The Virus Diaries: Let the Light In

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The days are bright and long, but the isolation is wearing on us. I find myself more and more alone in a room with the curtains drawn. Perhaps some part of me hopes that this is a dream, that if I let myself fall asleep I will awake back into the normal world. The world before we went into isolation. The world before we awoke en masse to the pain of the world.

But that is just it. We are awake. This is the world. It is messy and constantly changing, and life is an unexpected journey. You never know when you will end up taking that one step that leads you further from your comfortable home than ever before. But this is it. This is the journey.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the connections I’ve forged over the years and that I have tempered and strengthened in the last few months. For friends, present and far away, who have made my isolation less isolating. For conversation and shared cups of tea, if only over a screen rather than a table.

And I am grateful for friends who remind me of the light in my life. Of the small sparks and glimmers that shine through. Of cups of tea providing a sanctuary during the day. Of stolen moments of conversation in the early mornings or late nights.

Thank you to all my friends, whether I’ve known you since childhood or have never met you in person, you have made the last few months more than bearable, but special and enjoyable.

* * *

This is a positive post, but I haven’t been feeling very positive lately. Perhaps some of you have noticed that my posting has become slightly erratic, though I do enjoy taking pictures and having tea, so I have tried to keep up with Instagram at least. But I feel less than inspired much of the time, and even less motivated to create what I am inspired to do. Blaming the isolation is easy to do, but I think my depression is starting to flare off and on, like a beacon warning me of something. Sharp rocks on the edges of my life.

Ironically, part of me feels even less isolated than ever since we started staying home. I’m conversing and connecting through social media in a way I’ve never done before, as though I’ve traded the superficial contacts of my normal day for a more complex connection that spans the globe. I have people checking on me besides my mother. And people to share in my joys.

But depression doesn’t care if you have friends. It doesn’t care if you have things you love to do. It takes them away and lies to you and tells you they don’t mean anything. But having my friends, virtual or otherwise, helps me shine a light on those lies, dissipating them with support and love.

So have a cup of tea and let the light shine through. And don’t listen to depression’s lies.

The Virus Diaries: On Self-Care, Principles, and Extenuating Circumstances

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As you may know, it’s an odd time. We are most of us trying to navigate changing routines along with existential fears, which does not make for stabilest of times for most of us, mentally. I, for one, have certainly found myself drifting among various states of emotion through the last more than two months. And self care is starting to look very different for a lot of us.

For many of us, having family at home perpetually may interfere with the ability to do yoga or watch a relaxing show or any number of standard stress-relieving activities. Even if salons and spas were open, many of us would not feel comfortable going, particularly for something that feels indulgent and non-essential. But self-care, especially in times of perpetual low-level (or high-level) stress, can also mean not-doing — rather than taking a hot bath, perhaps forgiving yourself for not exercising or getting everything done on your to-do list.

And to that end, I have recently found myself struggling with a personal dilemma. Back in March, I was contacted by Florishe, a Korean skin care company that uses Korean green tea in their products. I let them know that, while I was happy to test their serum, I was no longer using sheet masks, due to my own efforts to generate less waste with my beauty routine. Well, when my box arrived, they had included the sheet masks as well as the serum (and a lovely canvas tote bag). And I had to decide 1.) if I was going to use the masks or gift them, and then 2.) if I would promote them.

But then I had a particularly stressful week. You have probably seen some allusions to as much on my Instagram stories, or perhaps gathered from my recent video where I sat and drank tea laced with bourbon rather than baking. But I’ve found things just a bit difficult lately. And I think what I really needed to cap a particularly rough week was to just relax with a lovely sheet mask and feel glowy and beautiful, even for just an hour.

Alright, the specifics: Florishe is proud to be a “non-toxic” and EWG-verified company, though that is not something that is particularly important to me. More importantly, however, is how they source their ingredients, particularly their teas. They source from small, sustainably-maintained farms and ensure ethical labor practices at their tea farms. This appeals to me as both a beauty-lover and a tea-drinker (and if they ever decided to offer tea as well as skin care, a la Sulwhasoo, I’d be intrigued!). Another thing that I found fascinating was that, when I got the masks, all of the packaging is marked with recycling symbols, so I could recycle basically everything except the mask sheet itself. Which at least soothes a little of that guilt (of course, releasing guilt is part of the self-care, so…).

The mask itself is very juicy, with a large amount of extra essence, which I like to apply to my skin before putting the mask sheet on, to help it be sealed in by the sheet. I do really like that the packaging itself specifically states that you shouldn’t save the essence to use later, which is something that worries me when I see people doing it, since sheet masks are intended to be one-shot products, and are preserved accordingly. The scent is lightly floral and bergamot-y, in a way that reminds me of nice Earl Grey tea. As a migraine sufferer, I found the scent non-cloying and unlikely to trigger a migraine for me (although that will obviously depend on your personal triggers).

