Pandemic Diary, March 16th, 2021: What I Have Learned from One Full Year of Working from Home in Self-Isolation During the Coronavirus Pandemic (BONUS: Ryan’s Recipes!)

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!

Photo by Michael Efemena on Unsplash

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:

  1. the pharmacist who gave me my flu shot (wearing latex gloves and a facemask);
  2. the dermatologist I saw about my eczema (likewise wearing gloves and a facemask);
  3. 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.)

Photo by Igor Érico on Unsplash

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.

My arts and entertainment group meets virtually using Zoom

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 Lasagnae!)
  • 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:

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!

Please Read: The Blog Is on Indefinite Hiatus

Next week, I will reach the one-year mark of working from home in self-isolation for my university library system (my full-time paying job). As the pandemic drags on, my chronic clinical depression has become worse and worse. I regret that I am now at the point where I have to put this blog on hold. For how long, I don’t know. At least until I can get my worsening depression under some sort of control.

I am really struggling with my mental state, and I need to do this to focus my limited energies on my paying jobI WANT TO MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR: I AM NOT SUICIDAL!!! I just need to take a break from the blog.

I need to take some time to heal

I will still be active on the Discord server, Twitter, and Clubhouse (where all I have to do is listen), and I will still be showing up at Bray’s Place in Second Life, and perhaps a few other social VR platforms and virtual worlds (I feel very guilty for neglecting Sinespace these past six months). But that’s the extent of what I can do right now.

So this will be my last blogpost for a while. I’m so sorry, you guys. I tried to keep going, but I have to rest and heal for a bit. I hope you understand, but even if you don’t, I am still stepping away from the blog.

Clip ‘n’ Save: Mental Health Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Image source: Kids Help Phone (Canada)

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary: March 8th, 2021: “Are You Out of Your Godforsaken Mind?!??”

Today is Day 358 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system. Next week, on March 16th, 2021, it will be an entire year that I have been operating this way.

I slept so poorly last night that I took another yet sick day from my paying job, and so far, the only things that I have been able to accomplish by 1:00 p.m. today have been:

  • having a shower and making a pot of coffee;
  • going for a brief walk outside in the sunshine; and
  • creating a pile of 14 months’ worth of pharmacy receipts that I need to submit electronically to my insurance company.

Yes, fourteen months of pharmacy receipts (and please do NOT feel sorry for me; I have a 16-month window to submit pharmacy claims to my insurance company, and I have a well-paying, unionized job with excellent benefits, including pharmacy coverage, up to a certain point when the Manitoba PharmaCare program kicks in).

Yes, as a depressive, I have been avoiding this task for a long, long time, which of course, only makes it worse when I finally do attempt to tackle it (I am the same way about doing the dishes and cleaning my apartment). But I find it truly ironic that the most depressing part of being depressed, is going through the procedures that force you to face your depression, head on, such as submitting pharmacy receipts. I’d rather have a root canal than do this. But I have to face it.

As the coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, my chronic clinical depression has slowly and steadily gotten worse and worse. And, at the one-year mark, I now have to put all options on the table, including taking an extended sick leave from my paying job, something I would not have countenanced even a month ago.

I want to clearly repeat something that I have said before:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although I suffer from a chronic form of clinical depression, I am not suicidal. I have every intention of living that extra quarter-century to age 80, and beyond! I have to live to witness and document what happens next in the ever-evolving metaverse! But I do need to get some practical matters settled. I hope you understand. 

Please don’t worry about me. I am taking good care of myself and coping with the current situation as best I can.

I am doing literally everything I can to take good care of myself (antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, talk therapy, and leaning on my real-life and virtual world social networks). For example, on Sunday I held a one-hour Zoom call with the friends in my (currently suspended) Arts and Entertainment group, just to vent about the truly epic, roller-coaster twists and turns of the past couple of weeks, which was wonderfully therapeutic. I talk to many people, including professionals, about my problems. I take long naps. I listen to music. I go for walks. Every so often, I have had a good cry, and a good rage at the universe. Everything helps.

In the past, I have landed up in a hospital psychiatric ward for treatment of severe clinical depression twice (once after my marriage fell apart, and a second time after a textbook-classic case of hit-the-wall job burnout). So I need to pay attention to what is happening to me, rather than continue to put on a brave face and say that I am fine.

