Life During COVID-The New Normal?

My writing process is simple. I base my post on whatever I happen to be thinking about, and what I am thinking about is often stimulated by world events or personal activities. I never seem to lack for a topic. However, that appears to be changing. My life has become so routine that new activities are limited, and exciting writing topics are on the decline.  COVID-19 stories dominate the news, and I have written quite a few posts connected to that topic.  But how much can I write about COVID-19?  Hold on to your seatbelts; here is another post.

The current health crisis has dramatically changed my lifestyle. I’m not bored, and I’m still productive.  However, a routine day is, well…very routine.  Yesterday, I walked to my friend’s townhouse project.  We chatted for a bit before I took his MacBook Pro and started to write a blog post for his construction website.  Tom kindly went to get bagel sandwiches for breakfast.  I was left alone to write about home remodeling, a subject where I can’t claim expertise.  It’s not that I’m unable to put a coherent story together, I’m more concerned that I’ll phrase something incorrectly and somehow embarrass my friend to his more knowledgable readers.  With that said, I wrote the post to which I added the construction photos that I had taken over the last few days.

Writing Tom’s blog post on a makeshift desk.

Before Tom had a chance to review my writing, his friend Wess arrived.  Wess is a talented carpenter who has worked with Tom for decades.  He was “volunteering” his Saturday to help Tom remove a large bay window, that space being repurposed for a sliding patio door. Tom and Wes usually converse in Polish, a language that I have no comprehension of. Recently, Wes has made an effort to talk in English, which has been much appreciated, and it allows me to join in. 

Wes and Tom discussing the project’s next phase. It is amazing what you can learn about something by just watching and listening.

The morning transitioned into the afternoon, and I headed back home and emersed myself into one of my obsessive interests, technology.  Julie had given me a pair of AirPods at the beginning of the year, and I love them.  When I become interested in a topic, I want to know everything about it.  In this case, I was interested in the difference between my costly device and much cheaper clone products. I understand that most would find such an exploration utterly dull, but it held my concentration for hours. 

Spending hours becoming an “expert” in Bluetooth earbuds.

After a few telephone calls to loved ones, it was time for dinner; the offering was Domino’s pizza.  Domino’s has a low ranking on my pizza desirability chart, but my kids love it. The group’s lively conversation quickly extinguished any negative feelings about the pizza dinner.  As a family, we have worked hard to eat dinner together and to focus on interacting with each other. Our meal was filled with talk, laughter, and a lot of kidding.

Julie suggested that we all play a game, but board games are not my thing.  We reached a compromise; I took a shower, and the others played a game. Later that evening, we were glued to the family room TV, rewatching a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  We viewed the show with the same enthusiasm as some might when watching a football game. The show concluded it was time for bed.

I took a shower while the family played a game.

A perfectly routine day.

I have had disturbing dreams as of late.  I wouldn’t call them nightmares, but they are unsettling.  A recent one had me repeating both graduate and medical school, as I wondered if I could still take on these arduous tasks.  Such dreams are a window to my subconscious and suggest hidden stress to me.

I pondered the question of stress this morning as I sat in the big chair in my study. I contemplated my current life and asked myself, “What is wrong? What is missing?”  I centered myself, closed my eyes, and opened my mind to a stream of consciousness.  At first, my mind was blank, but it soon was flooded with images and sounds. These are some of the ideas that flowed over me.

Despite talking to my siblings daily, I was missing them terribly.  Before COVID, we had developed many in-person activities, “Sibling Breakfast,” “Sibling Lunch,” and random visits for coffee and conversation. I longed to see them in person.

Although I see my friend Tom nearly every day, I missed the spontaneous and crazy things that we did before the pandemic—driving into Chicago at sunrise just to have breakfast at our favorite greasy spoon, going on camping adventures and road trips, exploring locations. 

Tom and his son-photo from a camping adventure.

My friend John had invited me to spend a few days at his Florida home.  Julie and I had booked a flight before the pandemic but had to cancel it months ago. Speaking of trips, Julie had I started to go on them as a couple.  We would find a cheap airfare to somewhere, and the two of us would explore our destination.  I missed traveling. 

Massive engines from one of the stages of the Saturn rocket. Exploring Houston on a random trip.
Discovery Vegas with Julie.

Three of my children have returned home, two from college and one from the Peace Corps.  My college kids had to complete their spring semesters on-line.  My Peace Corps daughter had to leave Africa and a teaching job that she loved.  Their loss makes me feel powerless. 

William showing us his campus.

Last year I took Violet the campervan on many adventures.  She currently sits idle in my driveway.  There is no place to go during this explosion of infection.  I feel guilty about Violet. I feel like I’m letting her down. I invested a lot of time and money into her.  Once a symbol of my retirement freedom, the pandemic has reduced her into an icon of what I can’t do.

Violet the campervan sits idle.

I am a photographer, and I have continued to do photography work.  However, I have a keen interest in landscape and cityscape photography.  However, it isn’t feasible to travel to a town or bucolic pasture to photograph these subjects during this time.

