Groundhog Day

Back in May, when people had settled into the Covid-19 lockdown, a survey by OnePoll asked Americans how their sense of time was being affected by spending day after day in their homes. The results included:

  • The average American got confused about what day it was five times every week
  • 59% of respondents didn’t even know what day it was when they took the survey
  • 65% of those polled said they were struggling to stay motivated during self-isolation.

When I heard the results, my mind immediately flashed back many months to a meditation discussion I led at PHC. I asked community members what parts of homelessness could never be explained but simply had to be experienced. Several people gave answers that almost exactly mirrored the survey results I just mentioned. Among other things, the community members said:

  • “It’s like [the movie] Groundhog Day. Every day is just like the day before.”
  • “You have to learn how to make yourself comfortable because you know what tomorrow is going to bring, and it’s the same as today.”
  • “It takes strength not to snap into depression. You’ve got to keep a positive mind.”
  • “Being homeless over a period of time messes with your mind.”

Another interesting parallel emerged when many of the survey respondents identified snacking as a method of coping with their isolation. As a summary of the survey commented, “Is food the key to this problem? Over one in three of those surveyed said they’re using snacks as a motivating tool. In fact, 69% of those surveyed said they blew through their snack stockpile quicker than they planned.” People’s snacking habits even produced the following quips about sheltering in place:

  • I need to practice social-distancing from the refrigerator.
  • PSA (public service announcement): Every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.
  • So, after this quarantine…..will the producers of My 600 Pound Life just find me or do I find them?

These phrases about unhealthy coping mechanisms mirrored a comment by one of PHC’s community members, who said that he used drugs as a way to escape the sleeplessness, boredom and other dynamics of homelessness. The drugs allowed him to keep functioning in the face of homelessness.

The recent turmoil caused by Covid and George Floyd’s death have shaken everyone up, but it has also provided new opportunities for connection and understanding. While many of us look forward to things returning to normal, we are also grasping on a deeper level how bad normal was for many of those around us. Hopefully, instead of returning to normal, we will find a way to create a different normal, one that features greater empathy and doesn’t leave so many on the fringes of society.

by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong

This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.