By Ashley Hill, Healthy Lamoille Valley Youth Coordinator

Disclaimer: I’ve never lived in a world where I haven’t had to be somewhere outside of my house for a majority of my day, let alone a world where I am actively encouraged – and in some places now even legally required – to stay home.

Home means so many different things, and so much of ‘home’ for me hinges on whether I feel safe expressing my true self in my environment. Self-expression looks and feels different for everyone, and for me it can be different depending on the situation(s) I am in. The best way to practice self-expression is super simple. Literally: JUST DO IT! I know it’s hard and uncomfortable and can be a really scary thing, and your brain comes up with a million “what ifs” to try to discourage you. JUST DO IT!

I make art. My partner researches and plans out our gardens. I know people who clean, write, organize, exercise, learn, create, or build things as ways to express their emotions.

Finding ways to let yourself (mostly your brain) relax in your environment can help you reset. For me it helps break the “what if” loop in my head. The “what if” loop can be paralyzing for me. I love playing a little of the “what if” game- what if I bought these shoes, or went to this place, or whatever- a little of the “what if” game really, really, REALLY helps me sometimes. It helps me remember that there IS a future, and it sometimes even can feel a bit inspirational.

HOWEVER. Living in close quarters is really challenging. For a bunch of us, home is also school and work now too. I don’t know about you, but my schedule feels pretty out of control lately. Mornings have never been my thing.  Like – ever. I’m finding without a ‘get out of the house schedule,’  I’ve been getting to sleep around 3am and waking up around 9:30am. Sometimes I get sucked into work emails or materials for hours at a time. Other times I have a hard time sitting down and being able to focus on work.

When I catch myself panicking about the “what ifs”,I know I need to find a healthier way to let out whatever it is I’m feeling. Today it was losing our internet connection for a short while. My mind ran wild at the prospect of no internet- so of course I lived an entire year in approximately .02 seconds. That’s when I reached out to a colleague who helped me reset and refocus. I went and made something – I turned a t-rex sprayer bottle into a hand sanitizer travel dispenser. His name is Hebert (yes – I am still trapped in my home and at this point in quarantine life I’ve taken to naming inanimate objects, so now Hebert the human hygiene helper is going to educate us and all of our friends about how to #flattenthecurve)  Meet Hebert, the hand sanitizing humana-saurus rex! He’s going to help me help other humans with healthy hygiene habits!

THEN- and yes this is an AND THEN- after I finished chillin’ with Hebert, I went downstairs and cleaned up our basement storage shelves! The basement is our chaos hotbed- that’s where everything ends up when we don’t want to deal with it. Somehow it was hardly a chore AT ALL to organize our shelves and magically fit EVERYTHING I wanted to on them- with some extra space leftover!

Over the last few days my creativity has shown up in different ways.  Yesterday I stacked 1.5 cords of wood.  The day before that I planted a bunch of flowers and a bright blue hosta. I packed up some “garden gnome” mail – packaging up some seeds for some friends and their families to learn about the science that goes into our food, helping them learn how to grow their own food.  I’m cleaning up my email inbox, catching up on my TV stories, trying to keep up with social engagement while physically distancing, and also trying to maintain a grasp on the reality of life right now. I wake up and commit myself to accomplishing at least one thing every day, and I’m not even going to lie to you about this – showering is one of the things on my daily accomplishment list. I don’t love days where that’s the only thing I physically accomplish, but I recognize that my brain (and body) are transitioning back into survival mode.

I find when I remember how my actions or in-actions at home impact others outside of my environment it is easier for me to get started on almost anything, and lately once I’ve started something, it’s easier to finish that and move on to the next thing. All we can do is our best to build sure footing in these very uncertain times. Art is my favorite way to express my really intense feelings of fear and sadness, a way for me to amplify my voice in a time where I feel insecure and unheard, a way for me to work through whatever it is I am feeling or experiencing and help me get from where I am to where I want to be.