March 2020 in Review

Um, well…this month fell off a cliff, yeah? We (both the collective “we” and my family specifically) didn’t really expect to spend the second half of March under quarantine. But there you go. The Gignacery is all together again, all five of us, getting on each others’ nerves all cooped up in the house and frustrated with the really crappy internet service we’re subject to. And personally, I’d like to just pretend that the second half of March didn’t happen at all. Sigh.

Reading and Watching
I don’t know why I just haven’t felt like reading since early February. Both books I read this month were boredom, force-myself-to-read books and I didn’t enjoy either of them. I also tried and rejected multiple others. Apparently I just have no reading mojo right now. I’ve been listening to the same audiobook off and on since the 3rd, and I’m still less than halfway through – even though it’s only seven hours long. At least the lovely Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast is keeping my audio-brain happy!

So you’d think I’d be watching all the TV/movies I can, if I’m not reading…but I’m not doing that either! I can’t seem to get into anything specific, though I did manage to finally watch the new Aladdin (Laurence’s choice) and The Aeronauts this month. Both were pretty good. Otherwise, I’ve mostly been watching reruns of Unsolved Mysteries on Prime…

If the month is going to fall off a cliff, likely goals will as well. As far as it goes, I was unable to volunteer at the now-closed library, do any writing with my family home full time, make any financial progress with sudden expenses like driving to Kansas to pick up Morrigan, meet up with old friends, start a book club, get a tattoo, cross books off my 2020 list (because no reading right now…), do any social fitness, lose any weight, etc etc. Basically, I’m on stand-by. Plus I went backwards on one goal because our planned vacation was canceled. I did try to get out and do my running practice this month, though even that is a bit shorted because of restrictions and rising heat. And sadly, for the first time, I didn’t reach my 20-20 mini goals this month. I reached most of them, but I was so stressed out and anxious that I had my phone on too many nights past 9pm, reading Corona-news. Sigh.

I have a few small pieces of good news to report from early in the month. First, my abdominal ultrasound came back normal, so I can stop worrying about that. Second, my running fitness (legs, heart, and lungs) are definitely improving as I practice. Third, I’ve officially transitioned my anxiety coping habits from drinking wine to drinking iced coffee. While it’s definitely not healthy to drink as much coffee as I drink these days, it’s far better than wine, especially given that anxiety is at major high levels right now.

Other than that, my health went to ground this month. Agoraphobia took over thanks to social lockdown, so there was my mental health blown, at least for a short time (see next paragraph). Stress and anxiety meant that I stopped tracking my food and probably overate too often. (Plus I got a LOT more cream in my TONS more iced coffee.) Social lockdown and agoraphobia meant a lot less getting out to exercise, and my family home full time meant a lot less indoor exercise. (So, less exercise generally – less than 13 hours when I generally do about 17-18ish) And on top of all that, it’s oak allergy season here – the time of year I start coughing and getting sick often and become much more susceptible to lung disorders like bronchitis. So imagine what the reality and my anxiety are doing with that now that a respiratory illness is rampaging all around us. Unfortunately, I am ending the month sick, though it’s mild (so far) and I have no idea if it’s covid or something else. I’ll keep this updated in my weekly quarantine diary posts.

(photo credit: Lindsay)

My only saving grace – mental health-wise – has been technology. At first, with just texts and occasional Zoom meetups –> , this didn’t make a dent in my agoraphobia. But through my hiking group, I discovered Marco Polo, a video-text chat platform that has allowed me to feel REALLY connected with my friends and family. Suddenly I have multiple support groups available at all times of day, and it feels far less like I’m isolated. This has been a godsend for me in so many ways and definitely ranks as the highlight of the quarantine half of March!

