by Nathan Shuherk

I’m not sure I ever uttered the exact phrase, “2020 is going to be my year,” but I likely said something similar enough. And while the sentimentality was nice, it now seems daft.

April 2020 is starting, finally. March seemed to last an entire decade, and the concept of a fun, active springtime is now more of a fantasy than a plan – and perhaps summer, too.

COVID19 has been the ultimate schedule wrecker. Whatever your plans were for the next few months, those aren’t it anymore. A wedding? I think even having two witnesses is against the CDC recommended guidelines. A cruise for spring break? Unless you’re looking to do research for your post-apocalyptic novel, that’s not happening. Not the type to make real plans but wanting to meet a friend at a bar for a drink and some late night mozzarella sticks? Well, if that happens, that restaurant owner is either going to jail or closing shop due to a huge fine for operating against the state’s Stay At Home orders.

We’re all now stuck at home. While the extroverts are climbing the walls, the introverts have taken up a collective mindset of “this is my time to shine.” Luckily, I’m an introvert. Luckily (part two), I also have a lot of practice with staying at home.

One of the hallmarks of my life with schizophrenia is not just wanting but needing to be alone in order to rest and feel better. To truly take care of my mental health, I know that in a normal week (COVID19 not considered) it’s ideal for me to have at least two days a week in which I don’t leave my house. The two-days-alone benchmark is actually a huge sign of progress for me. In 2017 while I was battling one of my worst psychotic breaks and dealing with hallucinations that made people’s faces look disfigured and unrecognizable, I developed what could only be classified as agoraphobia. For almost three months, I didn’t leave my house or see anyone.

When it comes to isolation, I have practice. However, the saying “practice makes perfect,” simply isn’t true . . . at least not in these circumstances. My practice with isolation doesn’t make this easy or comfortable, it just means I’ve learned some lessons that I have at the ready to implement during this time. I have a list of 5 things I’ve learned in my periods of isolation that I’ve used for years, and I hope these might be of some help to you.

Before I give you my list, I want to say something serious: be selfish.

When it comes to taking care of your mental health during a pandemic, my actual best piece of advice is that mindful selfishness in putting your coping and wellness ahead of other people’s needs is paramount. If you can’t function, you can’t be there for your loved ones.

So, be selfish.

Here’s my list of 5 Lessons for Isolation:

  1. Sleep
    If you’re getting 8 hours of sleep, that’s a third of your day. When we’re all clambering for this to end, the faster time passes, the faster this is over. There’s not really anything I can think of that makes time pass more quickly than sleep. 8 hours and you’re at 33%. You want to throw in a daily two hour nap? Go for it! You’re now at 42%. Sleep is a great way for you to pass the hours, but it’s also absolutely critical to maintaining good mental health. Putting yourself on a schedule, especially one that gets you up before sunrise and going to bed a little after sunset, is proven to improve health and wellness. Staying up all night isn’t the best idea. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Before COVID19 going to bed at 10pm on a Friday and Saturday night was boring and uncool, but now you’re a symbol of success for taking care of yourself. Be cool. Get some (a lot of) rest.

2. Distract Yourself
Growing up, I always heard something along the lines of “TV will rot your brain.” I think this was mostly said because my parents and other adults monitoring me just didn’t like watching Power Rangers for 6 hours straight. But right now 6 hours straight of Power Rangers sounds pretty ideal. In the 90s, what would’ve made that hard was the commercials every ten minutes or so. However, in the era of streaming, no commercials. Brilliant. Also, there’s nearly unlimited content. Go watch a docuseries where you learn about migration patterns in Antarctica. Or how about one about the conspiracy theories about aliens building the pyramids. There’s so much informative (although not always factually accurate) content out there. Take the time to learn about some stuff. Worst thing that could happen is you happen to win a trivia night after all this is over.

3. Look Forward to Tomorrow
Days are going to blend together. Looking at your calendar might be confusing. But regardless of how we are now perceiving time, we all still understand what tomorrow is (but perhaps not which name it goes by). Having something to look forward to makes things easier. Whether it’s Tuesday or Sunday, plan something for tomorrow. It doesn’t need to be a full day schedule, just a little thing you’re looking forward to doing. The next section of a book or FaceTime call with a friend. It can be anything. For me, I’m going to watch all 24 Marvel Movies in their timeline order. I’ve never seen them in this order and most of them I haven’t revisited in years, so it’s going to be a fun distraction. And when it comes down to it, I now have 23 tomorrows planned for myself (and I’ve realized the first Captain America movie is better than I remembered).

4. Greatest Hits (or Your Wishlist)
Right now is the time to revisit the things you love. It doesn’t have to be all 24 Marvel movies. Maybe it’s a trashy book series (I won’t say Twilight because I’ve always maintained it’s great – maybe I’ll explain in a future blog). Or perhaps you really love an indie internet game from your teenage years. Go find what you love, and use it. Do a deep dive if you have to. Have fun re-exploring things you enjoy. Whether it’s nostalgic or something you’ve been obsessively curious about for ages, go for it. You might have something you’ve always wanted to try or to learn, and that could be a great way to spend your time. You want to write and perform a solo musical all about Stalin’s rise to power? I’ll tune into that Instagram live show.

5. Honesty is the Best Policy
Back to a little bit of seriousness, I think we’re all getting the “how are you doing texts?” Whether it’s because people are worried about your mental health as a result of your schizophrenia diagnosis or because you’re just a human living in April 2020, it seems we’re all asking and getting asked about how we are doing. “Fine,” very well might be your typical response to that text. But, I think you should change it up. Respond honestly. Tell them how you’re doing and where your head is at in the moment. We’re all struggling with how we are doing right now. If you’re honest, my guess is it will go two ways: 1) you’ll start a conversation and/or, 2) you’ll get honesty in response. Having lengthy honest conversations is a great way to pass the time and feel better. We can both take care of our mental health and well-being and take care of others with a little bit of honesty. Sure, when this all is over, we can go back to the “fine,” texts, but right now, I think it’s the perfect moment to respond honestly. I don’t know where those conversations will lead you, but I would guess it’ll be in the direction of strengthening your bonds and helping you feel better. Maybe that seems hard, but you really, really should try it. I dare you.

5 Tips for COVID-19 Isolation and Mental Health

Nathan Shuherk graduated from Taylor University in 2015. During college, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia which led him to start a Student’s with Disabilities club. He studied history and philosophy and was part of a national championship ethics bowl team. After college, he moved to Indianapolis to take a job in adult education at the Indianapolis Public Library system. Nathan has been connected with several NAMI groups during his moves, and he has been given a chance to be a guest speaker for NAMI events in three cities in Indiana. If you want to find out more about what Nathan Shuherk is doing to pass the time or what he’ll be doing after all this is over, you can find out more on his Instagram.