15 Ways Burning Man Prepared Me for the Big Quarantine of 2020

As I entered day 20 of my quarantine, I strangely started to feel like I’d been here before. That’s when I realized that in a way, I have! My experiences at Burning Man (I’ve gone twice: 2017 and 2018) have prepared me for this. The masks, the hand sanitizer, the toilet paper obsession, baby, been there, done that! I thought I’d pass along some of these handy-dandy 15 ways attending Burning Man helped ME cope with the Big Quarantine of 2020. They might help you too.

  1. Have a routine  

We developed a morning routine at Burning Man. We figured out a way to make a pot of coffee without electricity. We brought little squeeze bottles of Hazelnut instead of our Coffeemate. We made breakfast over a little propane stove, and afterwards, we washed our dishes in a make-shift plastic tub with water we’d brought in jugs (10 gallons per person) and brushed our teeth. We’d straighten our tent and sweep out the dust that had accumulated from entering and exiting and organized our clothes and supplies. Then we’d make a bike ride-run to purchase ice from the “Antarctica” building and bring it back and organize our coolers of food. We’d finish by noon and after refilling our backpacks with water and porta-potty supplies, we’d grab our bikes and venture out for the day. 

It’s important to create some sort of routine for yourself, especially if you’ve got young children. Structure seems to make us feel less out of control of our lives and also gives you a feeling of accomplishment and meaning to this extraordinary situation we are in.This isn’t a staycation. We didn’t ask for this. This may sound silly, but make your bed when you get up and right away you’ll be on your way to feeling you’ve got a little more control over your situation.This is your new normal. Unlike Burning Man though, we don’t know when this will end, but both require some stability.  Having some sort of routine has helped me feel a little less psycho. 

  1. Move that body!

There aren’t any gyms on the Playa, but Burning Man is 7 square miles. Whether you walk or ride your bike, you are getting plenty of exercise every day. I wore my tracker and was astounded we’d done an average of 10 miles a day. Even if the weather is shitty where you live (we’re on day four of straight wind and rain here in Wisconsin) you can exercise at home. My 90-year old father walks in circles around his living room. With his walker. My brother jumps rope. I saw on Facebook that a marathon runner did a whole marathon, circling his backyard 100 times. There are endless YouTube videos for yoga and all sorts of do-it-at-home exercises. I do crunches and stretching and try to get out and walk/run 4 miles a day. It’s not just good for your body, it gets those endorphins going and helps keep the depression at bay. Exercise is the absolute best way to cope with being quarantined. Remember, you’re not a convict with an ankle bracelet although many times it may feel that way. You CAN leave your house. Go for a walk around the block or the kitchen. Dance! Don’t let the Big Quarantine of 2020 turn you into a schlub. 

  1. Boost your immune system

The environment at Burning Man is incredibly harsh and there are very real threats to your well-being. The extreme heat during the day and lack of shade (remember, there’s no electricity so no air conditioners) so sunscreen is a must as well as making sure your Camelbak has enough water to sustain you at all times. The Playa isn’t sand as many believe; Burning Man lies on an inhospitable ancient lakebed made of a white, powdery alkaline dust. It gets into everything. Everyone’s walking around covered in it, but wearing some sort of face mask (bandannas, scarves) to keep from breathing it in. Protective goggles are a necessity too. You never ever leave your tent without them. There are vicious, blinding dust storms that literally come out of nowhere and you never know when that will happen. You have to be ready.

Going to one of the porta-potties is a fact of life at Burning Man; carrying wipes and hand sanitizer and a ziploc baggie to put them in is just how you deal. Chapstick is a must for those dried out lips from the harsh heat and dust. Every time you leave your tent, you’re prepared for anything. Sound familiar?? How many of us are walking around carrying the same items? Masks, bandanna,scarves, hand sanitizer! It’s crazy! Everything is a biohazard. Although Playa dust won’t actually infect you, you know better than to touch your face with dust on your hands or fingers, and hand-washing is challenging in an environment that has no running water, but you get ‘er done somehow. People know to pack LOTS of hand sanitizer.  Playa dust will also give you a chemical burn if it stays on your feet. You must wear shoes at all times. And like we’re doing now, you take them off and leave them outside. You don’t want to bring the dust into your tent if you can help it. And here at home, we’re leaving our shoes out in the hallway of our high-rise just in case there’s coronavirus somehow stuck onto the soles. Do your best to stay healthy because it’s been said that we will all be exposed at some point, and all you’ve got is your immune system to fight it off, not to mention just dealing with all the stress of lost income, too-much togetherness with roommates or family, or just the very real hell we are living in right now. Do all you can to get sleep, eat healthy, all that shit. Keep the negative to a minimum and limit your exposure to news.

