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COVID-19 Boredom Groundhog Day

Watching Wheel of Fortune last night, wedged into my favorite corner of the couch, I couldn’t figure out the bonus round, allegedly a phrase. The contestant couldn’t get it either… because the answer was “BEGINNING TO FIZZLE.”

“Beginning to fizzle? Beginning to fizzle?” I screamed. “That’s not a phrase!”

“Like ‘fizzled out,’” my mom (who I live with) offered.

“‘Fizzled out’ makes sense but who in their right mind has ever said, ‘Beginning to fizzle?!’” I shrieked, hands flailing wildly. “Nobody is ever going to call the letter Z! I’m calling the Better Business Bureau! This show is rigged!”

My mom stared at me like I had two heads. It wasn’t the first time I’d had a random meltdown in the last nine months — or leveled conspiracy charges at Pat Sajak, and I promise you, Sir, it won’t be the last.

You see, nearly every night since the COVID catastrophe began, my Rona roommate and I have watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! like it was our job. Because there was literally nothing else to do after dinner in the midst of a global pandemic, which has shut down anything even remotely related to entertainment outside of our home in Southern California. Oh, how I longed to go to a movie or a museum or out to dinner or over to a friend’s house instead of watch Pat Sajak call a contestant “ungrateful.” He literally did that the other day. Geez, even he’s losing it. “I’ve had it!” he admitted in an interview afterward. “I finally snapped!”

I don’t blame him. I’m sick of his face, too. And my mom’s. JK. I love my mom. Though day after day lately, I look over at her, wedged in her same damn chair, wearing the same damn nightgown she’d been wearing for the last two days and 5 million other times since COVID-19 took over our lives, and I have no idea what day it is. I mark time before and after Wheel, like it’s a sun dial. Dinner then Wheel. Every night. Like clockwork. We’ve been eating dinner at the especially ridiculous hour of 4:30 p.m.

I thought it was weird and mockable but then I saw an article in the Boston Globe that said restaurants are moving up their deliveries to satisfy the new early bird demand and that “between the Nov. 1 time change that makes dusk feel like midnight, the nation’s growing anxiety and depression, and the fact that we’re constantly home, maybe the real wonder is that we’re holding out until 5 p.m.”

I try not to lie down after I eat to avoid acid reflux, so I force myself to wait until Jeopardy ends at 8 p.m. to go to bed, like a toddler. My dog Scooter does not appreciate this new schedule and now wakes me up religiously around 3 a.m. to pee outside. It’s not his fault my schedule is all messed up. I blame COVID.

My Routine Has Become a Rut

It’s been nine months of this nightmare with no end in sight, though the last time I watched Chris Cuomo on CNN (always right before Wheel), vaccines were supposedly on the way or in like six months, or a year, or who knows when? (Health experts say people like me — who have RA and are immunocompromised from taking methotrexate and a biologic — can get the COVID-19 vaccine but there’s no data on patients like us yet.)

In the meantime, like everyone else on the planet during the coronavirus crisis, I’ve become Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, reliving what feels like the same day on a continuous loop for eternity. With my local county on some version of a lockdown since March, my activities have become limited and I’ve fallen into the same old dull routine.

  • Wake up.
  • Feed and walk the dogs.
  • Make breakfast.
  • Do household chores.
  • Work from home at the dining room table.
  • Feed and walk dogs.
  • Make dinner.
  • Watch Chris Cuomo, Wheel and Jeopardy!.
  • Retire to my chamber.
  • Turn on Two and a Half Men
  • Play chess on an app on my phone, inspired by a Queen’s Gambit
  • Listen to Tamara Levitt on a Calm meditation.
  • Fall asleep.

Rinse and repeat.

I’ve been on my own lethargic loop for so long that I’ve cycled through both Charlie Sheen’s and Ashton Kutcher’s Two and a Half Men eras twice. I still laughed; I couldn’t help it.

Motivation Is MIA

Back in March, it felt like everybody was trying to combat the mind-numbing boredom with productive, self-improving activities in quarantine, like learning Spanish or taking guitar lessons. We did arts and crafts and Zoom happy hours were a thing.

Almost a year later, ain’t nobody got the bandwidth for that nonsense anymore.

We often feel suffocated by our isolation are depressed and distraught and over it all. “Several studies suggest that mental health deteriorated in many countries before and during enforced isolation,” according to a study in the journal Lancet Psychiatry. Many of us are going through some version of pandemic depression.

Even though the end of the pandemic may be in distant sight, it’s getting increasingly difficult to motivate ourselves to focus and do much of anything, work or personal. Zoom is now a four-letter word. Shout out to the supermoms and dads out there, I honestly cannot imagine how stressful this is for families with young children doing remote learning for school. I feel for you and send tons of virtual hugs.

I think the suffocation feeling is why I go to bed so early every night. I’m just trying to get through the days as quickly as humanly possible, so we get closer to the finish line. But there are many hours in the day that need to be filled and I don’t want to shuffle through the day like a Zombie anymore, bored out of my skull and miserable.

