but I need to be absolutely clear: This is not debate time. Nor is this “every possible detail of pandemic exploring time.” I’m not an epidemiologist or public health expert, and I’m translating what I’ve gleaned: Stay home, save lives. Get our vulnerable neighbors who cannot stay home fed, housed, and safe, save lives. Help the people who keep the world running save lives (by staying home if you can). If you can’t stay home, I believe you! Do what you need to do, you don’t have to explain. But optional socializing – even if it feels really important for an extroverted person like our lovely letter writer – is dangerous. If you can handle it, watch Italians make videos talking to the person they were 10 days ago. (If you don’t think you can handle it, practice good self-care and don’t. Maybe enjoy this Grandma instead?)
Good talk, everyone!
Now for the letter’s specifics.
A thing I tell myself/every fellow diagnosable anxiety sufferer who writes me: Treat the anxiety to the extent you can. You have medication and a therapist, that’s awesome. Do your providers do telemedicine and is it covered by your insurance? Find out. Do you have therapy homework/workbooks/exercises/strategies/daily practices that have worked to manage anxiety in the past? Dig them out. The Headspace daily meditation app (mentioned in a past resource here) is offering a lot of their content for free, and I mention it because I have personally found it really enjoyable and useful. Obviously again, YMMV but if “reviews from a hater who was sure she would never be able to do any kind of meditating or mindfulness” are interesting to you, there you go.
I say this because, even experienced anxiety-havers tend to skip this part as we start imagining dire scenarios and looking around for tips and tools, but often we already have some basic things in place. Use them, use everything you already know and have.
The second thing I remind myself/every fellow diagnosable anxiety sufferer who writes in is: Where possible, translate the anxious energy into *action.*
Scanning all the details of everything related to the pandemic is technically an action, but that’s not the action I’m talking about. You’re feeling anxious, so what are you going to do? What can you do? Make lists of things you can do. Don’t judge, you can put ridiculous, impossible things on there. But make lists. Who can you call? What do you need? And what can you do?
Some ideas for your lists:
You need a daytime routine where you figure out how to work from home, get some of your social needs met, take care of yourself and your physical plan as well as your space/environment, and ride this out.
- Make a set schedule and try to stick to it. Doing the same things at the same time every day will give you a sense of normalcy. Take a shower. Put on clean clothes. (They can be really comfortable clothes, just, try not to wear the same ones 4 days in a row). I am the worst at this but I grudgingly concede that it works.
- As you design a new daily routine for yourself, one of your tasks is probably “treat/pamper/baby the anxiety.” Set aside at least 30 minutes every weekday for necessary research, bureaucracy, phone calls, and actually doing the exercises/meditating/what have you. Invest in a weighted blanket, it will help when you are missing hugs. You may find yourself taking your “as needed” meds more often than usual, but if you need to, you need to.
- Use timers and work in bursts and take breaks to get up and move your body.
- Plan your meals and definitely eat lunch, away from your desk if possible.
- If you live with partners/roommates, schedule ahead of time and make lunch a social thing that you eat together at a table. If you live alone, maybe make lunch a social thing with your favorite coworker or coworkers.
- If nobody’s available for lunch, do what introverts do when we work in busy/social offices: Read! Or find a friendly podcast if the vibe of conversation is what you need but you don’t want to spend the time scrolling your phone: I am loving You’re Wrong About.
- If you have a laptop and the ability to move where your desk *is,* my physical therapist recommends moving to different spots/seating positions throughout the day to save your back/knees/wrists.
Socially speaking, you are the extrovert in a sea of introverts, ergo, you are probably now your friend group’s new self-appointed Minister Of Fun.
- Possibly you are the arranger of Virtual Happy Hours.
- Maybe you are the person who is going to figure out the Netflix Party extension for Chrome.
- I have not tried this app/site, but it is one of many I have seen linked for people who want to have a long-distance karaoke night.
- Is it time for Virtual Iron Chef involving your weirdest pantry staples?
- What games lend themselves well to play over Discord or Google Hangouts or another chat program?
- You probably aren’t going to be able to get everyone together even online as much as you want, so may I suggest “small, regular, predictable windows of time” and “calendar invites to specific people at specific times.” It’s easy to miss or ignore a general “Hey everyone” event, so, target that stuff.
- When you make a daily schedule for yourself, can you put “look at/engage with social media” in specific blocks of time and use one of the apps that blocks you the rest of the time, so you can be more intentional about it?
- Can you use your social media to find other extroverts? Things I’ve seen in my feed over the past few days (but do not have time to go back and turn up at present – kindly use your own Search-fu and judgment): A virtual prom where people are going to get all dressed up in their best clothes and take photos and videos, at least ten separate groups/lists that parents & teachers made for stuff to educate and amuse kids, including one (I think) that’s just “We’re scientists who will Skype your child for up to x minutes to talk about y subject, reserve your time block.” Numerous online DJ listening sessions, at-home dance parties.
- Write letters, postcards, make phone calls to people you love who live far away from you. Maybe people can’t feed your need for contact just now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to feed them and see if making the effort and taking action feeds you in return.