A door from an abandoned college that I found in a small town west of Chicago.

I’m not much of a shopper, but I miss the ability to go to a store for a single item.  I now limit my shopping to only grocery stores, which I go to once a week. Trips are currently done as purposefully and quickly as possible. There is no time to try or discover exciting new products. 

I miss my daily walks to Starbucks and the quick but pleasant chats that I had with my favorite baristas and the early morning coffee crowd.

I miss my walks to Starbucks where I would chat with friends and write.

I miss going to the movies, and “sneaking” in a bag of popcorn. 

I miss going to cheap restaurants—places where I could sit down and enjoy my food without the worry of preparation or clean up. 

I miss making new friends.  I miss family parties.  I miss catching up with my cousins.  I miss getting dressed and going to church on Sunday.  I miss the act of standing next to a neighbor when chatting with them on the street. I miss the smell of a campfire. I miss… I miss so much.   

Joining hands to give thanks last Thanksgiving.
a snapshot taken at Christmastime at church.
Rain and umbrellas. Camping with the cousins.
Christmas in Minnesota.

I explored all of these thoughts and pondered how they were connected. Many contained a grain of spontaneity and a sense of a future.  What would I do tomorrow?  How can I plan for my next activity?  Before COVID, I could anticipate an adventure with Tom, or a trip with Julie, or an upcoming photo project. This has changed with the routine regularity of my current life.

I like to shake hands. I want to give hugs. I like to push my creativity.  I like to feel free.  I want to feel safe.  I like to be responsible, and I love being mischievous.  

Activities that I do have an impact on who I am. I am in the process of grieving over who I no longer am. My world has changed in a matter of months.  I want my old life back, but I may have to accept the ways things are now.  I think this is the conflict that fuels my sense of “missing.”  and “missing” is just another name for loss. With loss comes grieving.

Dear reader, I have worked hard to simulate those things that I can no longer do. However, a simulation is like saccharine, still sweet, but with a bitter aftertaste.  

As the crisis has continued, I have tried to keep my interests alive. I do order food from those restaurants where I formally dined-in.  I have made an effort to take creative photos.  I  call my sisters and connect with my friends in many ways.  It is all good, but these good things still have the aftertaste of a synthetic solution.

That is to be expected. Will life return to normal, or will I need to accept my current situation as the new normal?  Either way, I plan to make the most of it.  Every day is a gift, never to be repeated.  I can’t waste today pining over what I have lost.  I have to accept my feelings as real, and I need to respect them.  However, I cannot submit to them.  I have to live in the present and plan for a new future. That will be my effort.



Why Do Some People Refuse To Wear A Mask During the COVID-19 Crisis?

I was preparing to spend a few days with Ralph at his summer home, which is about an hour west of me.  I tapped his address into my iPhone, put the phone into Violet the campervan’s phone holder, and started my journey.  Since I was bringing dinner, I made a quick detour to the Fresh Thyme Market, a small grocery store just down the street. Being lazy, I left the phone in its holder during my grocery adventure. When I returned to the camper, I tossed steaks,  watermelon, and salad into the 12-volt fridge and hopped into the driver’s seat to continue my journey.  I looked up at my phone and saw a bright fluorescent green vertical line across the screen.  Crap, my phone’s display was busted! Over the short time that I visited Ralph, that single line morphed into multiple lines making reading anything on the screen impossible.

On my return home, I investigated my repair options. I contacted Apple customer support, who told me that the screen needed to be replaced and that the estimated cost for the repair would be an astounding $560.00! My iPhone X is three years old, but I’m not ready to buy a new one, so I explored aftermarket options and found a store in Naperville that would replace the screen for $150.00… a much more realistic price. They said that they could replace the display in under an hour, which sealed the deal.

There were no surprises with the repair, but I was surprised by what I saw in the small and cramped shop.  Both technicians were mask-free, as were three customers.  One of the customers was sitting in a chair waiting for a repair suggesting that his exposure time in the store was significant.

Yesterday I took Violet in for routine service at my local Dodge dealer.  The staff was wearing masks (although several had their noses sticking out).  However, two customers were mask-free. In Illinois, we are required to wear masks in confined spaces like retail stores and shops, so why were all of these people ignoring the law?

When I read the news, I see photos of people in bars, churches, and nightclubs all shoulder to shoulder and all mask free.  I recently saw pictures of several political rallies where both the candidate and the majority of the audience were bare-faced.  

We are in the midst of a worldwide disease pandemic.  Entire countries have shut down, almost half of a million people have died worldwide, and one hundred and twenty-four thousand souls have been lost in the US alone.  That is more US deaths than during the entire First World War.

We are gaining more knowledge about this illness.  A few medical treatments are starting to emerge that may help some patients.  We are getting a better understanding of the best treatment practices.  Worldwide efforts to develop a vaccine are in hyperdrive.  However, we are nowhere near a cure.