Beating My Boredom

My dad, who passed away five years ago, used to throw this quote at me when I was a kid complaining I was bored. It always stuck with me: “You create your own boredom.” So true. We also create our own routine. I’ve made a conscious effort lately to mix things up a little but the key, I believe, at least for myself, is not forcing any activities like a square peg in a round hole. The things I add into my day now are easy-peasy, bring immediate joy and feel organic.

Like, I’m not gonna take online archery lessons. If you love Game of Thrones, by all means, go for it. But I’m not just gonna take up something because it sounds cool. It has to make sense in my life, and it has to be simple and feel unforced. Here are a few ways I’ve been breaking up the monotony lately.

I bathe every day

Admit it, you haven’t been either. Now, I force myself to start the day with a shower because it’s refreshing and hygienic, sure, but it also forces me to change my outfit every day. Getting your butt out of your PJs is good for your mental health. I don’t have a study on that, I just know it’s true. Some people hate planning outfits. Not me! Every night I lay out a fresh T-shirt and clean sweatpants for the next morning.

Sidenote: This requires owning at least seven pairs of track pants or joggers, which I’m guessing most of us have at this point in the pandemic. Down with hard pants. Up with elastic waistbands!

I switch up my dog-walking route

Sounds so duh but it’s really been a joy to look at something/anything new outside. Except for that coyote — which I thought was a German Shepherd — and made eye contact with. Oops. I’m trying to be more present and notice more detail in nature. Like, I love looking at all the different birds in my area. We have big white pelicans here! Who knew? Not me, until I spotted one with a gigantic beak flying over my head and couldn’t believe it until I got home and googled it. Sure enough, we have big white pelicans here. I also check out (from a distance) different neighbors’ patios for gardening and décor inspiration.

I take one long drive somewhere per week

I don’t even get out of the car. I just drive somewhere I’ve never been before, like a cute little town, or somewhere beautiful, like Joshua Tree National Park, which is 45 minutes from my house. I’ve even driven two hours away just to go through a drive-thru, like my favorite hot dog stand Portillo’s. The key here is to pick places that have curbside pickup and only drive as far as you can go without needing to make a pitstop to pee. I’m good for a three- to four-hour round trip but feel free to wear a diaper like that weird astronaut lady did.

I cook/bake things I’ve never made before

Who says you can’t make your own Ding Dongs or churros or bagels? It’s all doable at home and it’s so fun, even if it tastes like crap. Pick your favorite dish you’ve ever had at your favorite restaurant or your favorite snack from the county fair, find a recipe online, and give it a go. Cooking is the perfect time suck. It takes concentration but not in the bad way.

I created new boundaries

I’m the kind of person who needs alone time for my spiritual and emotional stability. Personal space is hard to come by these days. And, by the way, not everyone shares that same need. My mom could sit in one room with me or anyone else all day for eternity no problem. I cannot. So we had a level-headed chat about it and have amicably agreed that between the hours of 12 and 4 on weekdays, we will be in separate rooms.

I stopped doomscrolling

No lie, I once got an alert that I spent 13 hours a day on my phone. That is an absolute abomination and the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m making a concerted effort to put my phone away (but not like Jonathan Fraser did in The Undoing — c’mon in a drawer? I don’t think so! And why did their son have brown eyes?).

I’m also closing apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so I can’t just robotically check them 40 times a day. Getting off your phone naturally forces you to do other activities, but hopefully not just stare at a wall or watch The Bee Gees biopic on HBO Max.

I’m redecorating and renovating

Necessity is the mother of invention, which I found out the hard way as our kitchen completely fell apart during quarantine. The sink overflowed, our microwave blew up, a cabinet shelf collapsed, and the fridge continues to make a possessed hissing sound as I type.

We decided it was time for a big overhaul. Home reno projects are a fabulous distraction. They require To-Do lists, which I happen to love, but also a big budget. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to do a major revamp, you can make minor changes around your house that make a huge difference. I can’t tell you how excited I was to swap out the small throw pillow in my corner of the couch, that kept stabbing my back with its feathers, for a big soft fuzzy pillow that looks like Mr. Snuffleupagus. It cost $24. Small things like that make a difference, I swear.

I’m super into Christmas

I admit I used to be the biggest Scrooge about Christmas (plus I’m also half Jewish) but this year I’ve got more holiday cheer than a Hallmark movie. (Mine would be called Dear Santa: A Christmas Melody at Dibberly Manor.) And why not? There’s nothing else to do. I put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving, I light up a pine-scented candle and make hot chocolate with whipped cream daily, and I’ve covered the entire house in decorations old and new, including a silly vintage-looking truck carrying a giant Christmas tree with flashing lights I just ordered from Bed Bath & Beyond. It arrived immediately though things I ordered a month ago are apparently on a slow boat from China. I took it as a sign that the truck was meant to be in my house for generations to come, as is the new Christopher Radko toilet paper ornament to remind us of this insane year.

We made homemade latkes for Hanukkah, even though the ones at Trader Joe’s are quite excellent and sufficient. The lights on my tree are on and blinking every waking moment because it’s something different from the same old, same old, and, most important, it makes us happy.

We all need a little joy right now. And I promise it’s possible with a few small tweaks in your daily life — without giving up Wheel of Fortune.

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