Self-Care in the age of COVID-19

As we approach the ninth month of a pandemic and we start to get more and more snow, the feeling of pandemic fatigue weighs quite heavy on our consciousnesses. Today, I turned to my theatre community online looking for inspiration on Self-Care in the age of COVID-19.

Hi, my name is angelica schwartz, and I followed the fad of buying a Nintendo Switch at the beginning of the pandemic to play Animal Crossing only to sell it two months after to pay some bills. I am a mediocre sour-dough baker, theatre artist, and the Marketing and Community Outreach Manager at Sarasvàti Productions.

When we went through our first lockdown in March, I was living alone in a basement suite with very little sunlight in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. I was in my last month of the Directing Program at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS). For three months, the only person I saw was my amazing playwright friend, Gillian Clark, who also lived alone.

We had very strict rules in place to keep both of us safe. Gill taught me a lot about self-compassion and self-care during that period. We both graduated NTS together in May 2020, but during the April lockdown, we put all our energy into creating our final school project together. Throughout our creation time, we would have long social distant walks to check in with one another. We would leave snacks on each other’s doorsteps. We would send photos of sunsets with pink cotton-candy skies to remind each other, ça va aller (a French saying that translates as “it will be fine”).

a brown paper bag with sharpie writing on it that says "angelica" in an alley way.
a little package Gillian left outside my apartment

I asked Gill what her methods of self-care during a pandemic were and her response was, “Honestly, just hearing about other people’s ideas and jamming with them. I think it’s all about feeling a sense of worth and meaning”.

I really appreciated that response. I remember a dramatic shift happened within me at the beginning of lockdown. I have been living in a self-focused path for the past few years, but now all I can think about is community, community building, and practising radical empathy as a form of healing, forgiving myself for mistakes I have made in the past. I thank adrienne maree browns book, Emergent Strategy, for that.

Over two years ago, I was living in Winnipeg and working full-time as a Barista. I spent most of my life working various theatre production jobs (usher, technician, IATSE calls, various design gigs, but primarily stage management), I even went to two theatre schools for production (but only graduated one of them), and yet I was feeling so unsatisfied. I was severely burnt out and frustrated that I was taught that mental health in the arts was not a priority.

In desperate need of change and the hunger for more creativity, I looked into directing and creating new work. I applied to NTS, a program that only accepts two people every two years, looking for the universe to give me some sort of sign, and the universe returned my call. I need to add that the call was also paired with my best friend singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Rod Stewart, loudly, in the room next door, as I received my acceptance call.

a pink and purple sky sunset on a street

I spent those two years really focused on my self-growth. Focused on self-care for not only me but the health of my collaborators. When Tiohtià:ke/Montreal went into our first lock-down, I watched the majority of my classmates/friends leave town and return to their respected communities and families. It made me really question, who is my community? What does home look like to me? Having a nomadic history, that last question was especially challenging, but the answer I kept coming back to was Winnipeg.

With the desire to reconnect, it felt natural that I move back to Winnipeg to be with the community I feel most close to. Even though I am not able to reconnect in person, I feel very grateful for the last-minute move. I now live in a beautiful affordable home in the heart of Corydon with three amazing roommates, two cats, and ample sunlight.

In my search for answers of self-care, I talked to local theatre producer and improviser, Kristina Guevarra, and asked them what the best thing they did for themselves during the pandemic was.

“Probably the panic apartment move (Kristina moved at the beginning of lockdown), following my instinct on environmental change really helped my peace of mind, I find that with moving around little things too, re-decorating, finding that feng shui. Leaning into the pleasure of taking care of myself” we then proceeded to chat about how we both moved in this time “Yes, we both did! We take care of ourselves”.

Cultivating a safe and cozy home is so important to well-being. In conversation with knowledge keeper, Gayle Pruden, Gayle spoke about how her self-care is her home.

“I live in a big house,” she says. “I have roommates I never see because they live in a different reserve and so when they come into town, they stay with me. I never got the time and chance to really enjoy my home because I travel a lot and before I was rarely home.”

“But now, with this pandemic, I’m just loving my home. I didn’t realize I had such a beautiful home. Caring for my home is my form of self-care. I have a friend who is going to come in and he wants to come to celebrate his birthday here. He’s been self-isolating, I have been too, and he is going to bring his pipe and we’re going to do a pipe ceremony together. He’s going to bring wild meat and we’re going to cook together, and it will just be the two of us. He still remembers Ojibwe, I’m slowly losing the language, but with him, we can speak and laugh together. That is something I have to look forward to.”

a pink and blue sky surrounded by brick montreal apartments

For our Artistic Director, Frances Koncan, self-care takes place through elaborate bubble baths.

“It involves a curated selection of plants, candles, incense a bespoke Spotify playlist, and a tea all crafted around the theme of a specific novel I am reading,” says Koncan, who reads a new book every week. “I always take a photo and share it on Instagram, so the internet knows it happened.”

“My favourite thing I have done for myself so far is sleep,” she continues. “I sleep a lot and I love sleeping. Every day I wake up and make coffee and count down until I am able to go back to sleep.

“I’m not depressed,” adds Koncan, although sources say she is, in fact, a lifelong sufferer of depression. Right now, she takes Prozac. Is it helping, I wonder?

 “Look, angelica… it was it is and it be like that sometimes.”

I’ve been thinking about sleep a lot. Sleep as a form of healing. There is amazing group, founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey, called The Nap Ministry, which is an organization that examines the liberating power of naps.

“We engage with the power of performance art, site-specific installations, and community organizing to install sacred and safe spaces for the community to rest together. We facilitate immersive workshops and curate performance art that examines rest as a radical tool for community healing.  We believe rest is a form of resistance and name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue.”

I find this organization deeply inspiring. I think this pandemic has forced us to ask ourselves how do we take care of ourselves? Especially, in an industry that often overlooks mental health, when we are gifted with time of self-reflection, how do we slow down, rest and recharge?

For more answers, I reached out to my community on Instagram and asked, “THEATRE ARTISTS, what is your method of self-care amid a pandemic?” and various anonymous responses were:

“channeling my creativity into as many facets of my day as possible, not forcing it though”

“weeeeeee-eeeeeeed”

“Not doing theatre lolz. Jokes, but in truth, reading, writing, creating not for the sake of theatre, but enjoyment”

“Hair masks!! Meets impulsivity “CHANGE HAIR NOW” needs AND makes hair healthier”

“Books”

“Yoga & meditation”

“Leaving the industry…”

“Sweating and purging my system of toxins through physical exercise”

“Smoking and watching comfort shows!”

“Baths, baking, lots of dancing and naps”

“RUNNING! And journaling and eating healthy and yummy food – taking care of my body”

“Drink a beer if u want, jog in the morning/night, work yr ass off at a shitty job and make $$$”

The winter is just upon us, the dark days are ahead, and the harsh truth is that we are still in a pandemic. But it’s important to remember to take of yourself and your well-being amid the long days.

“I am not of the belief that everything happens for a reason – at least not a discernible one; it comforts me sometimes to know there is chaos, there is nonsense. But I believe that regardless of what happens, there is an opportunity to move with intention – towards growth, relationship, regeneration.”- adrienne maree brown, pg. 71, Emergent Strategy.

How do you be patient with yourself? How do you take of others? The only way through is together. Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

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