24 May 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not


Dear Diary,

a) Back pain is NO JOKE, Diary. I’ve spent the last 48ish hours rapidly breathing short, unsatisfying breaths, pausing to mentally brace myself before I stand up or sit down, and icing, medicating, yoga-cat-posing, and generally fussing. Bright side = caught up on a lot of Riverdale. Down side = overall malaise.

b) The overall malaise may not be from back pain. Or may not be only from back pain. It may also be slightly, marginally, minimally, somewhat a side effect of the Third Quarter Phenomenon (TQP). My friend, Doreen, who was once, is now, and forevermore shall be smarter than I am, is also a psychologist, and wrote last week about TQP in Psychology Today:

After nine weeks of physical distancing, it seems clear that we are entering a period reminiscent of what researchers refer to as the Third Quarter Phenomenon (TQP). For individuals living in space, submarines, and Arctic research facilities, TQP is characterized by agitation, irritability, depressed mood, and decreased morale in the third quarter of periods of social isolation.

So, you know, Diary — that could be a little bit it, too. But blaming the ppfffftttt feeling on back pain is dysfunctionally soothing. It’s an excuse to have the full spectrum of responses if I’m not allowing myself permission to just… feel however I feel right now… if I’m not being kind and compassionate toward my scattered brain and erratic emotions… if I’m not recognizing that of course I feel wonky and weird during a global pandemic and of course I’m blah and bleh and blerg. “I’m down because I threw out my back” allows me to point to a concrete reason for my malaise. And, perhaps even more appealing, back pain has an end in sight — a solution and a finish line — so it lets me pretend for a while that this state of being is only temporary. Back pain is treatable. It’s uncomfortable, but it’ll be over soon.

I keep wondering why I’m being such a whiner about my current discomfort. I’m usually more stoic than this. More “Power Through” and “This, Too, Shall Pass.” But honestly, I think it’s because it’s easier to live with Back Pain Reality than it is to live with Global Pandemic Reality. It’s easier to shove all the feelings of uncertainty and the prolonged suspension of “normal” onto a fleeting injury because then I can pretend it’ll all be better soon. It’s a math equation I’m manipulating:

If “I Feel Gross” is added to “Global Pandemic,” then we get “This Could Continue Indefinitely.” But if “I Feel Gross” is added to “Back Pain,” then we get “This Will End by Thursday at Noon Given Sufficient Rest and Medication.” And I like the second equation better. The problem is, it’s probably not the most thorough, most accurate of the two, which also means it’s not the most helpful when it comes to problem solving. 

c) Doreen has good ideas for what to do with our agitation, irritability, depressed mood, and decreased morale. (Check out her website for more suggestions — going there is part of my COVID: Staying Sane toolbox.) But for today, I’m just picking One Thing because One Thing is all that feels manageable to me right now, and that’s Box Breathing.

Today — right now — I shall breathe three deep breaths.

Even I can do three deep breaths, Diary.

So I’ll be over here, breathing. Which may not solve the whole Indefinite Pandemic problem, but definitely helps me manage it for the minute. And that’s enough for now.

With love and three deep breaths,




Photo Credit: Kyndall Ramirez

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