2020 Isolation Grow: How We Have Coped

May 11, 20202020 Isolation Grow Blog

As previously mentioned, Karen and I have been on our own survival trip for over five years now. That we have begun our third month of extreme isolation due to Covid-19, is possibly more impressive to others than to us. It’s been a long time since either of us felt a need to fill the silence around here, and that is a clear measure of our relative contentment. We are both busy, and endeavor to remain that way for the duration of this virus. As for the silence, I find a long period of mindful listening to be both a meditative benefit, and companion. You are never really alone when you’re outside. Only moments ago, I left the cottage and walked toward the house. While walking, I stopped and listened to the jackhammer drumming of the pileated woodpecker. I’ve actually witnessed this head pounding in person. It was so dramatically fast, I caught myself holding my breath. 

Karen and I found that establishing some sort of new routine has been helpful. We were all creatures of habit before this virus, and I’m certain we’ll return to at least some of our old habits once we are finally safe again.

One thing we do every day: Exercise. This enforced break is the perfect time to establish a regular stretching/exercise program. We don’t do too much. Neither of us want to fall victim to more pain and burnout. But even a relatively light amount of exercise, done regularly, will be a benefit. If possible, we make sweat part of that exercise. We get our heart rates up.

Neither of us are runners. Karen is a swimmer. There is a pool in our area. In my opinion, perhaps more than anything done by doctors, therapies, or my efforts, Karen’s regular swimming has allowed her to rebuild her body. She has developed new muscle growth, and a degree of strength and flexibility her illness prevents, when she is flared up and more sedentary.

Right now, that pool is closed for social distancing, so Karen is using an exercise bike we have on the deck. She rides it several times a week.

Speaking of the deck, it surrounds our house. In 2014, after cancer surgery, I discovered it takes me 100 strides to walk around our deck. By the number of steps rule, that means 20 laps will be approximately 2,000 steps, or one mile. It’s not exactly cardio work, but it’s easy muscle toning on solid ground, and I walk at a good pace. Sometimes, I’ll do my walking while Karen is doing her bike riding. Neither of us have to leave home to get loose.

I’ve also returned to stretching the best I can, with my own permanent injuries. I could not do this for over seven months with a hernia, nor could I do my usual pushups and crunches. This was very hard on me. I’ve been doing daily pushups since I was nine years old. This was the longest I’ve ever gone without dropping and giving myself 20, or 50, or back in the day, 100 pushups.

So when I finally was able to get on the floor and do 20 pushups again, I was thrilled. 48 hours later, I was humbled. Haven’t been that sore in a long time. It is sadly quite true that as we get older, we lose muscle mass more quickly, and it is much harder to rebuild.

So I’ve been kind of starting over, and that’s ok. I have muscle memory, and all the time in the world. 

While I’m sweating, and nurturing our plants, what is Karen up to?

She was part of the North Bay Sewists Unite Group, sewing masks for people in both Marin and Sonoma counties. She is currently sewing masks for our local Community Center, which is a hub. Masks in their hands will find their way to members of the community who need them.

Karen’s sewing is remarkable. First, a little over a year ago, she could not have done this. Her hands were not capable. They are barely capable now. I know it still hurts, but she’s pretty determined to help during this virus. She’ll probably never sew like she used to; the worst pain stopped her from trying. Hearing her sew again is soothing to me. One of my favorite, ongoing synergistic experiences with Karen is her sewing while I’m either writing or composing music. We are both in our little worlds, one room apart, yet feeling the energy of what the other is doing.

The sound of sewing is almost part of my code. My mother used to sew in my baby room. Karen inherited my mother’s sewing table, so when she sews on that table, I feel a connection that is deeper than I can express.

At this very moment, while I write this, I’m accompanied by the whir of the sewing machine in the dining room. The contentment is so deep, it is a challenge not to nap. Our dining room table is almost entirely devoted to this project. It is covered in thread, fabric, scissors, pens, rulers, tools, two sewing machines (one is an overlock machine), other notions (I’ve always wanted to use the word notions) and of course, the ever inviting poo-poo platter. 

Seeing and hearing evidence of Karen’s improvement is an enormous boost to our collective spirit. For many years, every day was a long slog of pain and fatigue. How we got through those first few years can probably be summed up with this:

Charlie the Parrotlet

Spend a few minutes with Charlie and Karen. See if you can discover all the tricks this little bird has learned. (He’s also on YouTube) There’s even one with me doing some faux play-by-play commentary. This is what Karen did while she slowly recovered. She taught Charlie all kinds of tricks. Charlie was and is her therapy bird, though he has become much more than that. I’m not going to tell you everything Charlie does. You need to discover for yourself. I will say this—Charlie knows how to roll over. In everything he does, Charlie brings joy to both of us.

Like I said, Karen is a bird person. She made me into a bird person of sorts. Charlie rules the roost. He earned more money in videos last year than I did selling my books and audio books.

In terms of Covid-19, so far, we have not had to shop for ourselves. I did some major shopping before we sheltered, and since, we have had neighbors help us, some of whom we’ve only met as a result of this virus. They have been bringing us food. It’s difficult to put into words how much this means. Karen accepted this quickly. It took me more time. 

I wish someone had sat me down when this all started and told me the NUMBER ONE thing I should keep in mind at all times.

That being...to take good care of myself. It has taken most of the five years for me to get a grip on taking better care of myself. My entire focus was Karen, and while this was understandable, it was not sustainable.

I eventually had to let Karen figure out how to do stuff on her own. But equally important to allowing Karen to figure it out, I also had to figure out what I was going to do. 

In the middle of all this, in early 2017, my beloved brother, Patrick, suddenly passed away. He became ill and died within three months. I was able to marry his only daughter to her beau in front of Patrick, the day before he died.

This was a key event for me. My facade of strength crumbled fairly quickly at that point. I was left emotionally naked, in a form of free fall. I finally had to ask for help.

We have both come a long way since then. The bottoming out was not fun, but it was necessary. I have found help, and have adjusted my life accordingly. When this happened and I began focusing on making myself right again, life began to present more appealing alternatives. 

And I really love growing cannabis.

When Covid-19 hit, we recognized almost immediately what we were/are up against. Karen and I are both fact based people. We knew what was coming and we got organized. I ordered the supplies I needed to grow this year. I knew there would be a run on supplies, and they would probably be more expensive later. We began to re-think how we’ll use our garden this year and next. We must be prepared to be as self sufficient as possible.

Like many of you, we binge our favorite shows, play cards or board games (love Qwirkle!), take care of our house as needed, and enjoy every second our robot vacuum cleans the floor. 

Like all of you, we look forward to re-joining the world. I really want to hug and kiss our children. 

We’re good, we’re coping just fine, and we’re busy as can be. It helps being with my best friend, Karen. Hang tight, everyone. There’s a way to go, but this too, shall pass.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of my favorite sounds of summer, and one that only recently returned to our woods for the season, the call of the Russet-backed Swainson’s Thrush.

Jeffery Hickey
Oaksterdam Alumni

Jeffrey Hickey is a 2014 IPPY award winning novelist, performing in over 900 Reader’s Theater shows that featured his authorship of adult novels, and books for children. His accomplishments include a program of self-empowerment and effective oral communication, “Find Your Voice,” that he taught in public and private schools throughout Northern California. Jeffrey is the father of twin sons, and is arguably the happiest married man on the planet.