PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus, but I wanted to post an Pandemic Diary update today, on the first anniversary of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.
Exactly one year ago today, on March 16th, 2020, I began working from home for my full-time paying job as a science librarian at the University of Manitoba. A week later, my library colleagues were all sent home to work and the campus was shut down. I never dreamed that I would still be working from home 365 days later, but here I am!
So, how am I? And what have I learned from the past year?
How am I doing? Well, this morning I tweeted:
I myself have found that the longer this pandemic drags on, my depression is slowly getting worse and worse. I am doing *EVERYTHING* I can to take care of myself, but so many others are struggling with mental health issues due to, or exacerbated by, the pandemic. Reach out!
One year in, I am starting to fray at the edges, and it bothers me a great deal. I am experiencing the worst insomnia that I have ever experienced in my life, sleeping four, two, or even only one hour per night, and operating like a zombie during the day. (In my last grocery pickup at my local Walmart, I included a bottle of melatonin. I tried it for the first time last night, and I am pleased to report that I achieved a record six hours of sleep! Woohoo!)
I have written many times before about my use of virtual reality as a way to help treat my chronic clinical depression. On May 4th, 2018, I wrote on this blog:
I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.
I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!
Well, I am pretty depressed at the moment, and I decided that I need to get my neurons firing again! So today I went on a shopping spree on Steam, buying the following five programs and apps for my Valve Index headset:
- The Room VR: A Dark Matter
- Beat Saber
- Nature Treks VR (a longtime favourite)
- Tilt Brush
- Virtual Desktop
Yes, in moving from an Oculus Rift to a Valve Index (an upgrade in every single way), I have had to rebuy a few programs, but actually not that many. Most of the time I use my VR headset to visit social VR platforms like VRChat, Rec Room, NeosVR, and Sansar, which of course are free to use (although some now offer a paid-for, premium version, too). And Nature Treks VR helps me with my anxiety, too. It’s also a great place to meditate!
And I am struggling not only with clinical depression and major insomnia, but also some serious anxiety, which has gotten noticeably worse over the past twelve months.
For example, I find that even the slightest trigger events will make me feel a high, out-of-proportion level of anxiety, to the extent that my heart is actually pounding and my breathing becomes more shallow! It feels like a mini panic attack, and it is a most uncomfortable and horrible sensation, one that is brand new to me. I absolutely hate feeling this way. I feel like my resilience, my ability to bounce back, has been significantly impaired.
I have in the past taken prescription Lorazepam for my anxiety, but at my psychiatrist’s suggestion, I am now taking valerian root instead whenever I feel anxious. She also recommended that I investigate transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS; Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic) for anxiety. Here’s the 2012 journal article she recommended to me, to use as the starting point for my research!
Apparently, there are now relatively inexpensive devices which attach to your ears in some way? I have always been curious about TMS, and whether or not this would help me, and so I might be willing to try this out sooner rather than later.
So, a few stats from a year in partial or total lockdown.
I have not set foot once in a grocery store in a whole year (I shop for my groceries online using the Walmart website, then drive to the loading dock at the back of my local Walmart, get out of my car and stand at least 2 metres away while an associate loads it up, then drive away.)
Aside from ten trips through the McDonald’s drive-through, and half a dozen summertime dinners with my best friend John on the socially distanced outdoor patio at my local Boston Pizza or Smitty’s, I have not been a patron of any restaurants. All the money I spent on restaurants has gone to Walmart, which has resulted in some significant savings (a lesson learned, perhaps?).
I have not had a haircut since January 2020. I now wear my hair in the tiniest of ponytails, and add a headband when my bangs get irritating. I have decided that I will only get my hair cut once I have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
I have only filled up the gas tank on my car three times since March 16th, 2020, and I am still near the top of my third tank of gas, so that tells you how often I have taken my car out over the past year. I never even bothered to take off my winter tires last summer! What was the point?
I believe that, in 12 months, I have only been touched by another human being a grand total of three times:
- the pharmacist who gave me my flu shot (wearing latex gloves and a facemask);
- the dermatologist I saw about my eczema (likewise wearing gloves and a facemask);
- my best friend John who, at one of our aforementioned restaurant patio suppers, reached out and briefly touched my forearm while making a point (I jumped out of my skin!)
I have, in 365 days, not had a single hug. I am absolutely aching for a hug. (Once all this is over, I plan to give many people some *BIG* gay bear hugs.)
And finally, after all the statistics I have rattled off, the uncountable: I have participated in more Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx virtual meetings with family, friends, and coworkers than I can count.
So, what have I learned over the past 365 days of partial or complete lockdown?
First, I have learned that everybody is struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues during the pandemic. For example, my psychiatrist told me (in our biweekly telephone conversations that have replaced in-person appointments since the pandemic started) that she had picked up smoking again, after 27 years! She also told me that all of her clients have been feeling more depressed lately. Apparently I am far from alone.
I have also learned, after over 30 years of eating out at restaurants at least once a day, that I can actually cook for myself—and enjoy doing so. And I find that as I build up my confidence in my cooking skills, I am getting more creative over time!
For example, I love lasagna, but I hate waiting for it to bake in the oven (like Garfield the cat, when I want lasagna, I WANT IT NOW). So here is my recipe for an easy 3-cheese lasagna that only takes 15 minutes to prepare using an electric skillet, or a deep stove-top skillet. Enjoy!
Ryan’s 15 Minute Three-Cheese Lasagna
You will need:
- 500 g (1 pound) extra lean ground beef (you can use less lean ground beef, but then you will have to drain the fat from it)
- one box (193 g) of Hamburger Helper Lasagne (NOT the Four Cheese Lasagne!)
- 250 mL (1 cup) 3-cheese blend (I buy this pre-shredded, although of course you can save money by shredding your own cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses.)
- Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Prepare the Hamburger Helper Lasagne according to the package instructions in an electric skillet or a deep stove-top skillet. When ready, cover the bottom of a serving dish with the lasagna mixture, then sprinkle the shredded cheese over it. Keep alternating layers until you run out of Hamburger Helper and cheese. If you wish, dust the top with grated parmesan cheese.
Serve immediately with a glass of cold milk and a tossed salad. Yum!
That’s it! It’s so easy, and it satisfies that Garfield lasagna hunger very well. I also find that it keeps well in the refrigerator, and leftovers can easily be reheated in the microwave.
Here’s a second quick and easy recipe I whipped up during the pandemic:
Ryan’s 15 Minute Butter Chicken with Rice
You will need:
- 250 mL (1 cup) white rice (I use King’s Food Jasmine rice, but you can use any kind of white or brown rice—although brown rice will not be ready in 15 minutes!)
- one can (540 mL) Campbell’s Chunky Butter Chicken and Vegetables soup
Prepare the rice according to the package stovetop directions (15 minutes). Five minutes before the rice is ready to serve, put the soup in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high for 5 minutes. To serve, simply pour the hot soup over a bed of rice! Add seasonings such as pepper to taste. Enjoy!
See? It’s easy, people. If a lummox like me can do this, anybody can be a cook! I might never again be the frequent restaurant patron I was before the pandemic hit.
Anyways, I just wanted to tell people how I was doing. I will resume my indefinite hiatus from blogging to focus my limited energies on my full-time paying job, and on recovering from this pernicious bout of the blues.
Stay safe and stay healthy!
The first 3 things I plan to do once this goddamned pandemic is over are:
1) Hug the stuffing out of as many people as I can
2) Schedule a bisexual/pansexual orgy
3) Travel around the world
My name is Ryan and thank you for coming to my TED Talk!