Countries have tackled the spread of this disease in different ways.  Their varied approaches have given us a window into what works and what doesn’t contain the virus.  Unsurprisingly, the most beneficial methods are those that we have known about and used for over 100 years.  Those methods include social distancing and isolation, hand washing, contact tracing, and wearing a mask when you can’t control social distance. Regions that have successfully implemented these changes have had greater success at containing the virus than places that have been laxer.  

In the US, we have had conflicting information concerning the virus and how that impacts opening the economy.  Also, there seems to be a stream of half-baked recommendations that confuse the general population. A YouTube video from a Michigan family practice doc that foolishly recommended washing fruits and vegetables in soapy water had over 20 million views in its first week. Even the premier source of infectious disease information, the CDC, erroneously told citizens not to wear masks, only to have to backpedal on that wrong information. 

Any competent physician knows that wearing an appropriate mask can help prevent the transmission of disease both to and from the mask wearer.  Most citizens don’t have access to medical-grade masks and have to make do with “dust” style hardware store masks or homemade cloth masks.  These masks dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19 from the wearer and depending on the composition of the mask, offer some protection to the user from getting the virus from an infected individual.  

The most contagious places to catch this coronavirus are indoor locations, with poor air circulation.  The higher the density of people in these places, the higher the chance of infection.  Indoor parties, crowded bars, packed in-house church services, and the like are high risk and should be avoided at this time.  However, there are other places like grocery stores that can’t be avoided by most. That is why everyone must wear a mask when you can’t control social distance.  If everyone wears a mask, we can dramatically reduce the rates of viral spread.  This is not a theoretical idea; it is a proven fact.  Wearing a mask is a no brainer.  So why are people actively refusing to do this?

Before I explore this question, I need to examine other phenomena present in this country.  We have lost nuance, and have become a country of absolutes.  For instance, some have taken social isolation to the extreme, and others have entirely cast it to the wind.  We have developed an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to many things in daily life.  We have lost the ability to work together.  We have become more concerned with personal gain over what benefits our greater society. We have developed a culture of mistrust.  We have become an “all-in” society.  If someone believes in one tenant that a particular group espouses, then they are expected to become a follower of all of the other ideologies that the group promotes. We have assumed a “contest” view of life that supports that the only way one group can prosper is by decimating another group, which then becomes the opposition. We believe that the ends justify the means, no matter how dangerous the ways are.

As a Christian, I find such splitting behaviors abhorrent.  As a psychiatrist, I understand them to be destructive and dangerous. These ideologies play into many of our decisions, including our willingness or unwillingness to wear a mask. The question is, how do these beliefs and other factors cause us to take a position that is so contrary to our well being?

Masks are uncomfortable, that is a fact.  They are hot; they fog up your glasses; they make it difficult to be understood. As a physician, I can tell you that just about everyone quickly adjusts to these inconveniences.  But, yes, they do suck.

When I was researching this post, I came across articles that noted that people refused to wear masks because they felt that wearing one made them look weak.  This is one of those reasons that are hard for me to comprehend.  Why would a mask make anyone look weak?  Wearing one makes them look responsible, and their actions help the wellness of their fellow citizens. In my mind, mask wearers are strong and patriotic.  

Wearing a mask highlights that things are not back to normal. This is undoubtedly true, but the reality is that things are NOT normal. Denial isn’t the name for the longest river in Africa (…old AA joke).  

Some people feel that wearing a mask is anti-God.  How masks and God are connected is anyone’s guess.  I know that early on, some religious leaders said that God would protect their churches and congregations, which may play into this belief.  I also watched a video of citizens voicing their concerns about mandatory mask-wearing during a Miami city council meeting.  One individual said that the council was doing the work of the devil by requiring masks.  The citizen seemed firm in her belief but did not give any evidence as to why she held them.

The wearing of a mask has taken on political implications.  Statistically, Democrats are more likely to wear a mask than Republicans. Masks seem to have become weaponized in this regard.  I recently viewed photos of a rally in an Arizona church that was packed with over 3000 young people.  They were shoulder to shoulder, and I estimate that the number of mask wearers was under 5%.  I hope that this meeting doesn’t turn out to be the source of a super-spreader infection, but that certainly could happen.  Placing politics over health is a real tragedy.  

Some people strongly feel that wearing a mask is a personal choice. “If I get sick and die, it is my choice,” they imply. As individuals, we are allowed to do stupid things, as long as they don’t impact others.  We can smoke cigarettes, which are known to cause many diseases, but we can no longer smoke in public places because this would harm others. Shouldn’t that same logic apply to wearing masks?

Some don’t wear masks because they think that COVID-19 is overblown or a hoax.  Some groups have promoted these false ideas, and a person’s local experience additionally amplifies them. I have heard people say, “I don’t know of anyone who has gotten COVID-19,” as if this limited information can be generalized to the entire population.  Alabama Governor Kay Ivy famously said, “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California. Right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.” I guess the idea was that the virus was somehow not impacting Alabama at that moment, so WTF.  Sadly, if you take a look at the number of Alabama cases, they are on a steep increase. These numbers would likely have been significantly lower if there had been better direction from officials in that state.  

