DEALING WITH COVID FATIGUE

How many months has it been?  It started for me sometimes in March.  Or was it earlier?  I remember talking about it in February because we thought about traveling to New Mexico, but I still wasn’t focused on it.  I believe it really hit home when I returned from New Mexico on March 11th and saw that the airport was nearly empty.  On that flight home, I discovered that my daughter and son’s universities were transitioning to online classes. Then, a few weeks later, Governor Pritzker shut down Illinois by issuing a shelter-in-place proclamation.

That order added a level of fear, but also a strange sense of odd excitement in me.  The isolation order brought back memories of the 1967 Chicago blizzard.  A time when everything was closed and a time when everyday life was on hold.  I didn’t yet comprehend the difference between a 5-day snowy shutdown vs. months of lockdown.  

When I came back from New Mexico, I was surprised to see empty shelves at Walmart… and there was no toilet paper!  I couldn’t even buy a pack online, so I resorted to buying a case of industrial, commercial stuff- the TP that no one wants to use.  Twenty-four hours later, Amazon sent me a notice stating that I had canceled that order (which I did not).  I went on another online search and bought a case of TP from a hotel supply company.  Several weeks later, that case plus the one that Amazon said was canceled BOTH arrived.  Two cases of sandpaper quality TP. Bonus or bogus?

The kids were back at home, and Julie and I had gone from empty nesters to a family of 5 in a matter of a week.  Spaces had to be re-allocated to accommodate them and their particular needs.

Everyday grocery items like pasta and white flour were nowhere to be found.  Hand sanitizer and Lysol products had gone missing but could be bought if one was willing to spend ten times their average price (I chose not to).  People were walking more; they would wave and say hello to me as they crossed the street to avoid me.  The kids and I found some construction paper in the house that we cut into hearts, and on which we wrote inspirational sayings.  “Breathe,” “Joy,” “Be Strong,” and dotted the front windows of our house with them.

The stock market, which is my primary source of retirement income, took a tumble, and I panicked.  However, I tried to remind myself that I was still more fortunate than many. 

I relied on my medical and scientific knowledge as the COVID threat intensified. Wrong information and spurious conspiracy theories were flying, and so I sorted through the facts vs. fiction. I did my best to educate others.

Initially, there was a temporary feeling about the crisis. It would end soon…but it didn’t. Days blended into weeks.  Weeks turned into months.  Holidays muted.  Get-togethers canceled.  The initial “crisis novelty” wore off.  

As a retiree, my position was different than many.  I didn’t need to renegotiate my work life. So I focused some of my technical energy on Julie by setting up a secure video conferencing platform for her to see some of her patients remotely.  

It slowly started in me, a strange feeling.  It wasn’t depression, but I didn’t feel happy.  It wasn’t laziness, but I really didn’t want to do anything.  It wasn’t anger, but I was irritable. It felt like I was separating from the world around me.  I wasn’t disconnecting; it was more of a sense of not connecting. It didn’t feel terrific.

It was time to put on my psychiatrist hat and to make changes in my attitude. I would like to tell you some of the ways that I have been coping and share some general concepts that may help you emotionally deal with the pandemic and its resulting isolation.

Private spaces,

Our home went from 2 individuals (one who was still working) to 5 individuals at home 24/7.  We each found spots where we could have some private space.  For example, I used my study and built a “nest” in a leather chair next to a window.  My daughter claimed as her own a section of public space, our family room.  She “built-out” a chair and end table with those things that were important to her-her phone, computer, and water bottle. 

For those of you living alone, it is also essential to have zones to do different things.  This can be accomplished in any sized space, including a studio apartment.  Where you sleep should be different from where you eat and work.  

Keep it clean!

When you have nowhere to go, it is easy to let yourself go.  After all, who cares!  The reality is that you should. I feel fortunate that I can step into a steaming hot shower whenever I please. I feel better about myself when my body is clean, and my teeth are brushed.

