“Curbing Cabin Fever” by Ray Bernoff

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My son Ray was disabled and confined to his bed for an extended period a few years ago. He figured out how to deal with it. And, bless him, he has now created a guide, based on that experience, to help all of us. It’s called “Curbing Cabin Fever: How to Spend Weeks in One Place Without Totally Losing It.”

If you are feeling cooped up and frustrated right now, it may or may not help you to know it could be worse. But it’s a different level of frustration when, as Ray described it, “you can only stand for 30 seconds at a time [and] you need to plan your bathroom visits like you’re NASA sending an astronaut to the moon.”

Here are a few excerpts from this little guide, which you can download here (pay what you want, or nothing at all).

If you’re confined to a limited space, you will inevitably become bored, cooped up, and at times extremely upset. You can avoid the worst of this by making a list of boredom- and stress-fighting activities as soon as you quarantine yourself. Sit down and think critically about what you do in your day-to-day life that you find entertaining, calming, a sanity-preserving part of your routine, or a good way to blow off steam. Then think about which of those things will be possible during the time you’re quarantined and what you might replace them with if they aren’t. . . .

It can be useful to pick out some media to consume early, so you don’t fall into the trap of indecision by way of too many choices. Everyone has different tastes, but here are some TV shows and YouTube channels I enjoyed and whose hosts I on occasion developed embarrassing parasocial feelings for. Many of the shows are available for free on YouTube.

TV shows

* How It’s Made

* The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross

* Mythbusters

* The Blue Planet and various other David Attenborough nature documentaries

* Amazing Interiors

YouTube channels

* Bon Appetit

* Peter Brown’s Shop Time

* Simone Giertz

* Townsends

* Vihart

* Coyote Peterson

* LA Beast

All this media has qualities from at least one of three categories, namely 1) making stuff, how stuff works, and/or fun facts, 2) a novel setting in which you can immerse yourself and thereby escape your present surroundings, and 3) a man doing something ill-advised and injuring himself for your entertainment – all of which for one reason or another I find to be a momentary balm to my suffering. . . .

MAINTAINING THE ILLUSION THAT LINEAR TIME IS REAL, AKA ‘HAVING A ROUTINE’

Without the external constraints of a routine, the passage of time begins to feel, uh, kind of made up. Ten minutes can last a day. A day can last an hour. Maintaining a consistent routine, no matter how arbitrary or small, makes a big difference. . . . When you’re deprived of a mobile life with daily forays into the outside world, you lose the many microscopic successes it entails. You might not think it matters that you’re not finishing a grocery run every week or navigating the route to your job every day, but those little achievements add up, and without them you may find yourself feeling aimless and shockingly useless. It feels good to do things and finish tasks, even if they’re arbitrary ones you’ve assigned yourself. . . .

OTHER PEOPLE

If you’re going be in a confined space with other people, plan for alone time for all of you. Schedule it in shifts if you must. Be sure to discuss that taking alone time is not a rejection of the people you’re with. No matter how much you like someone, if you’re spending all day every day in close quarters together, you will get sick of each other. It’s a breath of fresh air to know you can say ‘I gotta go in the kitchen by myself for a while’ and not have them take it personally.

If there are people around you, you may get sick of them, but if you’re alone, you will certainly get sick of being by yourself. Scheduling calls with your friends and/or family will, obviously, help with this. Not only is it a way to stay connected with the people you care about remotely, but it also forces you to remember how to speak and, if you’re doing a video call, makes you put on a shirt and maybe even pants. It’s easy to feel like everyone is going to forget about you when you can’t leave your house, and it’s hard not to take it personally if not a lot of people initiate calls or online conversations with you. The best thing you can do for those feelings is to set aside your pride and contact the people you miss instead of waiting for them to contact you. They’ll appreciate that you care enough about them to reach out, and you’ll feel much less alone after you talk to them.

Do not spend more than 2 hours a day on Twitter. . . .

Setting aside everything else that could be or is wrong in the world and your life, having to self-quarantine during a pandemic is, uh, fucked up. It would be far more disturbing if you stayed calm the whole time.

In dialectical behavioral therapy, there’s a concept called ‘radical acceptance’. To practice radical acceptance is to acknowledge what’s going on and how you feel about it without passing judgment. Not saying “This isn’t fair” or “I shouldn’t be so irritated right now” but “Here’s what’s happening, and I’m not happy about it.” Acknowledging the reality of the situation to yourself and the people close to you is not fun. But it lets you look at your circumstances honestly. You can’t figure out how to cope with fear if you can’t admit something is scaring you. If you’re interested in learning about radical acceptance in the context of illness, I recommend the book How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard. Her advice for coping with the un-copeable and finding peace during abject misery is far more in-depth and compassionate than mine.

Thanks, Ray

Ray is now trapped with me and the rest of my family. I find myself impressed that this former child is now intelligent and insightful enough to give such thoughtful advice (and help with the cooking, too). I hope you find it useful.

7 responses to ““Curbing Cabin Fever” by Ray Bernoff

  1. You can retire with confidence that the next generation, thanks to good mentoring, is fully capable of carrying on.

  2. Wonderful post, Josh & Ray! For many of us who live alone in the best of times, this advice is useful. It’s not limited to the temporary shut-in, not at all. It’s universal! May your family be safe and blessed, this day and always.

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