Some refuse to wear masks for reasons that seem entirely bizarre.  Watching the same Miami city council meeting, I witnessed one furious man, saying that he would defend our flag to the death, implying that wearing masks was somehow going to destroy our country.  This, along with the idea that Satanists are promoting masks, just seems crazy.  It is challenging to explain crazy.

Some are afraid that wearing a mask damages our economy.  Well, this is sort of right… but indirectly.  The global pandemic is harming our economy, and wearing a mask reminds us of that pandemic. Wearing a mask may make certain activities more complicated, like going out for dinner on a date. However, the more we control the virus, the sooner our economy will return to normal. 

So what is the solution?

We have not had a unified message about the necessity of wearing a mask.  This needs to be done on all levels of government and from both sides of the aisle.  We know that wearing masks can reduce the number of infections as well as the number of deaths due to COVID-19.  All people who have a voice need to be echoing this reality.

We need to emphasize the benefits of wearing a mask with transparent statistics.  One study showed that if everyone wore masks, the rate of infection would drop to 1/12th of a population where no one wore a mask.  As an example, let’s say that 100 individuals contract the virus in a non-mask wearing group.  In a statistically identical group of mask wearers, only eight individuals would get sick. Staying well benefits the economy.

Similarly, we need to publicize situations and cases where lack of safeguards, including masks, has caused outbreaks, and we need to personalize these situations.  It is one thing to say that 53% of participants became ill when they attended a choir practice in Washington. However, these numbers would be much more compelling if actual people told their stories about this event.  I am in no way trying to exploit victims of this disease, but I’m confident that many individuals would gladly speak up about their COVID experience if they felt that it would help others.  Numbers always have more impact when they are attached to a relatable situation or person. 

We have to model good behavior.  Our officials should all be wearing masks in public settings, and they all should be practicing social distancing. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t fly.

We need to nationalize standards.  Yes, we have guidelines, and yes, a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work well in a country as vast as the US.  However, standards can be customized to accommodate different needs and regions. Let’s say you want to bake a chocolate cake.  You will have the best results if you follow a standard recipe.  However, you can customize your results to fit your needs.  A little more chocolate?  A little less sugar?  A different frosting?  Any reasonable changes will still result in a good cake.  Imagine a scenario where 100 people need to bake 100 chocolate cakes, but they aren’t given a recipe.  Some will have baking knowledge; others won’t.  In the end, there will be many different cakes, but many of those will be inedible. 

The cost of non-compliance must be emphasized.  What is the actual price to the economy if we can’t get this virus under control?  What is the emotional damage of losing a loved one? We need reasonable guidelines, and these can change as we gain more knowledge.  It is unreasonable to expect everyone to stay behind closed doors, but it is foolish to open up the country altogether.  Our leaders need to not only inform us but to re-emphasize what we can and can’t do.  We were able to mobilize our country during WWII by using various methods that emphasized safety, patriotism, and sacrifice for the greater good.  Many feel that the WWII generation was our greatest generation ever.  People think proudly about those individuals and their sacrifices.  How is it that we are divided over a potentially more deadly crisis? This does not have to be the case. We need leaders who can lead and have the ability to place the needs of the greater society above short-term gains. 



My broken phone got me thinking about mask non-compliance.
Some masks are better than others, but any mask is better than no mask!

Improving Emotional Health During The COVID-19 Pandemic.

It has now been over 12 weeks that Illinois has had a shelter-in-place order, and although some of the restrictions are easing, life is not back to normal.  Also, COVID-19 is still a threat.  This dynamic duo has impacted us on many levels, ranging from economic to physical well-being to emotional health.  It is this latter point that I would like to address today.

As a psychiatrist, I worked to explore ways to reduce the emotional impact of this crisis on my family and me. That is not to say that the pandemic has not impacted me.  On a personal level, I have noticed a higher amount of irritability and sensitivity.  Although I’m usually an optimistic person, I have had a few more down days.  Most significantly, I’m experiencing more nightmares.  This latter fact is an expression of anxiety that I’m effectively masking during waking hours, but seeps out when I’m sleeping. As Illinois restrictions have lightened, new challenges have emerged. Toilet paper scarcity is no longer an issue, but now I have to decide how much social interaction is safe. 

I’m not psychologically perfect, but  I do believe that I have done well by utilizing a variety of psychological techniques.   

Here are some of the coping tools that I have used. You may find them helpful when dealing with your social isolation.

Accept your feelings

It is normal not to feel normal during a crisis.  This is an unprecedented time in world history.  You may find yourself more irritable, slightly more depressed, or a bit more anxious.  These feelings are not failings; you are reacting to a difficult time.  With that said, if these emotions are pulling you down, it is essential to try to control them.  Many of the suggestions below can help you feel healthier.  However, if your emotional state is severely compromised, you must seek help.  

