This has been years in the making, and there have been many tears and sleepless nights along the way. Along the way, I have been profoundly touched by all the stories people have shared with me, and now I am able to share them with you too.
It’s been a long time since I have been able to write anything. I am now in my second month of ‘Oh my god, my health isn’t entirely stuffed’, and wow. I can tell you one thing about being extremely impaired for over a year, it certainly teaches you to prioritise. Is that balance? I don’t know really. I hope so.
But when you spend a long time being unable to leave the house or even walk to the bottom of the driveway without supervision, you learn to prioritise what needs to be done pretty fast. (And no, I’m not talking Covid and lockdowns here. Even though boy have they changed things!)
I am not sure I can impart any wisdom, or anything about the experience. And it is not at all finished, as I have long term chronic illnesses that are never going away. But hopefully this won’t be entirely awful to read, and may help you on your own journey towards balance in your own life.
It is hard to live through dark times. When the world narrows. If all you see are the horrors outside. Feeling trapped. When the only place you can go is . . . your home.
It’s . . . Blursday?
I am in Blursday of week I-have-no-idea of the Melbourne lock down. The days have blended one into the other. The weather is just something I see outside my window. Everything is via zoom or phone. A package arriving is both exciting, and scary. Our kitchen floor is covered in bags of not-clean-yet stuff – mostly groceries. Our cupboards are separated into we-got-it-off-the-floor and it’s-been-sterilized. The world has narrowed. And then narrowed again.
Apart from the bare minimum: cough and sneeze into elbows, stay 1.5m distance, and wash hands a lot. What else can you do?
Note: Updated to add: This advice is for when you CAN’T stay home and need to be out and about. Stay home if you can peeps. It will save lives.
Why We Do Social Distancing
I have rather . . . nasty allergies. Some send me anaphylactic, others . . . trigger an immune response that causes a viral cold sore outbreak.
Cold sores? How can that be bad? Well, I’m in the lucky minority where an outbreak – without anti-virals – puts me in bed for 1-2 weeks. The antivirals cost $60 a dose, minimum, per exposure. Then I only get sick for 3 days. Not fun. So, you bet your ass I’ve figured out ways to navigate through our environment that minimise both my exposure to allergens, and my household’s exposure to my outbreaks when they happen.
I will try to walk you through some things that we do in our family. And hopefully that will help you and your family figure out what you need to do for your own social distancing routines.
In the House
Separate toiletries, towels, and hand towels.
We each have separate toothpaste. My toothpaste is always a different (labelled) tube. And the toothbrushes are stored so that they can’t accidentally touch.
We don’t use the same hand towels to dry hands. As one of my milder allergens is a favourite food of the kids, (and their sensory issues already limit their range of foods), we just use separate hand towels. And that is sacrosanct! Accidentally use the wrong one? Tell someone, we replace it, and no one gets upset.
Turning taps on and off
Turn taps to wash your hands on and off with different parts of your hands. Yes, your hands have zones. Think about the parts of your hands that are less likely to be contaminated and turn on with them: wrists work.
Round handles suck. There is no way to ‘zone’ them. After you wash your hands, re-soap and wash the handle down before you turn off. Really.
Drop off zone for outdoor stuff.
We go to the hospital a lot. And have done for 10+ years now. That means toddlers, toys and contamination.
So we have a ‘drop off’ zone in the house. Outer layers – all outer layers are left there. We have hooks and boxes. Hats, scarfs, coats, shoes, bags.
Then, everyone has to wash their hands before they do anything else. No exceptions! This includes tablets + phones. Which are then wiped down with anti bacterial gel. Yes, really. Every time.
Extreme hand washing before food prep.
Most people think they are good at being clean with food prep. That’s why I generally only eat at home. When thinking about reducing cross contamination, you need to walk in there thinking: everything could be contaminated.
You touch the fridge handle? You wash hands before touching food. (Sometimes, for low prep food, we use pinky finger to open drawers, and keep that pinky away from any food or surfaces. But that takes practice.) You touch one food? Wash hands before handling the next one. Not sure if anyone else washed hands before opening lids? Wash hands after opening lids.
Never use a utensil (spoon, knife) in two different containers. Where possible, get the amount out of the jar on the first try. Need extra butter? Get a new knife. Need to touch the drawer handle to get a knife? Wash your hands after opening the drawer. Drop a knife on a surface you didn’t just clean? Get a new one.
