Monday, March 16, 2020

16+ tips for surviving self-quarantine.

My family and I have been self-quarantined in Beijing since January 26. As the coronavirus has escalated in North America, I've had family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers reach out to me—asking for advice, asking about my experience, looking for commiseration, and some people specifically asked me to write a blog post.

Here it is, but with two big disclaimers: I am not an expert and this is my personal experience.


First, answers to questions a lot of people have asked:

Were you/are you worried about shopping for groceries? Did people run out and stock up on toilet paper and other supplies there?
In the beginning we were worried about groceries, because people kept talking about the possibility of shortages. We stocked up on enough food for about a week or two, a mix of fresh food and non-perishables. We bought one pack of toilet paper, two boxes of diapers for Clarke, one box for Mabel (she only wears them when sleeping), and two six-packs of baby wipes. Most of this we ordered (grocery delivery in Beijing is common and very cheap). I made one grocery run at the very beginning of our self-quarantine for a few items we couldn't order.

In the beginning, we did have a bit of a hard time getting fresh produce, but I think that had more to do with it being Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and stock gets low at that time anyway. After a few days, it was no problem.

Over the past seven weeks, we've continued ordering groceries a couple times a week. A lot of restaurants were closed (because of the holiday and because of the coronavirus), but as they've slowly reopened, we've been ordering delivery a few times a week as well. We feel it is safe and a small way to help support local businesses (the restaurants themselves but also the delivery companies).

I don't think people stocked up on toilet paper the way they have in North America; I didn't hear of any shortages. I know people did stock up on masks and hand sanitizer, and there were shortages of those items.

What precautions did you take to stay safe and healthy?
We've been self-quarantining; the first two weeks were mandatory and the rest of the time it's been encouraged that we stay home as much as possible and only go out when necessary. (Protocol has been different depending where in Beijing/China you live.) We live on our school's campus; I've left campus three times (once for groceries, once for toys/activities, and once for a walk for my mental health). Tony has left once. The kids haven't left at all.

We wash our hands often—every time we leave our apartment, after getting a delivery, when we come in from outside, and all the usual times like after using the washroom and before eating.

When we leave campus and/or are around groups of people, we wear masks. We wear masks because it is recommended/required here. (Clarke hasn't worn a mask because the risks to babies' breathing outweighs the benefits.) Follow experts' advice on masks wherever you are.

What have you told Mabel? How much does she understand or know?
We have kept it very simple and told Mabel only what she needs to know, when she needs to know it. When she asks questions, we answer only what she asks and are as honest as we can be while keeping it appropriate for her age/maturity.

For example, she knows that school is closed right now and her ayi (nanny) and friends aren't here. She knows that she has to wash her hands more than normal because of "germs." Sometimes she seems to fixate on germs and I've told her that there are always germs and we should always wash our hands. I've explained that germs aren't all bad, that they can help make us strong, but sometimes they can make us sick so we're being careful.

She surmised on her own that school is closed "because germs" (her words) and so we went with that, and just told her we hope she can go to school again soon. We're doing online learning for now.

When she asks where her friends are, we tell her: Canada, Costa Rica, etc. When she asks why, we tell her because their moms and dads wanted to go there. (Obviously it's much more complex than that, but I'm not going to get into all that with my two-year-old.) When she asks when they'll come back, we tell her we don't know but hopefully soon.

Sometimes she tells us she's sad and I acknowledge her feelings and am honest, "I'm sad too" or "I miss my friends too." Sometimes I leave it at that and sometimes I try to swivel to a positive.

I think her young age is an advantage to us right now because her questions aren't too complicated.

How are Mabel and Clarke doing being cooped up?
We're lucky we live on campus so we have been going outside to the soccer field and playground almost every day. (There aren't many other people here right now and they're all being cautious too.) I don't think Clarke notices any difference (but maybe he misses our ayi and his baby friends?). The hardest part for Mabel has been missing her friends, teachers, and ayi. She tells us she misses her friends almost every day.

How did you stay mentally well? What is the best thing you've done to keep from panicking? 
The most difficult thing for me has been my mental health. I’ve gone through a range of emotions. It’s stressful not knowing when it will end, I feel guilty about Mabel having more screen time than usual, I've felt anxious and depressed, I miss my friends and feel lonely. I’m what I call an “introverted extrovert” so I love being home, but I also love being with other people. I'll share what has helped me below.

Is there an end in sight for you? Is it getting better?
Last I heard, cases have gone way down and most new cases are from people coming from abroad. For the time being, we are still practicing "social distancing" and there are strict measures in place in public areas like temperature checks, limiting the number of people allowed to sit at tables in restaurants, etc. Still no sign of when schools will reopen.


Tips for Your Mental Health

1. Stock up on self-care items for yourself.
Buy or borrow a bunch of books you've been wanting to read. (I love my Kobo and you can borrow library books online!) I've been using face masks and taking bubble baths a few times a week.

2. Get outside (or at least open the windows)!
I feel so much better after even just a few minutes of sunshine and fresh air. Like I said, we're lucky to live on our school's campus, but go for a walk or to a park if you can. (Note: Follow local/health experts' advice; I am not an expert.)

