The week before last, I had the incredible privilege of being on a Zoom call with Astronaut Scott Kelly, who stayed on the International Space Station for just shy of a year. There were only fifty or so of us on the call. I really hope he can share his thoughts on isolation with a wider audience, but at the bare minimum, I felt like I needed to share some of the ways he said he coped, because they’re applicable to our situation today with the Covid-19 lockdowns in place.
A little background first. Kelly had been to space a couple of times already, including one six-month stint on ISS. Because of the level of isolation he experienced on that extended stay, Kelly told us he nearly turned down the twelve-month opportunity. In the end, he decided to go, but he said that he planned for it in a very calculated way.
Whereas he’d kept careful track of how long he was up on the shorter stint and how long he had to go, Kelly chose not to pay attention to either of these for the longer stint. That became tip number one for those of us on the call. He feels that you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out “how much longer” this will last. He also mentioned that the twelve-month stay felt shorter than the six-month stay. Seriously? Shorter?
Okay, he had our attention. So what else did he recommend? He stayed very scheduled on his second stay, which is probably true for anyone on ISS, but he did it a little differently the second time. He made sure that his weekends looked different from his weekdays. This provided him with something to look forward to–other than his eventual return from isolation. By having Saturday as “tidy things up” day, it felt different from the weekdays. He recommended for those of us at home now that we add something we enjoy to our Saturday routines. Tidying, a walk, a special meal, a movie you’ve looked forward to, and so on. He also kept Sunday different, spending a long time in the cupola gazing at Earth as it rotated past.
At this point, all of us on the call were like, “Where’s my cupola? I want a cupola view of planet Earth!”
Kelly went on to explain that in his Houston apartment currently, he and his wife make Sunday different by watching a lot of content on Netflix. He also said that spending time on his balcony provides him with a break from being stuck inside.
I started feeling very, very grateful for my ordinary suburban yard.
So there you have it. (1) Don’t try counting how long it’s been/will be. (2) Keep busy with a weekday schedule. (3) Make Saturdays and Sundays special so that you always have something nearby that you can look forward to.
I’ve been practicing these things for almost two weeks now, and I’ve gotta admit, it’s helping. A little. But we’ll take what we can get, right? I’ve never been good at tidying, and I actually spent several days looking forward to doing some cleaning the past two Saturdays.
I really hope this helps some of you. Oh, and besides helping me with tips I could use, Kelly’s talk also cured me of wanting to spend an extended period of time aboard ISS. I wouldn’t turn down the chance to experience micro-gravity for a shorter time though. Right?