Extreme? Yes. But when we don’t do this: possible life threatening reaction. Best case scenario? $60 + 3 days I’ll in bed. Yes, we are fucking careful.
Bed linen sucks
Bed linen and soft furnishings are a bitch. Try to minimise people touching each others linen. Pillows need to be sacrosanct. Those things are a contamination nightmare. When making beds, at bare minimum, wash hands between making each bed, and keep pillows separated. Someone uses your pillow to lean on? Change the pillow case.
Decontaminate the house
After we have guests over, we strip our lounges, seats and soft surfaces and chuck those layers in the wash. Yes, we bought / made lounges and chairs with removable washable covers. We have spares for some, and make do with sheets until the old ones are clean and dry.
Then we mop all surfaces with soap and disinfectant. Everywhere. Everyone has showers, and their clothes go straight into the washing machine. All surfaces are wiped down, including handles and light switches. Then the cleaning cloths are thrown away.
Some toys are designated as guest toys. Some are home toys and are packed away when guests come over. We keep them separate. Guest toys are only used when guests are over, or are washed.
How on earth do we navigate public transport? (We have no car).
You will touch your face
Well, first things first. This whole ‘don’t touch your face?’ It ain’t happening. And kids? Forget about it. The trick is not repeating, ‘I won’t touch my face, I won’t touch my face‘ over and over again. From this ADHD mum to you: you will forget.
Zone your body instead
The trick is to think about your hand and arms as zones. Fingers are probably going to be used on your phone – but perhaps only the thumb, index and pointer. Elbows are for buttons on lifts and lights. Use your knees if you have too much to carry. Door handles? Elbow if they are leaver.
Contamination will happen – be prepared
Those horrible new ‘handles’ on metro trains that are recessed? Round handles? They both suck. Use as little as possible. Sometimes you can open them with two fingers – try the pinky, ring finger and thumb. But you will probably fail. That’s what hand sanitizer is for.
(Not so good for allergens btw. I treat those bits of my hands as contaminated until I can use soap and water. That means: remember everything those bits of your hands touch, and wash them too. Where possible, I let someone else go first and let them open the doors)
Treat your wallet – particularly your credit cards and train tickets as the bio-hazard they are.
Have a scratch zone!
If you need to scratch your nose, or face, and trust me, the moment you start to try and stop yourself, your face will feel like it’s covered in ants. Figure out a bit of your arm/hand that will do that. Upper arm / inner elbow, and the middle of your lower arm are good spots. Don’t use them for anything else.
Tips for ‘Am I Contagious?’
Wash hands till you are sick of doing it
If you are unsure if you are sick, and you touch your face with your hands: go wash your hands. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. Do it anyway.
Don’t hug people, or kiss them. With kids, this is quite horrible. We have a ‘don’t touch Mummy’s face‘ rule in the house. Don’t put things on faces either (kids love to do this, sigh).
Yes, I am a termagent when I am infectious.
If we must do hugs /destress compression exercises? I don’t touch them with my hands – arms and wrists only. Yes, you can do it too. Hug after clean clothes. You might be doing your best, but after a few hours, your clothes are probably covered in germs. Talk to kids about how much you love them instead. Give compliments during the day – more than usual. Show you still care.
NB. This may not work here: I am only infectious with my own sickness if someone touches my face. For viruses that are spread through the air, this is a lot trickier! Best to follow the health advice of the medicos.
Think about accessories
If you wear glasses, you will need to wash them regularly too. And think about where you store them. Ditto hats gloves, ties, mouth guards, hearing aids . . . anything that touches the body.
Touch them after touching something else? They are contaminated. Treat them as such.
Start thinking about how often you ‘adjust’ your glasses / tie etc. And then come up with ways to change how you touch them. (Zones people!)
So, how do we as a family cope with high risk areas like hospitals? Remember: Weekly visits for years here. Plus doctors surgeries, specialists appointments etc.
Again, embrace the fact you will fail. Particularly with children! The younger they are, the more likely they will want to climb and touch everything. Particularly if they are stuck there for hours. This is what we do.
Bring your own food
We always bring our own food. Always. And we never, ever eat in the cafeteria. Cafeterias are disease vectors. And if you are sick (or don’t know if you may be sick)? Remember families of peeps in hospital beds are buying their food there too: you’ll pass on anything you have. Where possible, we won’t eat at the hospital at all: we’ll do it before or after, usually on a park bench.
