And I am not sure how I feel about it.
There is a lake by my house that I walk around daily. This journey around the lake started as an idea for a book but quickly became my creative spot.
Sometimes I go here alone, and sometimes I take my husband or a friend, and we chit chat and process the events of our day. Mostly though, I go alone and jam out to my Blue October Pandora station and get in touch with the emotions necessary to write about my traumatic childhood.
But then they closed the schools and my place of work
Ok, no big deal here. I said they needed to close our store, and that we weren’t essential and didn’t need to risk our health. I was glad my children were home and safe, and we were all together. On the first day of our quarantine adventure, my eleven-year-old son said, “Mom, can I go for your walk with you?” I realized at this moment that he had no PE class to go to, and it was my responsibility to make sure we all got out of the house and received our daily dose of Vitamin D.
I said sure and even convinced my sixteen-year-old daughter she needed to come too. Frankly, I paid her $5 to leave her room and go with us. It seemed like a great idea at the time! I rounded up the husband and even thought it would be a splendid idea to take the dogs. I was riding the high of being a good people mom and a good dog mom at the same time! What a great feeling! That first day the increase in people at the lake was barely noticeable.
Then the days wore on
After roughly four days of walking with my whole family and our two dogs (who should be the king and queen of all things socially distant as one doesn’t like people and one doesn’t dogs), I was feeling the strain. My arms hurt from trying to control two large dogs. My son chatters on for the whole mile and half, nonstop (did I mention the quarantined together thing already?). It is enough to make your head hurt.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I love my children, but suddenly any quiet time at the house has evaporated. THERE IS NO QUIET. This activity that fed my creativity has become a family outing. And to top it off, I find myself having to pull the dogs off to the side every couple of minutes to maintain a six-foot distance from someone I have never seen here before. I started grumbling about all the people at “my lake.” My husband told me I reminded him of the goat in Home on the Range, that yells at people to “get out of his barrel.”
Here is the thing. I know it isn’t my lake and that it belongs to the state of Montana. But I have been here nearly every single day for the last eight months. I had walked in the pitch black of the night. I walked around this lake in blizzarding, sub-zero temperatures. I had walked while the sky exploded in thunder, and rain fell on my head. I had walked around the lake when I was happy, sad, angry, or needed an idea for a story.
It is part of my life, and it is yet another part that has changed due to this virus. Suddenly, there are tons of people out here walking around. There are so many dogs. People scattered all around with fishing poles. Now, they have started to wear masks. I have roughly 240 pictures of this lake, and it has never looked like this.
Part of me is so thrilled to get out and have a family outing, and I know I would love it if we weren’t spending a lot of extra time together. And I am thankful for this time, I truly am. Disney+ nightly movies have become a fun new tradition. But as an extrovert, walking around the lake, was my one type of (mostly) introverted activity. As a creative being, I need that more than I ever realized.
Part of me is also thrilled to see people enjoying this beautiful nature trail that doesn’t get enough attention. It is heartwarming to see parents walking with their babies, and people running with their dogs, and teenagers there in the middle of the day (them, I have seen but usually at night doing teenage things in cars). But then a small selfish part of me wishes it was just me and the fresh air, and my angry 90’s grunge music.
So much has changed
In writing this, I realize the root of the problem is all the change and anxiety. What will the world be like when this is all over? How will businesses and retail be changed? Will the habits of people be forever impacted in nearly imperceptible ways? Much in the same way, the Great Depression affected my grandparents? How long will all of this go on? When will it end?
All of these uncertain questions make me more anxious than usual. That anxiety translates into annoyance that people are on my lake. An acute awareness to my incredibly sweet pre-teen’s incessant chatter (likey being made worse by his concern over this whole thing.)
What’s a girl to do
Realizing the problem is related to anxiety was an incredibly helpful step. Fear is no stranger to me, and the behaviors that trigger it haven’t changed. Neither are the tools I use to combat my stress:
- Practice gratitude (By reducing the stress hormones and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.)
- Grounding techniques (touch the branches as I walk by, breathe the air in deeply, smell the woodsy scents, listen to the rocks crunching under my feet)
- Routine (I have added in morning yoga to my day)
- Affirmations and other self-care
I can do these things, and if you feel like the pressure is starting to get to you, know that you can do them too! Sometimes, you have to get a little creative in the way you solve a problem, and I can’t believe it took me nearly to the end of this article to figure this one out.
I never walk around the lake in the late afternoon. Not ever. You see, my work schedule was either 10-6:30, in which case I would end up walking around 8 pm, or 1-9:30, which meant my walk happened at around 10 or 11 am. And on the two days a week that I didn’t work, I still went at one of those times, as I am a creature of habit.
So, I think that the whole clan will continue to go in the middle of the day, and encounter people from the safe distance of 6 feet. On those days when my soul needs a little recharging, I will venture into the dark, or the storm, or those quiet mornings. I may find myself walking around the lake twice during these unprecedented times. That will be just fine with me. I am thankful that the blizzarding, sub-zero days are behind me, and that we are well enough to walk around the lake at all.
It is all a matter of perspective
Much like all things in life, it comes down to what angle you use to view the problem. From my son’s point of view, there is no problem here at all. “Are we going for our walk?” is one of the first things he says to me in the morning now. The dogs? They think they have won the lottery. Suddenly, their day is comprised of a nice long walk, and if the dog park is empty, they get to frolic and swim.
My husband still gets drug randomly around the lake; only now it happens in the daylight! Me? I may have lost my favorite socially distant spot for the moment, but I have gained some extra time with the people I love. The dogs walk over to their leashes and stare at me while wagging their tails.
As for the new people who have discovered the joy of walking around “my lake,” I hope you are staying well. I also hope that your perspective on the situation has a few bright spots. If not though, know whether you come to the lake happy, sad, angry, or in need of a good story, the lake will welcome you here…and so will I. Stay well.