As even dog parks close in San Francisco, sheltering in place is becoming more isolating, and absent of human interaction. (Courtesy photo)

Sally Stephens: Feeling the impact of spending every day alone

All my initial resolutions to do this and that and stay busy during the enforced isolation didn’t even last two days.

I’m extremely fortunate that I have not lost a job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t have insecurities about food or housing. Compared to people struggling with those problems, I really can’t complain. But that doesn’t mean the shelter-in-place order has been easy.

All my initial resolutions to do this and that and stay busy during the enforced isolation didn’t even last two days. Instead, I’ve been spending way too much time playing Mahjong solitaire online, reading articles from my Facebook feed, watching TV, and taking a nap every afternoon. I think it’s boredom, and maybe a little depression.

Deprived of my normal routine, I’ve found it harder and harder to keep track of what day of the week it is. But, since every day is essentially the same when you’re stuck at home, maybe it really doesn’t matter.

The bright spot of the day has been when I take my dog to the park to play fetch. I love throwing the ball, and she loves bringing it back to me. Talking with other people at the park – all of us staying at least six feet apart – has been my only real interaction with other humans these past few weeks. It’s been a needed balm to my soul.

Now I hear that officials are closing dog parks as part of an even stricter shelter-in-place order until at least May 3. I understand why they’re doing that – to flatten the curve and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed by lots of people needing help at the same time. I get that we all need to make sacrifices for the greater good.

But I worry that seniors, like myself, who live alone and are not comfortable enough with technology to set up video chats with our even more technologically challenged friends, will be the collateral damage of this order. Deprived of human interactions at the park, will the boredom and depression become overwhelming for a lot of seniors?

We all tend to hope, maybe even assume, that we’ll be fine, that the virus won’t get us. But you really never know. So, I’m using this time to make sure my affairs are in order, should the unthinkable happen.

Don’t forget to plan for your pets too. You don’t want to have to scramble around making arrangements when you’ve started to feel sick. So, now, while you feel well, find someone who agrees to take care of your dog or cat (or any other kind of pet) if you no longer can. Have a kit prepared with food, treats, and medications for your pet, lists of vaccinations and any health issues, including contact information for your regular veterinarian, plus descriptions of the dog’s daily routine and any special requirements your pet has.

In the meantime, institutions and individuals are posting online to help boost our spirits. For example, the Getty Museum is asking people to recreate famous works of art using random objects around their house and post the results. Sports announcers are posting videos of themselves narrating everyday events – people crossing the street, dogs eating dinner – as if they were intense competitions. Please keep posting everyone!

As the crisis continues, I find myself thankful that our local officials took strong actions three weeks ago. It looks like we are beginning to “flatten the curve” of new cases in large part because of the shelter-in-place orders. As much as we’ve complained, it does seem to be working.

To survive this pandemic, we must listen to the experts, as our local officials have. A huge shout out to Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who hosted a half-hour-long Instagram Q&A with pandemic expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. Curry made sure tens of thousands of people, some of whom might not be paying close attention to traditional media, got important, accurate information about the virus.

If there’s one thing the coronavirus has done, it’s helped remind us that expertise matters. It’s also reminding us about what’s really important – friends, family, community, taking care of others.

We will ultimately get through this. Stay healthy! Stay safe!

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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