By Gwenn Voelckers
It’s been said that too much of a good thing can be too much of a good thing.
While I love living alone, this concerning, confusing and, for some, depressing time of self-isolation and social distancing has taken “alone time” to a whole, new level.
Solitude by choice is one thing; solitude by necessity is another.
In the first week under the stay-at-home order, I managed just fine. I cleaned, I cleared out the clutter, and I took care of minor repairs and maintenance projects inside and outside my home.
I was fine. So I thought.
By week two, I found myself walking in circles with too much time on my hands. I was flitting from one thing to another, unable to focus. Still, I thought, I’ve got this. Alone time is my wheelhouse.
But then reality set in. So did self-awareness and reflection. I was not fine. I felt lonely and unmoored. My empty calendar became a source of anxiety.
Gone were my weekly touchpoints: the fitness classes I led at the YMCA, my band rehearsals, my volunteer job at the fair-trade shop, and my get-togethers with friends and family. My home and life were quiet. Too quiet.
And so I did what I usually do when confronted with a challenge: I went into problem-solving mode. I knew I needed to create a new normal for myself — a new daily routine in which I could find fulfillment and joy.
I started by making a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day and then created a schedule in one- and two-hour increments.
Do I stick to my timetable religiously? No. Do I leave plenty of room for spontaneity, incoming phone calls/texts, invitations to walk, and most every interruption? Yes!
Below, I’ve shared my daily schedule in the hope that it might inspire you to embrace this unique time in our lives and to make the most of our collective solo experience.
Today and Every Day
5:30 a.m. Wake up on the dot before sunrise with no alarm clock. Even in retirement, I can’t break this habit. Before I get out of bed, I do a series of stretches and repeat my morning affirmation: “I am filled with gratitude and positive energy.”
6 a.m. I make a pot of coffee and carry my cup into the living room, where I light a candle in the darkness and prepare to meditate. Sitting comfortably on my couch, I concentrate on my breathing, focus on the present and center myself for the day ahead.
In this soothing, safe and contemplative space I feel surrounded and uplifted by a universe of caring souls. I feel connected and so blessed to be a part of it. Abundant compassion, love and kindness are shared in this tranquil moment. I am not alone.
7 a.m. After enjoying yogurt and a banana, I move to my desktop computer to read digital copies of the local newspaper and “New York Times.” Then, I send and answer emails with friends and family with the aim to support, cheer up, console and commiserate. Humor always seems welcome!
Following that, I check out COVID-19 stats and updates, and glance at my go-to websites for breaking news, movie/book reviews, cat videos (kidding!), spring gardening tips, and — drum roll — 30% off sales with free shipping. Woo-hoo! Can’t wait for my new pair of wellies to arrive.
8 a.m. Time to shower and make myself presentable. I want to look pretty under my face mask. Ha! Then I make my bed, fold laundry and do a little ironing (one of my cherished “Zen” activities).
9 a.m. I devote this hour to my music. I play percussion in a local community band and like to practice my pieces and double-stroke rolls in the morning when I’m feeling fresh.
I also tried something new just for the fun of it: I subscribed to a learn-to-play piano app and decided to start from scratch. I know how to play the piano, but I’m rusty, so I thought what better time than now to revisit the rudiments.
10 a.m. I need a change of scene and, more importantly, human contact (even at six feet apart). Every day around this time, I take a long walk. Alone or preferably with my sister Anne or a friend, I walk for over an hour. I believe that — at a safe distance — in-person companionship is vital to my emotional well-being. And perhaps to my immune system, too.
I love nature, so walking in a park, re-purposed railroad trail or canal path does my heart good. I try valiantly to smile at passers-by with my eyes, above my mask.
12 p.m. Time for lunch. This may be my favorite time of day. I’ll prepare something healthy to eat and take it outside to enjoy on my back patio. On the bistro table, I create a nice place setting and “equip” it with a pen, paper, and notecards.
In this peaceful oasis, I write handwritten get-well wishes, sympathy cards (sadly) and heartfelt thank-you notes to friends, family and even perfect strangers, e.g., frontline caregivers at our local hospitals. I wish I could do more.
1 p.m. Catch-all time — so much to do, so much time! I make a list of household chores and knock them off in half-hour increments. I use my oven timer to stay on track. It works.
3 p.m. Time to exercise. Working out has always been a huge part of my life. With no fitness classes to lead or attend, I created an exercise studio in the hayloft of my barn. In this rustic, fragrant space I am producing homemade workout videos for my friends and neighbors who want to stay in shape. On YouTube, it’s called “Workout at Home with Gwenn.”
It’s one way I can help. Together, we can stay strong.
4 p.m. Nap time. I like to kid myself and refer to it as “reading time,” but, well, you know how it goes …
6 p.m. I watch the local news, followed by the national news. On commercial breaks, I pop into the kitchen to experiment with new recipes. Last night it was homemade pizza with slices of hot sopressata, instead of pepperoni. It was delicious, if I do say so myself. I’ll be happy to share the recipe.
7 p.m. Hunkering down for the evening. After checking my inbox one last time, I watch a Netflix or Amazon Prime movie or original series, a PBS special or reruns of a favorite childhood TV show. I can’t get enough of “The Andy Griffith Show!” At 9 p.m. I switch over to watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC for a news recap and then call it a night.
So, there you have it, a recipe for living alone in the time of Corona. Make it your own!
And know that what initially might seem like too much of a good thing can turn into a great thing — a time to slow down, to make new connections with yourself and others, to pitch in and help, and to remind yourself that you can do this.
You can create a wonderful life, make a meaningful contribution, and find contentment on your own.
Gwenn Voelckers leads Alone and Content empowerment workshops for women held in Mendon and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com.