The sheet material is a thicker, opaque, papery material, which is not my preference, and lacks the stretchiness of some of the Taiwanese silk sheet masks I used to love before giving them up, but a few strategic snips around the eyes helped it fit my rather large face. I put the mask on after cleansing and using a hydrating toner and oil, and left it on for about 20 minutes, at which point it felt like it was drying a bit around the edges, so I removed, massaged in the extra essence, and found my skin was calmed, plumped, and hydrated, with that typical sheet-mask glow.

And, perhaps most importantly, I felt relaxed. I cannot do much while sheet masking. I had finished working for the day. And my toddler turns out to be an adorable combination of intrigued and a bit frightened of me in a mask, so running after him wasn’t an issue. So I got to sit, mask, and unwind with a cup of green tea (gyokuro from Teaism, since I don’t have any Korean green tea in my stash right now).

The mask makes me curious to try their serum, which is similarly based around their high-quality green tea extract, and which I will write about once I’ve finished a full testing schedule (complete with before and after photos again!).

NB: The mask was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

The Virus Diaries: Five Things Keeping Me Sane During Stay-At-Home

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Hello! How is everyone this week? This week, instead of a simple update, I thought I’d share five things that have been helping me stay comparatively sane while we’re staying at home. We’re just at the end of six weeks of self-isolating at home, with only the occasional shopping trip for food (once every ten days or so). Isolating is hard, even when you’re a dyed-in-the-wool introvert like I am. It’s been made even more difficult by the fact that I actually get less time to myself since my husband and child are home all the time.

So here is where I’m approaching this from: We are safe, we are healthy, and we are financially solvent. We are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to work from home, at least inasmuch as our employers have decided to continue paying us. My job is a bit more work-from-home friendly, so I typically have a standard 9-5-ish day, while my husband can use his flexibility to take care of the bulk of the childcare during my workday. But I still miss my coworkers, my castmates, my long daily walks through the city, my favorite shops downtown, and the delicious alone time I used to get every week when I worked from home while Dan and Elliot were off at work or daycare. But, all-in-all, we are extremely lucky.

But there are definitely some things that are making a non-ideal situation more bearable or even enjoyable.

  1. Local farms and producers: Like most of the US, it seems, I am also baking a lot during stay-at-home. As my Isolation Baking videos might suggest, I love to bake. In particular, I’m baking quite a bit of bread and baking bread means you go through a lot of flour. Especially since our grocery store has stopped production of their in-house artisan sourdough, for sanitation reasons, I’ve felt the need to pick up a bit of the slack by baking my own bread. But of course, it’s getting more and more difficult to find flour, especially specialty flours. So I was delighted to find a local farm, Migrash Farm, that is still fully stocked and willing to deliver for free to a nearby farmer’s market. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed contactless beer delivery from Denizen’s Brewing Co., and we’re getting our first vegetable delivery from Number 1 Sons this week, so I’m hoping that will be a way to have fresh vegetables every week, even if we only go out every other week.
  2. Tea: Of course, tea has been a constant companion since I was young, but since I’m now home all the time, my tea practice has become even more important. Whether I’m making a pot of Earl Grey, a saucepan of masala chai, or a full gong fu session, tea practice gives me space to slow down and focus on one thing, rather than getting lost in the chaos that is sometimes our home life right now.
  3. Outside time: Normally, I walk three miles, round-trip, on my daily commute, so suddenly spending the entire day in the house has largely depressed my mental state. I find that getting outside, even for a few minutes, helps perk it back up. Even better if I can enjoy a peaceful, early morning tea session in the yard before anyone else around me is awake. Despite not needing to leave the house by 7 a.m., I still wake up quite early, if only to get that time.
  4. Daily Yoga app: While I’ve had an on and off home yoga practice for over twenty years, I’ve recently found it difficult to stick to my home practice, especially since we moved to a house that has a bit more limited floor space for yoga. But the Daily Yoga app, plus my #ringofaccountability on Instagram, have inspired me to stick with my daily practice. I’m currently on a forty-day streak and counting.
  5. Small touches of beauty in my life: I have not been sticking to my regular beauty routine, and for the first time in years, I’ve started using dry shampoo, but I do try to do something to make myself feel connected to beauty each day. I’ve been wearing my historically-inspired clothing, and trying to do makeup and hair at least a few days a week. And my new Camellia sinensis necklace from Tea Thoughts has been immensely inspiring to my beauty routine. Some days I only get dressed to give myself an excuse to wear this little beauty.