But generally, it was a decent month for health in the first two weeks – lots of good hikes, running, eating, and hey, I even reached a yearly low in weight! – followed by a few weeks of less exercise, scarce produce, hypersensitivity to health symptoms, stress-eating, panic attacks, and generally all the things that might caught you to lose any ground you’ve made in terms of health. Thankfully, with the recent discoveries that help my mental health, I plan to enter April with a determination to do better on my physical health as well. Provided I get past this weird illness that is currently terrifying me.

Highlights of March
There was obviously a lot of crap this month. Virus, quarantine, the boys all having to school-from-home, having my apple accounts hacked, the whole bizarre solar panel issue, agoraphobia, vacation canceled, getting sick in these last few days. Which means I really, really need to be able to look back at this in future months and say that March may have been the month that the apocalypse came upon my family, but there were also some really great times:

  • all of my birthday celebrations, as well as celebrations for the seven other March birthdays in the family, including a surprise virtual party for my sis-in-law
  • walking the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K with Jason and Stephanie
  • hiking at Government Canyon for the first time, and having brunch at a new-to-me amazing restaurant afterwards
  • feeling an actual compulsive desire to run for the first time in years!
  • my group hiking shirt arrived and I love it so much
  • the Real Life Ghost Stories podcast, which kept me entertained under quarantine
  • Unsolved Mysteries, best show ever!
  • amazing new running/hiking shoes and gear (shoes, hat, special socks, hiking poles…)
  • I won an awesome free pair of leggings from my LuLaRoe dealer!
  • my awesome new cat-print dress from Torrid
  • receiving a great new tarot deck (Modern Witch)
  • Zoom, Marco Polo, FaceTime, and every other platform that’s helping me stay in contact with friends and family!
  • finishing weeks 3 and 4 for Couch to 5K despite everything –>
  • Jason able to work from home and us having financial security during this time
  • San Antonio’s mayor being very proactive to hopefully help us flatten the curve
  • having plenty of toilet paper before this happened!
  • the amazing workers and officials at HEB, our local grocery store, who already had an emergency plan and who put it in place immediately
  • getting a virtual book chat room together on Marco Polo (Book Ladies!)
  • all the women of my hiking group – I cannot believe just how lucky I am to have found such a wonderful set of people!!

Coming up in April
Um…alien invasion?

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Finding Georgina, by Colleen Faulkner

When Georgina is a toddler, she’s kidnapped out of her stroller at a Mardi Gras parade. Fourteen years later, her mother spots her working at a coffee shop. Harper has never given up hope, but this seems unbelievable. The police confirm it, though. Lilla, the coffee shop employee, is indeed the lost Georgina. Reunited with her original family, of whom she has no memory, Lilla struggles to make sense of her past and her new life, just as her old family struggles to adjust to this new reality.

In a single sentence, this book had a very interesting idea that was only so-so executed. However, I’m not sure if that’s my opinion because it’s how I would feel any time reading this book, or because right now books just aren’t really appealing to me and I’m easily bored. (Or because I read this as an e-book, and dislike that format.) So take the rest of this review with a grain of salt, because this might just be curmudgeon-Manda talking.

I never felt like Lilla/Georgina’s psychology was completely right. While I imagine there would be a lot of flip-flopping emotions, things seem to come/go too easily for her. I highly disliked Harper throughout the entire book, especially because she refused to use her daughter’s preferred name. Harper’s relationship with her younger daughter, Jojo, seemed to change every other chapter, not realistically but however would best suit the story at that moment. And I didn’t really understand the dad’s viewpoint at all, because he’s the only family member that never gets any chapters to narrate and basically existed as a non-character. Furthermore, the story had one of my biggest pet peeves – explaining basic cultural references rather than just letting them explain themselves (or letting the reader look them up if they don’t know them). I don’t need the plot of Stranger Things described so that the term “the upside down” could be used to describe Lilla’s world.

Over all, the book didn’t work for me. I kept reading because I was bored and didn’t have anything else to do, and that’s the worst reason for me to keep reading. I never enjoy books under those circumstances, so I don’t know why I continue them! My apologies.