Even during a crisis, you have to live.

Maintain a routine.

Over the last 12 weeks, have you had times when you weren’t sure what day of the week it was?  I have. We are creatures of habit, and most of us do well when we follow a routine.  A routine not only gives us structure, but it also frees up psychological energy.  We don’t have to think and plan mundane activities when we follow a pattern of behavior. There are many ways to develop a routine. An excellent place to start is to mimic your regular wakeup time and bedtime.  Another easy routine activity is to make sure that you get dressed in street clothes as soon as you get up.

Keep up with hygiene.

Shelter-in-place rules have made it more challenging to keep up with traditional grooming, such as getting a haircut.  As rules relax, it is essential to assess your particular needs and risks when deciding to return to a barber or stylist.  However, hygiene issues have a more basic side. When you are isolating alone, it is easy to put off washing your hair, taking a shower, or even brushing your teeth.  However, it is critical to do these activities just as you would if you were out-and-about.

Go outside.

Even during the height of restrictions, it was OK to leave your house for a little fresh air.  The risk of getting COVID-19 during a socially distant walk is extremely low, but the benefits to your emotional state are significant. I try to go on a walk by myself or with family members every day.  

Spending family time with an outdoor activity.

Reach out to others.

One way to feel less socially isolated is to be less socially isolated. But how can you do that when you are required to have limited contact with others?  Facebook is OK, but my feed has turned mostly into ads and memes.  The more connected that you can make any communication, the better.  A text conversation is preferred to reading your Facebook feed; a phone call is better than a text message; a video call is better than a phone call.  There are some individuals in my life who I have made of point of calling every day.  My goal is to show them that they are important enough for me to reach out to them regularly. Some of my contacts are video calls; some are voice calls.  I try to augment my voice calls with photos sent as text messages or email attachments. Regular calls to people who you love is a win/win way to spend your time.

Talking to our extended family on Easter.

Find your own space.

If you are sharing your living space with someone, it is not only important to share time; it is also important to have alone time.  Find a place in your home where you can be alone. I go to my study and my wife “chills” in our sunroom.  We have five adults living together, and we are fortunate that our residence has enough space for each of us to have a private spot.  I understand that not everyone is as lucky as we are.  However, even claiming a comfy chair can give you a place to get away. 

My wife chills in the sunroom.

I isolate myself in a chair in my study.  To the right of the chair is a window where I can explore what is happening on the street.  To my left is a small table with a lamp.  At the moment the table is holding a cup of coffee and my phone.  On my lap are a lap table and the MacBook that I’m typing this post on. It is a simple set up that allows me to have some private time where I can be as productive or unproductive as I choose. 

When I need to isolate I do it in my study.

Limit the news.

News in the US tends to be sensational.  “If it bleeds, it leads.”  Too much news can be agitating and does little to enhance or inform.  Try to limit your news to known reliable sources and “ingest” it no more than twice a day.  Having a cable news service on 24/7 will likely make you feel more agitated and depressed.

Learn new skills, revisit old ones.

I have a friend who is spending some of her isolation time learning about house plants.  I know others who are tackling simple home projects.  

Before the pandemic, my wife and I were empty nesters.  We have had to readjust to having a full house with the return of three of our children.  When it was just the two of us, it didn’t make much difference if we cooked or went out to dinner.  However, with the return of the kids came daily meal preparation.  I am a competent cook, but coming up with a regular meal has been a drag. With that said, the thought of an exclusive diet of microwave meals or fast food burgers turns my stomach.  I have returned to alternating cooking meals with my wife.  When I cook, I involve my kids in meal preparation.  Their participation makes the task more enjoyable.  I have also resorted to conjuring memories of my mother’s weekday cooking.  She was an excellent cook, but many of her meals were simple or one dish concoctions.  Cooking for my family has made me feel productive, and I’m glad that I can provide them with something that they can look forward to.

Cooking with my kids makes the activity more fun.
Meals don’t have to be traditional. Here bacon and homemade waffles made for a very nice dinner.

Institute conversations at home.

Although there are periods where I need my alone times, there are other times where I want to connect with my immediate family.  We try to eat dinner together, and we do this at the dinner table.  We limit electronics during dinner, and we often use “conversation starters.”  One of our favorites is “rose and thorn.”  Each family member talks about something good and something bad from the day.  Rose and thorn helps us know what is going on in each of our lives and serves as a springboard for additional conversation.

Institute activities at home.

There are many options here, and it is crucial to find an activity that everyone enjoys. A family movie, family game night, family craft night… the list goes on. Structured activities allow for easy interactions.

A family game can be a fun way to interact with each other.

Redefine holidays and important events.

There have been several important events that have happened during our shelter-in-place time.  In our case, we celebrated Easter, several birthdays, and Mother’s Day, but we modified the events to fit our new restrictions. We have made an effort to extract those traditions that are important and changed them to fit our current situation.  