- Use calendar invites to plan actual dates with partners and friends (for phone calls/FaceTime and mutual fun). “Let’s catch up sometime” isn’t going to cut it right now. Vagueness isn’t going to cut it for you.“I know that at 8pm we are going to eat an edible and watch CATS together” can get a person through a day.
Possibly your extrovert love and energy can be adapted to other kinds of organizing:
- Mutual aid/errands/for neighbors.
- Does your building need a rotating schedule for disinfecting doorknobs, railings, mailboxes, light-switches and who should walk their dogs when?
- Are you going to the pharmacy, does anybody need meds or other supplies picked up, can there be Google doc and agreed-upon way to pay?
- How will people know if someone gets sick and/or tests positive? Perhaps you are the maker/keeper of your building or block’s spreadsheet and phone tree and balcony choir.
- Look around for local mutual aid Facebook or other social media groups where you live. I got added to one last week, it’s amazing, and I think it’s where tons of extroverts are channeling their energies. That’s where I found out about online karaoke, for example. Maybe another friend group’s lone extrovert is your new plague-buddy.
- Phone-banking for a cause or candidate and bugging your elected officials.
What are some things you could do to be very nice to your body and your living environment right now? If you’re physically up for it, stress-cleaning is useful cleaning that will pay off if you or someone in your household gets sick. Change the sheets. Do the laundry. Hang up the art you’ve been meaning to. Moisturize. Find some sexy playthings for idle hands. Find one of the many, many yoga (or other exercise) instructors who are running free online classes right now.
Finally, if you’ve ever wanted to take up a hobby/learn a skill that takes practice and dedicated concentration, this is probably the time. But also, REST IS OKAY. REST IS NORMAL. REST IS NECESSARY.
I can’t lie – it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and there are some instances where virtual interaction and immersion in the arts/hobbies, etc. won’t be enough – but you are being so smart right now. You are reaching out, asking for help, making plans, taking your meds, doing what you can. We are social animals (yes, even introverts) and we are resourceful animals and you are not going to be alone at being alone. Speaking of which: The author of How To Be Alone is hosting a regular talk show on the topic of How To Be Alone.
Comments are open. Here are some of the things I’d like to read today:
One thing you are personally doing to help or stay connected with other people during necessary social-distancing or outright quarantine.
One thing you are personally doing to take care of yourself during necessary social-distancing or outright quarantine.
If you’re somebody who must go to work, what’s one thing you wish the inside kids knew that could help you be/feel safer and do your job well?
One link per post of an online event or group or resource you think might help either letter writer with a brief description of what that is and why you like it.
Short questions you have about manners/social life/etiquette/scripts for being good to yourself and other people during this weird time, and community answers to those questions. Let’s do some mutual aid right here!
One or two concrete suggestions specifically from people with experience having to do most or all of their social life remotely.
If I could limit comment word count/characters with WordPress I would, but I cannot, so I must ask this enthusiastic, helpful, and wordy bunch to help me out: We do not have to cover every possibility here. If you start making long lists of everything cool you saw on the internet or that you are doing as you write your comment, that’s a sign that you are probably writing your own blog post – GREAT! – Definitely write it, then link us to that post and a brief description of it as your contribution instead of posting 1200 words and seventeen links as a comment.
What I do NOT want to read in this comment section this week:
- Medical advice.
- Medical articles.
- Medical facts.
- Medical theories.
- Medical tips.
- Medical statistics.
- Medical questions.
- Medical anxieties.
- Medical descriptions.
- Medical rumors.
- COVID-19 facts/details/tidbits/explainers/news.
- Medical anything.
- I AM FULL UP ON MEDICAL FACTS, QUESTIONS, AND WORRIES, AND ALSO HAVING TO DOUBLE-CHECK AND DEBUNK THOSE THINGS, THANK YOU. #familygrouptext
- Please hold off on recipes for food, food complaints/issues, details about food allergies, dietary restrictions, or eating. (It’s personal to me, I Just Can’t Right Now, Thank You, there are many sites/communities/social portals ABOUT food, that stuff is useful/necessary but this isn’t the spot). “This site with recipes for pantry staples is what’s getting me through” + a link = okay. “Here’s my recipe for _____. /Does anyone have a recipe for ____?” = Please take it elsewhere, thanks.
- Electioneering. (Text- or phone-banking reaches actual voters, probably do that!)
- Introverts venting or complaining about extroverts. (You heard Letter Writer #1259 – LET’S JUST NOT. Also, introverts, check on and appreciate your friendly extroverts, they’re not okay right now and they could use some love in exchange for the 10 parties they threw and invited us to even if we didn’t go to eight of them.)
I’m sending everyone love, solidarity, hope, and gratitude. Our lives are going to change so much in coming weeks, and I know it’s so scary right now, but even amid the scary news and administrative failures, everywhere I look I see people organizing, helping each other, and brainstorming ways to connect and give back. We’re going to do our best to get each other through this, and our best is pretty good.