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Sunday Coffee – The Problem With Cold Brew

For the last month(ish), I’ve been drinking mostly cold-brew iced coffee as part of my current coffee experiments. I honestly don’t know if it’s made any difference to my health in terms of acidity/heat. However, two problems have come up with the whole cold-brew thing.

1) I really, really hate the French press. Cleaning it, specifically. I never used it for hot coffee unless I had to, so why did I think it would be different with cold brew? I just despise cleaning the thing out. This is a total first world problem. I know. But it means that I end up buying more iced coffee from the store, while my press sits on the counter waiting to be cleaned for WAY too long.

Note: I did look up other recipes. But either they are small recipes – see #2 issue below – or they involve massive amounts of work and time. Y’all know how much I hate cooking or doing anything in the kitchen. The whole reason I was excited about the press recipe was that I could make my own cold-brew while avoiding the major work of my previous recipe (Pioneer Woman). So for now, I continue to buy iced coffee when I can, and continue to search for a good recipe.

2) I am FAR more addicted to iced coffee than regular hot coffee. And by “far,” I mean that with hot coffee, I drink 1-2 large mugs in a day (approx 32 oz for two) , while with iced coffee, I drink…um…96 to 128** oz per day. Even at half-caf, that’s a LOT of caffeine – and it’s only half-caf if I make it myself. And worse than the caffeine, which doesn’t actually seem to affect me even with full-caf, is the amount of cream that goes into that. My 32-oz tumbler usually gets 2-3 tbsp of heavy cream per use, and if I’m having 3-4 of those tumblers full of iced coffee in a day…well, that’s a lot of fat and a lot of calories. Yeah. I can mitigate this a bit by measuring the cream – a single tbsp max per tumbler – but STILL.

And with drinking that much iced coffee, it takes double a whole French press batch each day to keep me topped off. Hence the other problem with the press and other small recipes – they just aren’t enough for one day, and I’m still buying bottles to stay stocked up.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve switched to iced coffee, I have no desire to go back to hot coffee…especially now that it’s getting really hot outside. Hrm.

So yeah. Those are the dangers of cold-brew. I think I have a problem…

**This is somewhat of an exaggeration. I drink 3-4 tumblers of iced coffee in a day. The tumbler holds 32 oz. However, I don’t fill it to the brim, and a big chunk of the tumbler volume is holding ice, not coffee. Judging by the bottles I buy, I’m actually drinking about 48(ish) oz of actual coffee each day. That’s still way too much, but better than 96-128 oz! Unfortunately, the cream estimates aren’t exaggerated, though this week I’ve begun measuring out a tablespoon per, cutting it down quite a bit.

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Quarantine Diaries – Week 2

We’re now two weeks into quarantine in San Antonio. The city and our mayor have tried to be very proactive, as outlined below, but are receiving a lot of push-back and technicality arguments from businesses that would rather spread the virus than lose money. I wish more people would realize that the sooner we all just STFU and stay home, the sooner this will all be over. Personally, this has been a hard week for me. I’m to the point where my mental health is beginning to deteriorate from lack of social contact, but I’m doing what I can to stay as virtually social as possible.

Like I said last week: If your mental health is at a point where you cannot bear to hear more about quarantine stuff, skip to the bottom of this post for a list of positives and highlights and Nice Things. We all need some of that right now!

–Friday, March 20th
Very little happened on our eighth day into quarantine. No new cases reported in our county, though several in surrounding counties. The libraries extended their closure until late April.

–Saturday, March 21st and Sunday, March 22nd
More jumps in our number of cases (45 by Sunday evening, including our first local death). Jason was able to pick up a few groceries on Saturday, including potatoes and rice and iced coffee. Whew! The grocery store is only letting a few people in at a time, and have their lines set up with decals keeping people six feet apart. People are finding ways to cope. My hiking group set up a bunch of small-group hikes (six people max) in the evening this upcoming week, as well as a Friday evening online happy hour. Jason helped set up an online connection to Ambrose’s friend Tyler for their weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaign, so they could keep going during quarantine.