I should likely mention a bonus other thing that helps keep me sane: my medication for depression and anxiety. I believe in being totally honest about medication and don’t think it should be stigmatized. It certainly is making the difference between being appropriately concerned for the future and helplessly anxious. I would be remiss if I didn’t give that an extra shout-out.

So that’s what’s keeping me together these days. Are you also existing held together with a thin veneer of red lipstick and homemade bread? What’s your stay-at-home routine look like? Until next week, stay safe everyone!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration and contact information.

The Virus Diaries: Weeks One to Three

First of all, at the time I’m writing this, I am NOT sick that I know of; I just thought I would make a catchy title. I know I posted two weeks ago that I was going to revisit my beauty routines, but right now I just have more on my mind, plus the rather profound changes in my daily routines have meant that some of my beauty and self-care practices have fallen by the wayside and it would be dishonest to pretend like I still wake up every morning and put on sunscreen and then brush my hair fifty times before going to bed.

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This week, I thought I would start a weekly diary of my experiences isolating at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps in five years, when my blog doubles its age, I’ll look back and appreciate this look into my mindset at this time. I really hope so. This is going to get heavy at times. I’ve never been terribly private about my mental health, so know that I already grapple with anxiety and depression pretty much on a daily basis and this has added an exciting new layer to that.

My own awareness of this virus started in February, when we had to decide if we were going to go ahead with our planned trip to Japan. While we had ultimately decided not to go, the decision was also made for us when the events we were traveling to attend and even most of our flights were canceled. As reports of cases in the US started becoming more frequent, I found myself not only worried about travel, but about my near-daily travels on Washington, DC’s delightfully cozy public transportation (I say with no small touch of verbal irony). While I was heartened by the reports that the disease seems mild in young children, and therefore did not worry about Elliot, I realized that my own chronic asthma, which has sent me to urgent care with complications from the common cold before, meant that I suddenly had to face the very real-seeming fear that I would not only be very likely to be infected if it came to DC, but also that, if infected, I was more likely to face serious complications.

I will admit, I had a rough couple of weeks as I dealt with this. Lest you think I am now at peace with my own more-real mortality, I am not. I am merely more confident that, as I have been almost three weeks without leaving my house beyond a walk around the block, I am less likely to be exposed to a high risk of infection. But before I officially got the okay from my employer to switch to remote work for the foreseeable future, I actually recorded a video for Elliot in case I didn’t make it. I realized that not only would he not remember me if I died, but that most of the available video of me would be my YouTube videos, which are relatively representative, but still an idealized version of myself. Luckily, I now feel like I probably will never have to show it to him, although I might keep it if he ever asks us about our experiences during this time.

Alright, now on to the diary part. I first decided to start working from home on March 12th, after my home state reported its first confirmed cases. I went in the next day to gather what I might need to work from home long-term and chat with my boss. We had already discussed the possibility, in light of my delicate lungs, and he was more than gracious about it. I commuted early that morning so I could visit two of my favorite local places to get one last pastry and cup of tea before leaving indefinitely, and I left in the middle of the day to avoid evening rush hour. And then, I settled in. Shortly thereafter, we got word that our entire organization was switching to remote, as possible. That evening, I discussed things with my husband and he agreed to also work from home, which was good because halfway through our first week home, his workplace closed down, which included our daycare.

Now, this is not a place where I spend too much time discussing my parenting experience, but I do want to say that I am extraordinarily fortunate that my husband 1.) has a job that involves a lot of inactive “work,” and 2.) is willing to take on the bulk of the child care during my business hours, so that I can give most of my full attention to my work. The first week found me not only acclimating myself to our new normal, but also trying to finish a major yearly report that was due that week. My husband rallied and took on nearly all of the childcare and I could see the strain it left on him. That Friday, he took some time in the late morning to go grocery shopping, to avoid weekend crowds, and we stocked up so we wouldn’t have to go out again for another couple weeks. We even found a local brewery that was doing deliveries of their beer.

The second week, we started settling into something like a routine, while at the same time abandoning the pretense of a routine. I will say that I tend to break every rule in the teleworking book, frequently forgetting to shower, dress, or eat on a regular schedule. Oddly enough, having the toddler around has helped, as we need to keep him on some semblance of a schedule, if only to make sure he gets all his meals in, as he’s rather slim and tall, like his father. Having a child to feed has also forced us to prepare healthier meals, since we don’t want to feed him nothing but random odds and ends like we might eat ourselves, left to our own devices. I was able to plan a reasonable number of meals from things that were either hardy enough to last a week in the fridge, or else were made from frozen or shelf-stable staples, including the vegan chili that Elliot seems to love.