3. Exercise.
I was in a great routine pre-coronavirus but all that went out the window. I recently started doing pilates again and it's helping me feel better mentally and physically.

4. Keep up your planner.
Since I'm on maternity leave right now, I haven't been using a planner. I started again though and it's bringing peace and order to my days. I write down a few tasks to accomplish each day. And I sometimes retroactively write things down and check them off—Bath kids, check! Laundry, check!—to "prove" to myself that I did something that day. (Of course, it's okay to not "be productive" every day! You should take days off!)

5. Get dressed.
At the beginning, I was using self-quarantine as an excuse to stay in PJs and not do my hair or makeup. After a while, I realized that was contributing to my low feelings. Now a few days a week I get ready like I normally would; it's amazing what showering and putting on a bit of makeup while listening to a podcast and drinking coffee can do for you!

6. Talk to friends.
If possible, it's great to have a friend who is going through the same thing and someone who isn't. (I realize that latter option might be harder now that it is a global pandemic.) I've had regular video chats and group texts with friends and while we've been talking about the coronavirus, we've also talked about regular things: work, books, podcasts, joys and hardships of parenting, etc.

I haven't done this yet myself, but I've heard of people having virtual wine nights, book clubs, etc. I'm excited to try!

7. Find the silver linings.
When I start to feel really down, I try to find and focus on the silver linings. I get to spend more time with my family. I've been reminded that I can do hard things. Colleagues whose maternity leaves were shorter than mine have been able to spend more time with their babies.

8. Acknowledge the hard parts.
So many people have asked me some variation of, "Is it hard?" Yah, this whole situation sucks. Hashtag understatement. Acknowledge it. Sit with it. But try not to dwell in it.

9. Limit time spent on social media.
Easier said than done and I need to do better at this myself.


Tips for Kids

Some of the above apply to kids too: Get outside; exercise (Cosmic Kids Yoga is great); video chat with family and friends. Three more things that are helping us:

1. Stock up on toys and activities if you can. 
When I knew we’d be stuck at home for the foreseeable future and wasn’t sure if stores would remain open, I went on a small shopping spree. I bought everything from a DUPLO dollhouse, to a train set, to bath toys, to finger paint, to stickers. Tony and I agreed that we would give the kids a new “thing” whenever it seemed right and that we would probably (hopefully!) not use them all. We will save whatever is left for gifts for their birthdays, holidays, and maybe even other kids’ birthdays!

(That Lego doll house is in the running for the best money I've ever spent; Mabel has played with it—with us and independently—every day for the past 5 weeks!)

More ideas for activities: Busy Toddler and Days with Grey

2. Say yes.
That’s a tip I first read on A Cup of Jo and I always try to live by it, but especially now. Mabel wants to sleep upside down in her bed? Yes! Wants to play naked? Yes! Wants cereal for supper? Yes! Wants to jump on our bed? Yes! This has been hard for her, especially missing her friends, so I’m trying my best to keep her happy and entertained AND safe and healthy.

3. Throw away all the guilty feelings!
I know it’s easier said than done. I have felt guilty that Mabel is getting way more screen time than usual, that we chose to stay here so she isn’t able to go to school or play places or libraries (although it seems that would have eventually been the same if we had returned to Canada), that we’re ordering delivery for dinner a little more often because it’s hard to work and take care of the kids and cook and clean. When I give myself grace and tell myself I’m doing my best, it’s easier on all of us.


More Tips for Getting Through This

1. Continue to live your life.
It will look and feel different, but you need to adjust to your "new normal" for however long it lasts. While we've been self-quarantining, we've celebrated Tony's birthday, transitioned Mabel to a "big girl" bed, handled temper tantrums (Mabel's and our own), and done our best to have fun.

2. If possible, continue to pay people/support businesses.
I've been worried about the economy (locally, nationally, globally) since this all began. Tony and I are very fortunate that we are still getting paid (he's working from home and I'm on maternity leave). Because of that, we're able to:

+ Continue paying our ayi even though she's not working with us right now. (At first she wasn't allowed on campus; now she is a couple times a week, but we're being extra cautious.)

+ Continue my weekly pilates class with my "pre-coronavirus" instructor (via Zoom) so he'll still have that source of income, in addition to free/more affordable exercise classes online.

+ Order food and drinks from local restaurants and places like Starbucks. (Yup, Starbucks. I know they are a BIG corporation, but the way I see it, if people are ordering from them, baristas have more job security and so do the delivery guys and they will continue to get paid.) I've seen people online suggesting buying gift cards to your fave places to use after this ends. Do whatever is possible/what you feel most comfortable with.

3. Help others.
I've seen so many great ideas online and I'm sure you have too. Donate cash to food banks, offer to get groceries or run errands for those more at-risk, help look after someone's kids if they have to go to work and you're able to stay home, whatever you're able to do.

4. Do your best to flatten the curve
I know it sucks (again, hashtag understatement) to have trips and events cancelled, to be stuck home with your kids, to not be able to go out for your morning or afternoon coffee. But it is possible, it is doable; we've been doing it for 7 weeks and counting now.

If you have any more questions or if there is any way I can help you, please leave a comment, email me, or message me. We will get through this together!

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