Today, I have been following the news media as they report breathlessly on every single possible aspect of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey. And I am absolutely incandescent with rage at how people like Piers Morgan have the audacity to say that Meghan is lying when she says she was pushed to the brink of suicide because of her situation. One person tweeted:


By the way, the only Piers Morgan footage that you need to watch is this clip featuring the magnificent Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a Black woman who quite rightly took Piers to task for his response: “Are you out of your Godforsaken mind?!??”

God bless you, Dr. Mos-Shogbamimu, for daring to speak truth to power.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, one way or another, as to what happens over the next few months as I wait to get a vaccine in my arm, somehow, somewhere, somewhen, God knows when.

Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers, and please stay in touch.

Thank you, and God bless.

UPDATE 5:23 p.m.: Well, I finally had a nap this afternoon to catch up on some badly-needed sleep, and I also had a good cry. And I’ve been listening to a great song by Amy Grant and James Taylor called Don’t Try So Hard on an endless loop:

Today has been a pretty horrible day for me, but I believe it will get better.

UPDATE 8:28 p.m.: Finally, some good news today! My mother called, and she and my stepfather (who are both in their eighties) have been able to make appointments to get their COVID-19 vaccines on March 21st. I am so relieved.

UPDATE March 9th, 2021: Today ITV announced that Piers Morgan is quitting his job at Good Morning Britain. Translation: he was fired, but Piers was given the option to say he was leaving rather than he was fired. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Pandemic Diary, March 5th, 2021: Broken Together

One of my favourite songs is a duet by Amy Grant and James Taylor called Don’t Try So Hard (even though I consider myself an agnostic, I still love Amy Grant’s voice and I am still a big fan of her music, which I listened to endlessly as a teenager in my church youth group days).

So, I tossed it into YouTube Music to spin up a radio station of related songs, and up pops a song from Casting Crowns, Called Broken Together. It’s actually a good song:

How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light…

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together?
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us?
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together

And “broken together” seems like an apt two-word description of what all of us, collectively as a society, are going through with this soul-crushing, dream-deferring coronavirus pandemic. I find myself wandering through my rarely-left-behind apartment like a zombie. I pause on my way to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, and suddenly feel the weight of painful reality come crashing down upon me again, and I lean against the wall and close my eyes for a minute, and steel myself to continue. Keep going, keep moving, keep breathing. Keep living.

The next three to six months of the pandemic are going to be hardest stretch of the marathon yet, I fear. It doesn’t help that I have little to no faith in Brian Pallister’s incompetent, pompous, and adversarial Conservative provincial government here in Manitoba, which has largely mismanaged this crisis almost from day one.

For example, take a look at this map showing the locations of vaccination clinics in two neighbouring provinces, Saskatechewan to the west, and my Manitoba to the east:

God, when you wish you were living in Saskatchewan, you really know your life is going sideways. 😉

(OK, I was joking, people. It was a joke. Check the emoji! Please put your pitchforks and your tar and feathers away. I already got almost-cancelled last week, and I have zero wish to repeat that experience.)

Sometimes my anger, verging on pure volcanic outrage, is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, the only thing that propels me through my day. But anger is exhausting, and I am already bone tired. So sometimes—often—it slips into depression. I took three sick days from my paying job last week, something I am not proud of. But it was necessary. I need to take care of myself. I am broken.

So many of us are now feeling broken, yearning for the simpler, pre-pandemic times, and that brokenness, and that need to connect, is expressing itself in society in unexpected and weird ways. We now gather and commiserate on Clubhouse and in Twitter Spaces instead of our local community bars and coffee houses.

Last night, as I was listlessly scrolling for some much-needed socialization on Clubhouse, I came across one room with Lindsay Lohan and her acolytes, and a second room where Paris Hilton was presiding over her minions (what, is this 2006 again?!??). All we need is for Britney Spears to pop up on Clubhouse (Free Britney!) and then we’d have the Unholy Trinity riding together again…I mean, if that isn’t a sign of the impending apocalypse, what is?? (Thank God, Margaret Cho was discussing female comedians and comedy with her usual acerbic wit in another room. Some sanity still prevails.)

Everything old is new again: two-thirds of these people were in Clubhouse rooms last night (surely this must be a sign of the impending apocalypse)

Use whatever technology you can muster—Clubhouse, Twitter, FaceTime and Zoom, and yes, even social VR and virtual worlds—to maintain our connections, our togetherness, in this time of brokenness. Reach out to each other. Comfort each other.

We can be broken, together.

Stay safe and stay healthy!