Tidiness goes beyond personal hygiene.  A disordered house makes you feel disordered.  Keeping surfaces clean and dusted, and putting things away can add a sense of serenity. It is especially important to keep things orderly when you live with others.  Messes can accumulate quickly, and with them comes resentment.  Disorder can prevent you from doing things that you need to do.  You are less likely to make yourself a healthy dinner if you have to first wash pots, clean dishes, and clear off a messy countertop left from the morning’s breakfast. 

All individuals in a home have to work together to maintain such an environment. This is not only necessary, but it also adds a sense of teamwork.  Kids feel better about themselves when they accomplish tasks.

Teamwork.

You may be a team of one, or you may be living with many.  If the latter is the case, it is imperative that basic ground rules be established. Naturally, everyone should share in everyday tasks, or at least accept responsibility to accomplish joint goals.  For instance, one family may decide that they are going to cook their meals together.  Another family may determine that one person will cook meals, and someone else will clean the bathroom.  

Perhaps one parent did all of the house cleaning in the past.  Is it still fair for that individual to do all of the work now that others create greater mess and have more free time?  These are the kinds of questions that have to be addressed during any significant life-change.

Two of my kids have returned to university, so there are now three adults (including me) remaining at home.  I still do most of the house cleaning, but we share more meal-making tasks, and everyone is expected to clean up after themselves.  Your needs and rules may differ.

Get Out!

When possible, it is essential to vary your environment.  In the beginning, I walked a lot, but that wasn’t enough.  I started to spend time with my friend, Tom and incorporated him into my COVID circle.  Just seeing a different human improved my morale.  As time has grown, I have gently increased my circle further.  On occasion, I will visit my siblings.  These visits have been in COVID safe settings. I also call people regularly (some daily), and I email my in-laws once a week.  Doing these things has helped normalize the last few months.

A touch of the old life.

I live in an urban area that is rich with carry-out and curbside options.  A cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts’ drive-through or a delivery pizza on a Friday night can add a little normalcy to my day.

Projects and tasks.

At the beginning of the year, I was heavily involved in doing some odious tasks-like cleaning out my crawl space.  Once shelter-in-place started, I lost all interest in these extracurricular activities.  However, I have been slowly trying to return to “extra” jobs.  I have made a few modifications to my campervan and have slowly started to rid myself of needless junk.  It isn’t much, but accomplishing even a small task makes me feel like I’m moving forward instead of backward.  I would suggest that you come up with some things you want to do and then do them.  Spending a few minutes a day on a task that you need to do (but don’t want to do) can give you a sense of control.

View the whole picture. 

Is it possible that there is some sort of an upside to this crisis?  As strange as it may sound, the answer is yes. My wife has a friend who says she formed a deep new friendship with someone she met right before COVID.  They have been communicating through emails and phone calls and have really gotten to know each other. 

I’m cooking a lot of meals with one of my daughters, and we are not only having a lot of fun, but I feel like I’m getting to know her on a totally new level.  Every coin has two sides.

Politics and pandemics. 

Our greater community can help all of us adjust to change.  I love watching videos about the homefront efforts that brought our country together during WWII. When we feel like we are part of the greater good, it is easier to accept imposed limitations.  Local, state, and federal governments need to focus not only on physical practices (like mask-wearing) but also on the patriotic side of doing the right thing.

Yoopers unite!

Over the years, I have known folks who lived in isolated parts of the country.  They had to travel great distances to go to the grocery or hardware store,  and their nearest neighbor was miles away.  Yet, they were happy and content. They didn’t feel deprived; instead, they felt blessed with what they had. We create our expectations, and we determine what is satisfying and rewarding.  

Don’t be an ass.

COVID, COVID isolation, COVID shortages… the list goes on.  Yes, life with COVID can make people irritable.  Several folks have told me of customer service interactions where the person on the other end of the phone was rude, inflexible, and downright mean.  During times of stress, it is MORE important to make an effort to be kind.  Kindness is not a weakness; it is a strength.  When you are kind towards someone, they will often respond similarly to you.  Even better, they may pass on their goodwill to someone else.  Being angry may temporarily make you feel powerful, but the overall destructive energy it generates is poisoning to all parties, including the perpetrator.  Consider doing random acts of kindness.