The second week also saw me emerge from my work cocoon more often to help with Elliot while keeping an eye on email, rather than devoting my fullest energy to work for eight hours straight and leaving Dan to it. I found a happy medium of getting a full day’s work done over the course of our waking hours without abandoning Dan to the toddler for eight hours straight. And I started using virtual meetings, both for family and friend connections, and for more official uses, including an all-staff meeting and a rehearsal via Zoom. Sadly, towards the end of last week, my most recent play was postponed for two years due to facilities closures.

This weekend, I continued connecting with virtual tea friends with a video meetup on Discord with a group of people I’ve met through a tea friend I met in person earlier this month. It was nice to chat tea and see people’s setups, and perhaps I have found a new tea community to engage with. The weekend also saw me succumb to a bit of boredom and start an Instagram account for Sophie, a k a TweedCat.

And now, my state is on an official stay-at-home order from the governor since Monday. It’s interesting because not much has changed about my life — I haven’t left the house except to check the mail box or for a couple walks around the neighborhood since the 13th, but it feels different. Also, I’m wondering how empty the grocery stores will be when we shop this weekend since everyone likely ran out to panic buy things again when the order was announced. I will admit to ordering some flour from a local farm, but that’s mostly because I, like most of the country, have rediscovered a love of bread making. So I guess I’ll just sit and bake and while away the hours until this is all over. Meet me back here to see how week two of official quarantine is going!

The Virus Diaries: Community in Isolation

NB: I am not sick at the time of writing this, but I’ve decided to make this post the first in my “Virus Diaries” series while I wait in self-isolation at home.

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If you’re in the same position as many of the people around the world, then you, like me, might be “social distancing” at home the last couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you’re actively quarantined and on official government lockdown like some of my friends. Or maybe you’re just highly introverted or have a disability that prevents you from leaving the house, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. Whatever the case, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot lately about feeling connected while in isolation.

Now, this is not going to be a “how to maintain sanity while suddenly working from home” post. While I do already regularly telework once a week, I’m certainly no expert in it. And I tend to break every rule in the book. Plus, I think that a certain level of forgiveness for yourself is necessary in times like these where we might not be home entirely by choice. Plus, better bloggers than I have tackled the subject brilliantly.

Oddly enough, I’ve been less isolated the last two weeks because not only am I working from home, but my husband and toddler are also home. So I get comparatively little time alone. But the one thing that I have had to sacrifice are plans that involve going out with other people. No more tea dates or rehearsals or gym classes. And, surprisingly enough for my introverted self, that’s been tough. But the most poignant thing I’ve noticed since this isolation started is that people in my circles of friends are stepping up and engaging in so much more virtual communication. People are going live on Instagram. People are hosting Zoom play readings. I’ve been added to a Facebook group where we post phone videos of us singing Broadway songs according to the weekly theme. And I’ve found myself involved with some friends on Instagram who are keeping up their fitness routines using the Daily Yoga app.

I was originally enabled by Jude Chao at Fifty Shades of Snail to download and try the Daily Yoga app. While I’m a yogini of twenty years and used to have a very robust home practice, that has changed a lot since having a baby and moving to a smaller house and I’ve found myself lacking the motivation to get up and do yoga in the morning. Couple that with a sudden lack of walking now that I’m no longer walking over a mile each way to get to and from work and I found myself looking at a bout of inactivity-induced depression. So I started posting to their hashtag and tagging the others and linked up with a group of people who are also just trying to beat back inactivity and maybe get a little bit bendier.

Yesterday, I celebrated my fourteenth day of a yoga practice streak, which is the longest I’ve gone since starting on the app a month or so ago. And I seriously couldn’t have done it without the support and accountability of my virtual friends. To celebrate, I ordered some new silver needle white tea and a meditating woman statuette to use as a tea pet on my tray from my favorite local tea shop, Valley Brook Tea.

I think, in general, I’ve found that millennials might be dealing with distancing better because we’re used to “making friends” virtually. I already have a bunch of friends I’ve never met face to face, or have met maybe once in person, but with whom I feel pretty close. So it’s not that big of a stretch to transfer some of my in-person friendships to the virtual world for a while. At the same time, I’m noticing some of my older friends bemoaning the “isolation” because they don’t consider virtual community “real” community. But these are communities. I’ve even heard people insist on calling this “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” because we can still connect socially, even if we’re not physically in each other’s company.

So I have so much gratitude for my community, virtual or otherwise. Happy distancing.

NB: Nothing to declare. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.