Celebrating my wife’s birthday.

In our neighborhood, I have seen an explosion of lawn signs celebrating everything from birthdays to graduations. Our neighbors are tackling the same issues that we are. Do what you can to keep special events special.

Neighbors have gone to elaborate lengths to celebrate events safely.

Be kind to yourself.

You would think that shelter-in-place would be a perfect time for me to tackle all of the household projects that I never seem to have time to do.  However, I can tell you that I have been less likely to do heinous projects during COVID-19.  I simply don’t have the desire or energy to do repetitive or borning tasks.  Why?  I believe that it is partly due to the fact that I’m expending a lot of energy coping with life in a pandemic.

By all means, clean out a closet or organize a spice rack if you have the desire to do so.  However, be kind to yourself and back off the guilt if you don’t want to. That stuff will be waiting for you. 

Expand your social circle responsibly.

Most things that we do have both risks and benefits.  The secret to success is to balance these two oppositional forces.  During the first few weeks of isolation, I found myself feeling more irritable and somewhat depressed.  I was missing the daily contact that I had with a friend. He was also socially isolating and was at low risk for being a coronavirus carrier.  I started to visit him in his backyard for short chats, which made a world of difference in how I felt.  

As restrictions ease, it may seem like the battle is over, and life is returning to normal. That is not the case.  It is important to connect socially, but it is also essential to weigh the risks and benefits of any social interaction.  Remember, it is about both the viral load and the length of exposure.  Places that maximize both of these factors are the most dangerous to be in, places that minimize them are safer.  Do get out and enjoy life, but do so in a responsible way.  Naturally, common sense activities like wearing a mask and handwashing are critical musts.  Remember that the ultimate loss of freedom is death.

Reach out for help if needed.

The above tips can help you deal with the COVID blues.  However, some individuals will experience depression and anxiety that goes well beyond the typical.  If you are experiencing significant depression, debilitating anxiety, or thoughts of harm, it is imperative that you seek professional help. Contact your doctor, hotlines, or your local hospital if needed.

I hope you have found these mental health suggestions helpful in dealing with the stress and anxiety that this global disaster has brought us.  We will get through this; tomorrow is another day.



COVID-19, Now George Floyd, What’s Next!

I tried to write posts that are informative and positive.  I think that there is enough shocking news in the world.  I attempt to avoid controversial pieces, as they tend to alienate readers. I’m not sure if this piece will be considered controversial, or it will alienate others.  However, this is what I feel compelled to write about today. It is as simple as that.

This year has started with a bang, and it continues to spiral out-of-control.  The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we function in our society, killed countless individuals, and divided our country.  That last statement surprises me the most, but it is sadly true.  

Social distancing and the wearing of face masks have been demonstrated to reduce infection rates. Sweden’s approach to social distancing was laxer than its neighboring countries. Deaths in Sweden due to COVID-19 were almost 40/100,000 residents compared to 6/100,000 residents in adjacent nations that had stricter orders. In the U.S., we have seen individuals and groups promote behaviors contrary to good public health.  These forces were countered by health officials and media outlets that emphasized the importance of viral containment. However, coronavirus news has been pushed aside and replaced by another crisis. 

On May 25, 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was detained by police under suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was unarmed and did not appear to be a threat, yet a police officer obstructed his airway for 9 minutes.  This action killed him. Watching the video account of his arrest was horrifying to me, but it also haunts me. It is a vision that I can’t get out of my head. That video launched a world-wide protest against police brutality.  There has been a surge of other videos of police violently attacking citizens who appear to be of no physical threat to them. The officer’s attacks in these videos seem to be rageful and out-of-control. Like everyone else on the planet, I watched in astonishment as the police and military used chemical agents and bullets to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C., so that the president could take a photo-op. Equally disturbing are officers without name tags or organizational insignias who were part of the military force in Washington. Where are they from?  Who are they accountable to? There was no way to identify them. Scenes like these have made me feel like I am witnessing events in a totalitarian state, not the USA.

Not all police have acted brutally.  In my hometown of Naperville, a protest for George Floyd/BLM was scheduled.  The authorities had determined that there was the potential for violence.  Based on this information, many businesses boarded up windows and secured their establishments. I walked down to witness the protest and saw a peaceful assembly.  The police were en masse, but they were off to the side.  Their presence was undeniable, but they were agents of calm, not violence. I continued to follow the evening’s events on a video feed from our local cable T.V. channel. The peaceful protest transitioned, and a different element roamed the downtown, breaking windows and looting stores. At some locations, the police formed a physical barrier to protect stores; at other spots, they pushed out looters and sealed them off from those areas. I am in no way supporting the looters’ actions, and I feel terrible that over 30 businesses suffered damage.  However, the police’s sensible and calm behavior in Naperville contained the problem and did not escalate it. There was damage to property, but no one died on either side. It was a fantastic example of the excellent work that thoughtful police do.