Hand sanitizers are king
We have a small case of hand sanitizer we top up from our big container at home. We always use it before we eat. Every time.
On entering and leaving the hospital, between entering different waiting rooms, and before and after the appointment, and on the way to and from the waiting room? Hand sanitizer. Most hospitals have them everywhere. Leave the germs you picked up in one area there! Leave hospital germs at the hospital, and non-hospital germs outside. We do the tablets and phones too if they have been played with since the last time.
This stuff is most important if you have really little kids. It’s not 100% brilliant, but it does a pretty darn good job. Even with sensory seeking kids who need to touch everything.
Let the kids bring something to do. Preferably something easy to clean. So, books and plastic toys. Not soft squishy cloth toys they need for bedtime. The less they are climbing over stuff, the less they are spreading around their own and others illnesses. But be realistic. They are kids. Some things you just have to let go. Sometimes you just need to shove them straight in the shower when you get home. (And yes, clothes straight into the washing machine.)
Social Distancing? It’s a pain, but it can be done
We have been doing this gig for years. We still get sick – but not more than average, even with above average levels of exposure. It is very hard. It sucks. But it can be done.
Social distancing? It’s a bitch, but you can do it.
Now I have no idea if this is relevant for a viral pandemic. But hopefully some of these things will help. Or at least start you thinking about how you will handle things with your own family. We can do this peeps!
When a family seeks help for their child, myths on giftedness are often weaponised against them. The desperation I saw among families – and even my own desperation at times – lead me to write my book on the history and science of Gifted Myths.
From the moment I realised we were on this roller-coaster of a journey, I have had as much to unlearn as to learn. Almost everything I knew, or thought I knew was wrong.
We will not be able to be there: our family’s disabilities mean hanging out in crowds at the best of times is a bad idea. But even if (like us) you can’t be there in person, there are things you can do to help with the climate strike.
Contact Your Local Representative
It is easy for politicians to write off climate protests as just ‘fringe’. This becomes much harder when they are inundated by messages, letters, phone calls or comments on social media from people in their electorate. One letter can go a long way.
Remember: politicians aren’t really leaders, they are followers. Give them a good reason to do something, like the threat of losing their job at the next election and watch those policies flip. But don’t wait for them. Start doing what you can today.
If you love what a business is doing to help the climate – contact them and thank them! Remember: businesses are there to make money. If doing good actually increases their sales or profile, they will be more likely to keep doing it.
Use a business which isn’t quite up to scratch? Then send them a message too. Keep it polite, and be prepared to walk if they don’t change. Maybe research alternatives on Sept. 20th.
We changed our power supplier years ago when we realised we could ‘go green’ AND cut our power bill at the same time. Sometimes, there are win – win solutions out there!
Go plant a plant if you have a garden – or a spare pot. Start a compost or bokashi bin (some councils offer discounts to buy one). Look up if your council does green waste / food waste recycling – good for all the food waste that can’t go in the compost easily!
We started keeping the tops of carrots with leaves. Then we plant them. It’s not about getting carrots – just having green in the garden. It’s an experiment! Check out the sad forlorn section of your fridge. You may have a sprouting vege or two you can chuck in a pot already.
I personally love propagating rosemary. I put cuttings of rosemary all around the house (they look beautiful), and when they develop roots, in the garden they go!
NB. We don’t ‘own’ our garden. We sought permission from the body corp of our flat to redevelop a neglected corner of the common area. Now we have orange, lemon and apple trees, rosemary, peas, strawberries, nectarines, a few native shrubs and trees, lavender, lilies and lots and lots of geraniums. It’s Darwinian gardening (if it lives under our neglectful brown thumbs, it stays).
I know it feels like a small thing: but we won’t ‘fix’ things with one big magic wand. It’s going to take lots of people doing lots of different things. Small doesn’t mean nothing!
Reduce Something If You Can’t Get Rid of It
We do our best to eliminate things like plastic but – newsflash! With severe allergies in the house, we *have* to use stuff that is in packages. Alas, every bulk site we have found has so much cross contamination, it’s a death zone.
But we do our best. We cut down where we can’t eliminate: Each bit of plastic not used, is one less bit of waste. And using the plastic you have is better than throwing it away. No one’s perfect. And if you get too caught up in being ‘perfect’, you’re going to start getting grumpy, and pretty soon you’re in the ‘eh, this is too hard’ zone.