It is not all or nothing!

The longer someone has to do something, the less likely that their actions will be perfect.  It is also expected that their efforts will need to be modified over time.  You may have enough food in your cupboard for a few days, but eventually, you will need to go to the grocery store and break your perfect isolation.  

It is easy to let go of the safeguards that you had in place.  A safe gathering can grow to one that is unsafe.  You may decide that you really don’t need to wear a mask or thoroughly wash your hands.  An internal desire to return to normal may turn reasonable changes into foolish actions that put both you and your loved ones at risk.  Assess how you can expand your world with an eye on what is safe and what is not.  I just visited my brother-in-law and my sister.  The three of us met on their semi-enclosed, well ventilated back porch. This was safe. However, it would be unsafe to have a big family party in their kitchen.  

Be radical with your acceptance.

I talk to people who regularly say to me, “When will this be over!”  They are waiting for everything to go back to normal.  They are putting their lives on hold.  The fact is that things may go back to normal, or they may not.  However, the best approach is to radically accept our current life situation; otherwise, a “why is this happening” attitude can turn into sadness and anger.  Radical acceptance is not “giving up.”  It is an acceptance that there are things that we cannot change in our lives.  Radical acceptance allows us to move forward and prevents us from being stuck in an endless cycle of self-pity. 

Gratitude is the attitude.

Turn your cup from half-empty to half-full.  Start your day by writing down 4 or 5 positive things about your life or situation.  Then read your list and ponder on it.  


Consider some of these thoughts, and make your day a little bit brighter.

Peace

Mike

BTW  Comments have been turned off as I was getting hundreds of SPAM messages from a Spanish bot.  If you want to email me, you can take my web address prefix and add @gmail.com. 

Hanging out with my friend, Tom has helped me to feel more connected.
Cooking with my daughter has allowed both of us to know each other a bit better. Yes, that is a broasted chicken from the market.
I continue to go on walks and I continue to find new things!
We have a “historic village” in our town, but it is shuttered due to COVID.
This pretty scene makes it look like life is “normal.”

An empty playground.
Signs by our city hall. Please vote!!

“Just Say No” to attack ads

On a recent rainy day, I sat in the big leather chair in my study. With my MacBook on my lap, I watched a series of YouTube videos. Most had at least one ad that played before, and many videos had ads that played during their short program. It was pretty unbearable.

On that particular day, I was struck by the number of ads that supported the adoption of a graduated state income tax for Illinois. Dubbed the “Fair Tax” in the commercials, the ads showed happy citizens who were ecstatic that they were paying lower state taxes. Lower taxes seem like a good idea, but why would a state that is chronically short of cash lower its taxes? Something about the ads smelled like fish that was left out on the counter for too long.  

It is well known that Illinoisians pay higher total state-imposed taxes than the vast majority of other states. Would the adoption of this new amendment really help our citizens? I decided to investigate. Currently, Illinoisians pay a flat state income tax of 4.95%. With the recently proposed amendment, lower-income individuals would pay less, but by how much? The rate for those making $10,000 to $99,999 would drop from 4.95 % to 4.90%. To put that into perspective, someone making $10,000 would only benefit by $5. However, families earning $250,000 would jump to a tax rate of 7.75%, an almost 3% increase.  

Source on proposed tax rates can be found here: https://news.wttw.com/2020/09/15/what-voters-need-know-about-fair-tax-amendment

Technically, families making less than 100K a year would benefit from the new tax structure, but the actual benefit would be relatively small. The devil is in the details. This amendment also allows for future increases in taxes. This would mean even higher taxes on the rich, which could increase the already alarming exodus of these folks to more tax-friendly states. The law says it is OK to raise taxes, as long as it is done for all income groups. In other words, everyone would get a tax increase.  

The amendment that allows for a small tax benefit today could translate into a tax increase in the future. I don’t think those people in the ads would be smiling if they had the complete picture. Illinois is famous for mismanaging its budget, and with the passing of this amendment, any shortfalls could be resolved by merely increasing everyone’s state income tax rate. 

Presenting half-truths to manipulate the public seems to be the nature of political advertising. 