I have known a few police officers well, and two generalities have stood out.  They are just regular people, and they have a strong commitment to serve and protect their communities. So how is it that we see videos of police officers practicing such terrible brutality?  I feel that rogue cops represent a tiny percentage of the police force.  Unfortunately, some police follow a code of protecting their fellow officers at any cost. Because of this, these bad apples continue to abuse their power.  Cover-ups can be systemic in organizations. Former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanual was implicated in suppressing video evidence of the fatal shooting by police of  Laquan McDonald. Initial police reports said that Laquan was acting aggressively, but the court-ordered release of police video showed that he was walking away when he was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke. 

I believe that we have mostly peaceful protesters with a small percentage of looters and we have primarily good police with a small percentage of corrupt cops.

A small group of bad apples can spoil the reputation of the larger bunch.

As protests have continued, some choose to focus on the protesters rather than the reason for the protests.  It sickens me to hear leaders talk about dominating others to justify abusing their power. It also upsets me that thousands feel that they need to put their lives on the line for our leaders to hear them. Every protest group offers the potential of becoming a COVID superinfection zone.  It is a frightening prospect. 

You may think that this post is a veiled condemnation of President Trump. I will not deny that I feel that has continually stirred the pot of divisiveness to the detriment of our country.  However, I believe that a more significant issue is our societal views of different minority groups. As a nation, we spend an extraordinary amount of time identifying groups who we perceive as different from us as our enemies.  We determine that entire categories of individuals should have fewer rights than ours and that their very existence poses some threat to us.  Some use this separation to incite fear in others to gain power and influence. They make our country weaker. However, we, as a society, accept these lies. Can you think of any minority group that has not experienced prejudice? Women? Hispanics? Blacks? Gays? Jews? Chinese? Fat people? Muslims?  It doesn’t take much to qualify as an outsider, and with this designation comes fewer rights than the majority.

If you are in any minority group, it becomes more challenging to achieve your goals. The American Dream is that you can determine your destiny. I do believe that the individual is responsible for their fate. If you want a good job, you need to obtain the skills necessary to achieve it. To get accepted to a top university, you need to study hard.  If you want a beautiful house in a safe neighborhood, you have to save the down payment.  However, for the American Dream to be real, everyone needs to be on the same playing field. If we are all dealt the same cards, it is up to us to play them.  However, if the deck is stacked, some players always lose.

Groups in power want to keep their power, that is a fact. They justify their actions to maintain control.  Their fear of losing power may cause them to act in ways contrary to their values. A fellow officer may feel compelled to corroborate a false story thinking that someday his own life may depend on the lying officer’s protection. Politicians and others may justify their prejudicial and inhuman behaviors of groups by dehumanizing them.  Children in cages become unlawful, illegal invaders.  Muslims become terrorists.  Women are labeled frumpy, ballbusters, dumb blonds, and girls. Once designated as “less than,” it becomes OK to treat these groups as “less than.”  

As a country, we gained world power status because we were a melting pot of creativity and ideas.  Our diversity has always been our strength; it is foolish to think otherwise. The limitation of large segments of our population may temporarily benefit a few. Still, its overall effect is the weakening of our country. The more we divide and alienate, the more we erode the basic tenets of our Constitution. The Constitution is the foundation that our country is built on.  Erosion of a foundation results in the collapse of the overall structure.      

We are creatures of novelty.  Now that there is a new story to capture our attention, the ongoing pandemic has receded into the background.  I fear that the same will happen with police reform.  The protests will end, and our collective minds will focus on the next big story.  We cannot let this happen.

I grew up in the 1960s, a time of great Soviet hubris. I remember a quote by Soviet Prime Minister, Nakita Khrushchev who said, “We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within.” Unity creates strength; division creates weakness. As we justify the abuse of others, we deem different; we move ever closer to his prediction. The group of marginalized individuals grows ever larger; it is only a matter of time that those who are marginalizing will become marginalized themselves.  Perhaps, that has already happened. Who will be left to protect our values and our country when we are all considered the enemy?

Some stores in downtown Naperville boarded up windows in anticipation of the protest.
Protestors in downtown Naperville.
Police en masse, present but allowing the protestors to do their thing.
Late-night damage and looting.
Some high-end stores that didn’t board-up their windows were targeted.
I can’t imagine the force that it took to break this super-thick glass.
A view to the inside.
The next morning legions of volunteers spontaneously came to the area to clean up.
A hovering helicopter is seen during the cleanup.
Some people ripped down hearts supporting BLM and the community reacted by covering stores with hearts in support of BLM.
I love this photo.

Bomb Shelters And COVID-19, More Related Than You Think.

I read the email from Ralph.  He was inviting my family and me to his farm for the weekend.  I felt reasonably confident that Julie would want to go, but I was less sure of my kids.  To my surprise, they were eager as they had fond memories of outings there when they were younger.  Our invitation was at the beginnings of the lifting of shelter-in-place restrictions in Illinois; I knew that both Ralph and Anne had been carefully isolating.

