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Friday, January 9, 2015

Cabin Fever

I will forever remember the last week as definitive proof that I would never have survived as a pioneer woman.

Back in the day of the great plains settlement, everyone knew about prairie fever (and hoped it wouldn't happen to them). Hallucinations. Paranoia. Anxiety. Depression. Madness, in a nutshell, brought on by extreme isolation. Nowhere to go and no one to talk to, for weeks or months on end. And no wifi or Facebook or cable to help them cope! *shudder*

Now back to 2015... We have been stranded indoors, due to extreme cold. I literally did not leave the house for four days. Four days! Whilst stuck inside, I didn't just catch up on Netflix and eat cookies. (Although we are dangerously low on Oreos right now.) No, I had to entertain and care for a 16-month old and a 6-week old, both of whom require shall we say, a considerable amount of work.

At one point I actually begged my husband to let me shovel the driveway, in -5 degree temps and insane windchills, just because I was that desperate to get out of the house!

One night I was about to escape for a 15-minute errand of getting gas for the car, only to discover... the battery was dead. Much like my dreams of going anywhere. It was a low, low point. I nearly broke down sobbing, but I was afraid of what would happen to tears at -5 degrees. I imagined something like icicle mascara lines and decided to bottle up my tears until spring. Or at least February.

Today is the last day of ridiculous cold, with a high of 4 degrees. (At this point anything above zero is somehow counted a win. Wait, why do I live in Chicago again?) So the end is in sight. Tomorrow will be back in the standard-miserable winter temps, and I should be able to venture out with the boys in tow, albeit dressed in half a dozen layers. They'll look like little explorers about to climb Mt. Everest. But at least we will be able to get outside these walls and break the cycle of boredom.

So, lesson learned from this week's frigid lock-in? I would be a terrible pioneer woman. Maybe not terrible, but probably another hapless victim of prairie fever.

Unless... I learned to beat it. How does one beat isolation? It's tricky because you're really fighting yourself. And all the dark thoughts that come when you don't have errands and transportation and the outdoors and other people to distract you from the worst parts of yourself. Where do you hide from your own shadow? What can save you from the sanity-slicing effects of extreme isolation?

God, first of all. Prayer (mainly the SOS variety) saw me through the worst parts of this week. Also, projects. It matters less what you do than that you just do something. Creativity is second to productivity. Think of people who are shipwrecked or in prison. The goal is not so much to make time pass as to make the passing feel deliberate. To create a sense (even an illusion) of purposeful forward movement. As opposed to that sickening sensation of being stuck in one place, which all too easily breeds a twilight-zone sense of claustrophobia... and desperation.

Keep busy, keep sane. Inertia is your friend.

So next time you're marooned on a desert island (or in your own home for an entire week), remember: prayer and projects. The two best ways to fight prairie fever.

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