–Monday, March 23rd
Today began virtual school for my kids. Everything went pretty well on that front, actually, which was a relief. I began some daily sketching and a strength training program. In San Antonio, our local case count jumped to 57, and our mayor announced that San Antonio is going into shelter-at-home protocols. I canceled my evening walk/hike because of this, and of course there won’t be any more for some time, despite the precautions the group was taking. At this point, I admit that my anxiety ramped up through the roof. Shelter-at-home is necessary, I know, but it’s almost my least favorite thing ever. I feel isolated and anxious and paranoid, agoraphobia taking over. I’m a very social creature at heart, a full-on extrovert, and these last few months have been just wonderful for my soul. Now, all of that is being taken away, and no matter how necessary or how temporary, I feel awful. I began having panic attacks, which didn’t abate until Jason and I went for a short, slow walk together. Anyway. In non-local news, I’m also sad that the Olympics are being postponed, though again, I know this is for the best.

–Tuesday, March 24th
Local count: 69 cases, 2 deaths. Today was a big one, y’all. Schools extended their closure to late April. We received word that our Planniversary trip to Alaska in May has been canceled by the cruise line (plus then our ensuing cancelations of airline, hotel, etc). San Antonio businesses pushed back against the shelter-in-place order so that now the restrictions have so many exemptions they might as well not exist. (Golf courses remain open, for instance, because they’re essential, yeah?) Meetup (where my hiking group hosts their events) closed all in-person event availability and allowed groups to put up online events. My hiking group immediately put out an ongoing virtual walk/run/hike/whatever where we can post pictures and offer encouragement to each other. Not the same, but the best we can do in this time.

–Wednesday, March 25th
Local count: 84, with three deaths. Sigh. Morrigan tells me this morning that since the city isn’t really sheltering-at-home, he should be able to see his friends after our personal quarantine time is up. No. That’s now how it works. We all want to be able to see our friends and family, but we also need to do our part to keep people safe, even if Big Business and Politicians aren’t taking this seriously. I see multiple arguments in our family future. Beyond that, there was just a lot of arguments about what is/isn’t “essential” business in the city (mattress stores? They sell household goods, so they can be open. Car washes? Essential!). Libraries closed their book drops as well as the actual libraries. Jason’s upcoming dental appointment – to replace his temporary crown with a real one – was canceled until further notice. We attended an online surprise birthday party for our sister-in-law, Emmy.

–Thursday, March 26th
Local count: 113, 5 deaths. Yikes. Texas mandated quarantines for anyone flying in from several parts of the country. City parks now have COVID-19 guidelines up in them, but are still open as long as precautions are taken. With as quickly as we’re increasing – and seeing as the US now has the highest infection rate in the world as of today – I have a feeling we’ll be going to full-on lockdown soon. To that end, I figured out how to get our TV service (through youtube) onto my computer, so that I can exercise in my room to junk TV shows during the day. Not ideal, because my room is a bit small, but better than nothing. Certainly makes me feel a bit better!

Four things really sum up the week. 1) Agoraphobia is a terrible disorder. 2) I’m really effing angry that maids and janitors are losing their jobs and have no financial help during this time, but golf courses and big businesses can stay open on technicalities to rake in profits while others starve and sicken. 3) This is really, really bad and I don’t know why some folks aren’t taking it seriously. 4) I’m drinking WAY too much iced coffee during all this anxiety.

Positives and Highlights and Nice Things
Once again, gotta focus on the better parts of the week to get through all this without anxiety ripping apart my stomach or making me insane. Here are some of my positives. What are yours?