I have already posted my concerns about cable news editorial shows and how their twisting of facts has helped create an ever more partisan and divided nation. However, political ads take bias to a new level. Many ads are now “attack ads.” They talk less about a candidate’s policies and more about their opponent’s flaws. 

Lyndon Johnson used one of the first successful attack ads in his 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater. The iconic “Daisy” ad showed a little girl picking the petals off a daisy while the announcer counts down. When he reaches zero, the ad cuts to a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud. The implication being that Barry Goldwater was a warmonger who would lead us to utter destruction. It was an extremely controversial ad when it was released. However, it would be considered mild in today’s political climate.

Using selectively edited sound bites, modifying or adding additional sounds, and using unflattering or distorted photos of an opponent have become commonplace. Emphasizing an opponent’s errors without balancing them with their accomplishments is a given. All of these factors yield a distorted impression of the opponent to the voter. Most voters won’t investigate further.

The 1950s was the dawn of the computer age, and Ed Greenfield felt that he could exploit this new tool to modify human behavior. He called his idea “Project Macroscope,” and he enlisted academics from prestigious institutions from around the country. Greenfield and his team collected data from surveys and publicly available sources to create a database that could be statistically analyzed using a computer. His company, called Simulmatics, pitched the idea to the Kennedy presidential campaign and was contracted by them. Simulmatics guided the future president on addressing specific issues to voters, like his Catholicism (at the time, it was felt that this was a negative attribute). The impact of Simulmatics’s advice on the 1961 election remains unclear. However, Simulmatics claimed that they won Kennedy’s election, thus ensuring ever more complicated data collection and analysis in future elections.

More recently, the British firm Cambridge Analytica has been in the spotlight for their role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Cambridge Analytica used social media sites (including Facebook) to gather information on how vulnerable a particular person was to persuasion. They used a personality test developed by the University of Michigan that resided in the public domain. It was designed to give an OCEAN score, the acronym standing for, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This score gave Cambridge Analytica knowledge on how persuadable someone was. That innocent-looking “what’s your personality” quiz that you may have taken in 2015 was a weaponized tool used to manipulate you. How so? Combining information from the personality test with other data could determine who could be persuaded to vote for a particular candidate. Once selected, that person could be bombarded with psychologically designed ads, articles, and other media that could move the voter away from one candidate and towards another. Do you recall seeing a lot of ads against Hillary Clinton calling her “Crooked Hillary?” If so, you may have been targeted by Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge likely impacted the outcomes of elections in many other countries before the U.S. presidential election. Also, Cambridge has been implicated in swaying the Brits to adopt Brexit.  

Beyond being manipulated by political campaigns, political pacts, and influential individuals, foreign entities have used social media and advertising to influence voters with misinformation. It has been shown that Russia applied psychological techniques on various social media platforms to discredit Clinton in an effort to have her lose the 2016 election.

It is unclear how coordinated these efforts were, but it is clear that a multi-pronged attack against any candidate has a synergistic impact that supports offshoot organizations and ideas. QAnon comes to mind, a fringe right-wing conspiracy “group.” Some of their ideas include the belief that the Democrats (and others) are Satan-worshiping pedophilic sex traffickers and that Donald Trump is secretly working to defeat them. Other crackpot themes that they ascribe to include their belief that Michele Obama is a man in drag, and that a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. is the epicenter for the above-mentioned sex trafficking ring. As crazy as this all sounds, the number of QAnon true believers has grown and even includes politicians. 

Running a single successful attack ad can cost a presidential candidate a million dollars, but many feel that it is money well spent. However, misinformation spread by memes, “articles,” manipulated video clips, and “testimonials” are relatively inexpensive. They can be customized and targeted through the power of media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  

Politicians seem less interested in presenting the truth and more interested in manipulating the voter. Third parties can stir the flames further as they can exceed the almost non-existent ethical limits that a politician campaign will employ. A campaign may present facts falsely and misleadingly, but a third party can call the opponent a blood-drinking, pedophilic cannibal without expecting any reprisal.