Try One More Meal a Week Without Meat
With all the crazy food problems we have, it is very hard for us to do certain things. But we’re experimenting and know that everything we do helps. It feels small – but if enough people do it, it starts to have a big impact.
The less stuff travels, the less carbon emissions it has, and the better for our climate – an us. Shop as local as you can – don’t be put off if you can’t, but even one change can (cumulatively) make a difference. Ditto for your own travels: we use public transport where we can. And walking can be a lot of fun!
Borrow, Don’t Buy
Most stuff we buy will eventually end up in landfill, probably spitting out methane. If you can borrow it rather than buying it – bonus! We use libraries for so many things. We even use the *gasp* clothesline to dry our clothes. And in winter (because Melbourne) we traipse our clothes down to the local laundromat to use their dryers (We do the washing at home). Trust me: if you have to haul it in a backpack for 10 mins, you really begin to question just how necessary it is to use the dryers.
We actually only end up using dryers a few weeks a year (at most). And this was true even when we were doing cloth nappies. Don’t get me wrong: dryers are awesome. But they are also amazing energy sucks. As I have frequent periodic bouts of ill health we cut down as much as possible on the ‘work’ of cleaning. Shirts are put on clothes hangers before we haul them to the line (no wrinkles, then straight in the cupboard afterwards). No ironing unless absolutely necessary (and usually it’s not).
Buy Secondhand or Ethical
As a sewist, I really dislike most clothing available to buy. My hubbie is often amused at my idea of clothes shopping. He and the kids will wait outside for the 30 secs it takes me to decide if the clothes are worth buying. (Hint: It’s in the seams. No point trying it on if it’s going to fall apart after a couple of wears.) If I’m in the store for more than 30 secs, then they will come in too.
Better quality stuff (including hand made) usually ends up at op shops. Which is where I try to go first.
Second best is to use something like the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Guide. This goes to a lot of effort to check just how ethical (and green) a particular clothing brand is really. Sometimes, I am even pleasantly surprised.
And sometimes, yes, I give up and just make my own stuff. Even something as simple as knowing how to sew on a button, hem pants, patch holes or take in a seam can make an outfit go from ‘meh’ to ‘I will wear it for years’!
Volunteer if You Can
Find an environmental group and volunteer your time if you can. This is not something we find easy to do: but I know many families who have had a blast working in wetlands, restoring creeks or planting trees.
Cut Down Energy Usage Where You Can
We are lucky to own our little flat. We put in double glazing to cut down our energy bills. If you own your roof, have a look at whether you can get solar and/ or batteries – often the local council will have a program for that too.
But even something simple like putting up double curtains will help a lot. And I mean curtains, not just block out blinds. Even two old sheets pinned up will cut heat loss a real lot.
Most places have really bad insulation. And windows are the worst – particularly old drafty ones that leak when it rains. (Did I mention we replaced all our windows? Yeah. I like the rain on the outside of the house.)
Share photos and messages about what you are doing: you may inspire someone. If that’s too much: find peeps who are making a difference and share their stuff. Even if you can’t storm the barricades, your voice is important – particularly if you’re the sort who ‘never gets involved’. A share from you might be the kick someone else needs to start themselves.
No One is Perfect: But Don’t Give Up
We are in a climate crisis here. It’s never going to be just one thing that will ‘fix the climate problem‘. And there are often really good reasons why some particular action is just not possible.
But, and this comes from the bottom of my ADHD heart, if you go into this feeling guilty at not being enough, you will probably give up.
Do what you can. One step at a time. Do one thing, and when that’s a real habit, add a second small thing. Keep doing that. Enjoy it! Keep getting excited at doing the small thing.
Watch your baby plants grow (the ones that survive). Try again if they don’t. Dandelions make great tea, BTW. Geraniums are hard to kill (but I have done it.) Rosemary is pretty hardy. Weeds still make oxygen, and great compost.
Small is Something: It is Never Just All or Nothing
Our family deals with catastrophizing every day: I can’t do the thing – ALL things are IMPOSSIBLE!
Your small thing may not feel like enough. Heck, it may not be enough. But every thing that you do is one small shuffle away from the cliff face. It – with luck – it will make the heroic leaps that will probably be necessary not quite so impossible.
Hold on to hope and do as many small things as you can to help. Pick yourself up when you don’t live up to your own expectations (you won’t all the time anyway). And if enough people do enough small things, who knows? We may even save the planet and our climate.