  • discovered the most amazing gluten-free double chocolate veggie muffins that really do taste amazing and not at all like veggies or gluten-free products! (Brand: Veggies Made Great)
  • my lovely cat-print birthday dress from Torrid arrived! –>
  • I meant to say this last week, but my Modern Witch Tarot Deck arrived, bought with an Audible/Amazon promo credit, yay! (Art in top photo is from this deck.)
  • I put together my own new pull-up bar! I’m terrible at anything that involves assembly or mechanics or step-by-step instructions using nuts, screws, schematics, Allen wrenches, etc. But I did it, alone!
  • finally watched The Aeronauts, which was pretty good.
  • Molly Galbraith and Girls Gone Strong put out 60+ free strength training workouts for all levels, including one that’s for absolute newbies that I began this week.
  • a virtual surprise birthday party for my sister-in-law, Emmy
  • walking the park with Jason during the sunset
  • figuring out how to get my TV service on my computer so I can exercise in my room again

Please stay safe everyone. Check in, tell me how you’re doing, post on your blog how you’re doing. We’re each other’s social safety net right now. Love you guys!!

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Wellness Wednesday – Real Talk About Quarantine and Agoraphobia

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about extroversion and agoraphobia, and the way they interact inside me. The following is a quote from that post:

These two forces war within me all the time. It becomes simple math/logic: If agoraphobia is winning a greater percentage of time, then 1) it’s likely to win even more, and 2) I’m going to be unhappy and my mental health will be increasingly disordered. If extroversion can start getting some wins, then 1) it snowballs until (eventually) I resemble a well-adjusted, normal human being, and 2) these times stand out as the happiest times of my life.

I’ve been doing really well over the last few months. After I joined my hiking group in December, I began going out more. At first it was just to places I was more familiar with. Then it grew to new-to-me places. Sometimes I even went to new-to-me places alone, which is a Really Big Win against my anxiety/agoraphobia. The more I did it, the easier it became. As I said in the above post, I pushed back the boundaries of my comfort zone until it was quite large and I was no longer confined to my home. Leaving the house became easy, and I no longer even had to think about it or psych myself up to it or have someone with me 75% of the time.

And now, our city has gone to shelter-at-home protocols. It’s the right decision and I 100% agree that it’s what we need to do. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for my mental health. All agoraphobia needs to begin winning again is several days inside my house with no external contact. To make this particular situation even worse, I’m not just sheltering at home, I’m basically confined to my bedroom because the rest of the house is being used by those who are working/schooling from home.

Yes – agoraphobia can become so strong that it’s difficult to leave my own damn bedroom. Agoraphobia can become so strong that when I need to leave the bedroom – to get food, or speak to someone else – I get extremely anxious and fearful of the rest of the house and return to the bedroom ASAP.

I began canceling events and appointments a week and a half ago. Twice, I managed to go out to do my C25K training runs, but those were the only times I left the house. I was so happy when my hiking group set up a bunch of 5-person evening hikes for this week – only to have them canceled when we received the shelter-at-home order on Monday.

Y’all – I’ve tried to stay as objective as possible about COVID-19. My family is taking it very seriously without doing all the panic-buying and other ridiculous things. But the day I heard we were going to get the shelter-at-home order, I began to have panic attacks. Because it doesn’t matter how good my mental health was prior to this social isolation. Agoraphobia only needs a few days to start winning, and months of being inside my home is going to crush me.

It’s so hard to describe what agoraphobia feels like. You know, logically, that there’s nothing different outside your own front door, but it feels So Scary, a distorted version of the world where your Safe Place is the only Normal, and everything else feels like stepping off a spaceship into the great wide eternity of the universe. Everything feels surreal and dreamlike outside your Safe Place, a funhouse version of the world. The only thing that can stop this distortion is to actually step outside. The further you venture, and the more often you venture, the further back the distortion begins. It doesn’t matter that you KNOW that this isn’t the case. It’s a mental health disorder, and just like depression or anxiety or schizophrenia or any other, you cannot control its manifestation.