The bottom line is that ads, memes, opinion pieces, and false articles do little to inform prospective voters. Their misinformation is in direct contradiction to a democratic process, as it denies the voter the accurate information that they need to make an informed decision. The only way to inoculate oneself from such misinformation is to avoid it. In the recent past, I advised you to stop watching cable news editorial shows. I am now strongly urging you to consider all ads, memes, and other political media you encounter in emails, social media, and YouTube as potentially false and misleading. If you are interested in voting for the next president, explore their actual record and vote based on that record and their platform. No candidate is perfect, but you need to weigh their accomplishments and their failures to understand who they are and what motivates them. Attack ads will cease to exist when they are shown to be ineffective. However, in 2020 that is not the case, so you need to neutralize them by not engaging in them.  

Peace

Mike

I don’t need to hide behind ads, this is what I believe.

Road Trip…I mean Road Trips

Text messages…

3:51 AM… (beep) “Are you up?”

3:52 AM… (beep) “Yes.”

3:55 AM… (beep) “Just checking.”

4:18 AM… (beep) “I’m here.” (parked in front of my house)

4:19 AM… (beep) “One sec.”

And so started another day, and another trip to Michigan. My friend, Tom has an ambitious plan to turn fallen oak trees into flooring for the townhouse that he is renovating. He has a source for the trees locally, but he has to transport them to a sawmill in Michigan for the first stage in their reappropriation. Tom has a trailer, and he can take up to 3 logs at a time, but he will need at least 11 or 12 logs to get enough lumber for the job.

It will take multiple trips to get the logs from Chicago to the Michigan sawmill where they will be cut into boards. Once cut they will be transported to Indiana where the greenwood will be dried into finished boards. It is quite the process.

Tom asked me if I wanted to go along with him on these trips, and I said, “Yes.” Why you may ask? For a few reasons:

-I travel well with Tom, and I enjoy going on adventures with him.

-We are both individuals who are filled with wonderment over simple things. We like to explore.

-I felt that it would be safer if he had a co-pilot to keep him company.

I got into Tom’s dually and we started our journey to the Michigan sawmill. And so our adventures began.

I know that a lot of people are going a bit stir crazy with pandemic isolation, so I thought that I would share parts of our adventure with you via photos that I took along the way. The photos are from our first 4 trips.

These logs are huge.
At 4:30 AM it is dark, but the highways are busy with truck traffic.
Welcoming dawn.
The leaves are turning earlier in Michigan than in Illinois. The colors have been spectacular.
I thought that these dried stalks of corn looked like soldiers guarding their master’s field.
The country roads were peaceful and serene.
Mini side trips revealed hidden treasures, like this lake.
We found random antique cars sitting in a field.
The country roads were littered with fruit and vegetable stands. I scored some tomatoes, cucumbers, acorn squash, and apples.
All road trips include “pit stops”… at least when I’m traveling. Here we stopped in Indiana on our way back from one of the trips.
Migrant workers help harvest the region’s produce. Small stores offer limited and expensive grocery shopping.
Deisel fuel was much cheaper at this rural gas station.
Here I am with just one of our loads. Including the trailer, Tom truck was pulling around 14,000 pounds!
Some of the logs that we transported. Sawmill buildings in the background.
Moving into position to dump the logs at the sawmill.
The rear doors of the trailer secured. Ready to dump!
Dumping logs at the sawmill.
The trailer empty, time to go back to Chicago.
The sawyer planing a board from one of Tom’s logs.
The heater and kilns at the sawmill. Tom will not be using these as the process would take at least 4 months to dry his lumber. Instead, we will drive the cut boards to Indiana where they can be dried via a faster vacuum method.
I noticed that one of the trailer’s tires looked like it was losing air. It turns out that it took on a roofing nail. We were very lucky that the tire didn’t blow while the trailer was carrying three huge logs.
Tom was prepared for emergencies, and he even had a tire repair kit.
What good is a tire repair kit if you don’t have a compressor to refill the tire, and what good is a compressor if you don’t have a portable generator to power it? Yep, we had both.

I hope you found our little adventures enjoyable!