Ralph is my former business partner, and his wife Anne is my dentist.  They live in a nearby suburb, and the farm is their get-away place.  To call it a farm isn’t exactly accurate, but that descriptor is about as good as any other.

Ralph’s father was a famous researcher who was a professor at a prominent university.  Along with his pediatrician wife, he decided to purchase the farm in the 1960s.  This move was stimulated by several factors, including the fact that a few of his colleagues had bought vacation cottages on the nearby Rock River. However, his father had bigger plans and eventually obtained 650 acres of land that included fields, forests, and a former rodeo.  The rodeo’s site had a main house, nine log-style cabins, a two-story barn, and various other outbuildings.  It was situated on an idyllic pond and became the family’s weekend home. In the 1970s, Ralph’s parents built a new home on a ridge overlooking their lake.  This is the place that I have visited over the years.  The first time that I saw the old homestead was last year as it is about a mile walk from the “new” house.

Visiting the farm is a unique experience; in reality, it is a private preserve.  There are expansive open fields, densely wooded forests, ponds, creeks, and a lake.  The site also contains a helicopter landing field, an abandoned caboose, and a 7-foot plaster-cast statue of Cleopatra.  Edmonia Lewis sculpted the original sculpture (The Death of Cleopatra). Ralph’s dad donated it to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. but had a cast made to keep for himself.

The property’s most unusual feature is a buried, multi-room bomb shelter that even includes a garage to store a car. Under a hill, the shelter has several entrances, including a secret tunnel to the main house.  That opening was located in one of the bedrooms, and to reach it you had to propel yourself down a hidden slide. 

Current observers would likely view the building of a massive bomb shelter as eccentric or possibly even a little crazy.  However, I would disagree with both descriptors.  To understand why someone would go to great effort and expense, you need to understand the era when the shelter was built.  The Cold War was in full swing in the 1960s, and the treat of a nuclear attack from Russia was a genuine fear.  Many people had makeshift bomb shelters in their basements, and students practiced “duck and cover” exercises in school.  In fact, in 1962, it was revealed that Russia was building missile launching pads in Cuba, only 91 miles away from the U.S. mainland.

Ralph’s father’s actions were consistent with the fears of the time, except he had the financial means to protect his family on a grander scale than most.  Thankfully, for all of us, the family never had to use their hidden bunker. 

I am also trying to protect my family, not from a nuclear blast, but a novel coronavirus.  I have instilled in them the need to socially distance, and they know the importance of handwashing. I have laid in some extra food and supplies so they would be safe and fed if, for some reason, I couldn’t go to the grocery store.  I have kept abreast of the latest news and medical research since knowledge is often the most potent weapon against any adversary.

Now that the country is opening up, it is important to know what situations are safer and what situations are more dangerous.

Most research has shown that the best practice is to stay far away from others, as individuals can be infected while exhibiting no physical symptoms.  The 6-foot rule is an excellent place to start.  The more open the setting, the safer the environment.  The more confined the setting, the more dangerous.  The more talking, singing, coughing, laughing, sneezing, the worse the setting. Short periods spent in places offer less viral exposure than extended periods. To put this in practical English:

-Outdoor open spaces with few people are relatively safe. 

-As outdoor spaces become more crowded, they become less safe.

-When you can’t maintain at least 6 feet of distance, wear a mask.  Even a homemade mask offers some protection to the wearer and benefits those around the wearer.

-If possible, avoid closed spaces with poor air circulation (bars, churches, movie theaters).  Such places are even more dangerous when people are singing, shouting, or doing other activities that move a lot of air.

-Eye protection may be useful in “trapped” spaces, such as an airplane.  

-Washing your hands regularly is one of the most important things that you can do to stay healthy.  Do this often, and every time you return home, even in situations where you think you haven’t touched anything. 

-Use an appropriate hand sanitizer when you can’t properly wash your hands.

– The amount of time that you spend in a given place counts.  The chance of getting coronavirus from a short visit to the grocery is relatively low.  If you work in a grocery store for 8 hours a day, being infected by a coworker is higher. 

As the country opens up, it is essential to choose your activities wisely.  You don’t need an elaborate bomb shelter to protect you and your family, just some masks, a little soap, and a heavy dose of common sense.

BTW, we had a great time at the farm.  Instead of writing a narrative about it, I thought I would end today’s post with some photos.



The “new” house built in the 1970s.
The view from our bedroom.
The “new” house sits on a ridge overlooking this lake.
We toured around the farm “hayride” style. Ralph is an expert at driving a tractor.
One of several ponds.
Only a few of the original log cabins remain, and they are returning to nature.
Transportation consists of one of several 1950s tractors.
A huge bonfire often ends the evening.
View of the lake from the patio.
Getting ready for an adventure.
Many stairs down to the lake.
Wandering in the forest.
Wandering in the field.
Going down to explore the old bomb shelter.
Our ride.
“The Death of Cleopatra” Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.