Monday evening, while I was having trouble breathing as the panic attacks rolled in, Jason took me for a walk at a nearby park. It was slow and short, but it was enough to stop the panic. It was enough for me to look out at the expanse of newly-mown grass and see it without funhouse distortion. It was enough to calm my brain enough to say hey, I can still come to this park to run in the morning. It was enough to push back against the noose of my comfort zone and keep it from crushing in around me just yet.

This is not a fight that ultimately, I can win. Shelter-at-home = agoraphobia wins. My job is to fight it for as long as I can, and then to fight it again when the restrictions lift. I already miss the progress I’d made over the last few months, but this is a cycle that I’ve been through many times since I first developed agoraphobia in college. I just need to remember, when all this is over, that I can get back out into the world and start winning these battles again.

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Nothing to Lose, by Alex Flinn

Michael ran away a year ago and has been working with a traveling carnival ever since. Now he’s back in his home town, hoping no one recognizes him. Unfortunately, his mother is on trial for killing her abusive husband, Michael’s stepfather, a week after Michael disappeared. He knows he can’t keep running forever.

Ooh, an actual book review from me! First one in…oh…a month? Sadly, it’s only going to be a mini-review, because I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. I found Nothing to Lose through Audible’s current quarantine-promotion (free titles available for kids/teens). I looked through the selection, found a few that looked interesting and that I’d never heard of, and then went to see if I could find e-versions at my library. This was the first ebook I found. I read it in an afternoon – it’s pretty short – and it certainly held my attention. The carnival aspect was my favorite part, a look at the lives of people that are usually marginalized in society. Sadly, the rest was just okay – predictable twists, slap-dash characterization, worn out tropes like the manic pixie dream girl. Over all, it was an okay book that was enjoyable to read in an afternoon. It will make no lasting impression on me, but didn’t have anything terrible to give it an unpleasant aftertaste.

Sorry to have such a meh review to break my review-silence…

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Sunday – The Next Five Months

I have to figure out something to do with the next five months of my life. It’s like extended summer break around here. The kids are schooling online, Jason is working from home, but we’re all home and we’re all sheltering from home during this quarantine. I can’t throw on junk TV and run around the living room. I have to be very careful when and where I go out to exercise. Having been a stay at home mom with a 24/7 job for fifteen years now, I’ve learned how to deal with cabin fever, isolation, and many of the things so many people are handling at the moment. But summer break is always the hardest for me, between heat and the boys being home full time. And now we’ve extended it for another two months.

So yes. I need to figure out what to do with my extra time that isn’t just listening to podcasts while I do stupid jigsaw puzzles on my phone. My legs itch because I’m not getting out to walk, run, or hike as often as before. My sleep is getting worse, and anxiety/agoraphobia is beginning to win back some of the ground I’ve covered the past few months. People have talked about learning new skills with this new time, and I think that’s the route I need to go down. In a fashion.

I want to start some kind of strength training program. Five months is a long time and can lead to some really major improvements in muscle. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years but have always had conflicts that prevented it. (Stuff like wanting to do other exercises I enjoyed more, rather than strength-train, which I find kinda boring!!) But I need to choose a good program that is either bodyweight-based, or uses only dumbbells, as that’s all I have access to. Thankfully, I know of several awesome ladies who lift heavy and who have made some great at-home programs to choose from during this time.

Additionally, I’m going to search for some beginner-level online tutorials in ASL. I’d love to begin learning the language. If anyone knows some good resources for that, please send my way!

Lastly, I’m going to try to get back into crochet. I had to give up the hobby a few years back because it was causing a lot of shoulder pain. It’s possible that the same will happen this time, but maybe if I just spend a short amount of time a few days per week, I can avoid aggravating the injury and also finish a nice afghan by the end of these five months. We’ll see. If not, maybe I’ll try to take up sketching again, or take some online courses/tutorials in photography, which I’d love to be better at.

How are all of you handling the changes? Are there others out there that are suddenly filling empty time or having to change up their routines because of quarantine? Hope everyone is well!!

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