Peace

Mike

Me, We, Us

When I was younger, I thought about my goals and dreams in terms of “me.” What did I want to do? What did I want to accomplish? What did I want to experience? 

When I married, I thought about goals and dreams in terms of “we.” I had to consider another person’s aspirations.  My desires were still important, but so were my wife’s.  

With children, our mission statement changed to “us.” We all had needs, and all of those needs had to be considered. At times, one person’s wants would take precedent, and at other times someone else’s would.  Often, we would find a middle ground.  Living in harmony meant compromise. I couldn’t have my way all of the time, but it was acceptable to have it some of the time. By being flexible, I was able to appreciate other’s viewpoints. In many ways, the consideration of their needs improved the quality of my life. I shifted from a self-serving “me” to a more balanced “us.”

Along with that change came an awareness that happiness and satisfaction were not found in the latest “toy” or trip.  Contentment was found in relationships, a spiritual life, and a connection with the greater world around me. Service was more satisfying than selfishness.  

That is not to say that I became a co-dependent vessel of a person.  I believe that my needs are just as important as anyone else’s in my family. Also, the move to “us” didn’t require that we all became clones of one another. I didn’t have to lose myself and blindly agree with those around me.  However, I needed to respect their opinions and acknowledge that their thoughts were just as valid to them as mine were to me.

When our founders came to America, they accepted the harsh realities of a primitive existence because they wanted to gain something they felt was more important.  For some, that something was the freedom to worship as they wished. Their individual beliefs were different than the mainstream beliefs in their native England. 

The emphasis of individual rights has been a hallmark of our history, and we venerate individuals who, by their supposedly singular actions, have gained great wealth, status, and power. The past gave us icons like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison. More recently, we admire Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. We are taught that their individualism and focus made them wealthy, powerful, and successful. We somehow equate these characteristics with happiness. Of course, that is not the case.  It is also not the case that these individuals were islands unto themself.  For instance, Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb; he refined a device that had been worked on by almost two dozen other inventors.  His real genius was his ability to market this idea.  Bill Gates didn’t create MS-DOS (the precursor of Windows); he bought the code’s rights and then tweaked it. Some may argue that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t come up with the idea of Facebook; he likely appropriated the concept from fellow Harvard students, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Beyond these truths, all of these individuals’ real success was wholly dependent on the legions of others who offered their hard work, expertise, and opinion. We celebrate the individual, but we should be celebrating the team.  Without the group, none of these superstars would have had the level of success that they did.

As Americans, we continue to be obsessed with influential individuals who, by their drive, live a life that most of us could only imagine having. Many of us want to be like these people, and we want to have what they have.  When we can’t realize their status, we settle to connect with them by association. We join their ideological club, and we worship at their altar. 

This focus on individualism without compassion has created a country of citizens who believe that the world is supposed to meet THEIR needs, celebrate THEIR ideas, and validate THEIR beliefs.  They view life in terms of absolutes-winner vs. loser, black vs. white, good vs. evil.  Life becomes a reality TV show where victory is achieved when the other person is destroyed and humiliated.  

In such a scenario, morals and values become cliches, stage devices to justify real objectives.  In such a world, global decisions are based on singular desires.  We support actions that offer us a job now but destroy the environment for all in the future.  We deny healthcare to our fellow citizens, so a relatively few insurance company stockholders can become more affluent. We denigrate individuals who we perceive as different from us to maintain a false sense of power and superiority.  In the process of achieving these goals, we lose sight of the fact that we live in a society, and that societies function best when all members have a seat at the table. 

I’m writing this the day after the first presidential debate of 2020.  A discussion that celebrated tactics over substance, insults over content, and rage over rational.  A debate of rude interruptions.  A debate that was incoherent and useless to the viewer.  A debate where lies were presented as fact.  A debate where “winning” and embarrassing the opponent was more important than offering a vision for a future.  It was a shameful event: a global embarrassment and a mockery of a process intended to educate and inform.  

We will all vote as we see fit this November.  However, I would ask you to consider what is best for our country, instead of what seems to be best for you. I pray for this.

Peace. 

We are a society, not a bunch of individuals.