  1. You don’t need “more” of anything.

The biggest lesson I learned at Burning Man was how little I really needed to survive and be happy. I will never forget after I got back from my first “Burn” and saw a dear friend of mine. She was very excited to hear about my adventure and before the words could come out, I burst into tears, threw my arms around her and said, “all I need are my friends and my family”. I feel that way right now. I can’t wait to throw my arms around some of my dear friends and family that I’m estranged from due to circumstances. “Going without” is when you appreciate what’s most important. Each other. 

Although it angers me to see stories of people hoarding food and toilet paper and even fighting in the grocery stores, I understand their panic. People feel out of control. And no one told us how much we’re going to need or for how long. But really folks, calm the fuck down. The stores are staying open. You aren’t going to run out. I have spent way less staying home. I’m not Uber-ing to bars and restaurants or going to shows or shopping. It’s extremely detrimental to our economy and our collective mental health.  I really miss my nightlife and going out with friends. At Burning Man, money is basically useless. All you can purchase there is ice for your coolers ($2.50 for a 7 pound bag) and there’s a little Burning Man coffee house in Center Camp. You already planned for 7 days in the desert and can’t go to the store for more. I’m sure all of us have enough in our refrigerators and pantries and shouldn’t be panicked about running out of anything. Even toilet paper is reappearing on store shelves. Go through your closets and get rid of shit you don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. Look up Marie Kondo on Netflix. She’ll help you.

  1. Lean on one another

At Burning Man, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or thirsty, or tired, or looking for someone to hang out with, there’s always someone willing to lend a hand or a hug. People are extremely giving and loving and affectionate if you just ask. We hunger for human touch and interaction. It’s just not natural living this way. When you’re feeling the soul-crushing nature of being quarantined, remember, PEOPLE. Call your friends, call your family. Reach out.  It’s become a “coronavirus cliche” but it’s true–we really are all in this together.

Thank goodness we have the technology to connect–apps like HouseParty and Skype and Zoom and FaceTime keep us all from feeling so alone. Can you ever remember a time when you felt something and realized everyone in the entire world is feeling it too? How amazing is THAT?! There is no shame in admitting you’re going cuckoo. We are all going cuckoo. Relationships are being tested like never before. Our collective mental health is in jeopardy. We are becoming terrified of one another’s cooties and I’m worried about the fallout in rising rates of depression, divorces, domestic violence and anxiety disorders. How about rising rates of OCD as we are all furiously washing our hands and agoraphobia as we have habitually become afraid of leaving our little padded cells? At Burning Man, it’s very common for people to “freak out” at least once due to the extreme conditions of the experience. How to cope? Lean on a friend if you’re having a rough time, and BE a good friend to someone else who might be. Just like now, everyone at Burning Man comes to expect freak-outs and we console one another and get through it together. Which leads me to….

  1. You will feel totally claustrophobic at some point and freak out.

It’s common to feel trapped at Burning Man; it’s a hundred miles from the nearest store (no Kwik Trips or 7-11’s you can just “run to”). For 7 days, you are stuck there. I remember being warned about feeling claustrophobic, and sure enough, it happened. The excitement started to wear off around Wednesday as the temps rose once again beyond a hundred degrees and relief was nowhere in sight. I became panicky and felt I was suffocating. I began to have a breakdown that totally freaked me out. I was shaking and nauseous and frightened and began to spin out of control. I had never experienced a panic attack and was quite shaken up by it. I got through it but I was terrified of it happening again. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Around day 8 of quarantine though, it happened again. I knew the signs but it was odd because the circumstances were so different. I had running water. I had electricity. I have heating. However, I didn’t actually know if I have enough food or toilet paper, because I don’t know how long I’m going to be quarantined. And when will I get to see my kids?? When will all the bars and restaurants open up again? When can we travel again? WHEN WILL LIFE GO BACK TO NORMAL???? WHEN WILL THIS END??? The walls started to feel like they were closing in on me. My head started to feel dizzy and I felt sick to my stomach. And I felt that same panic that I had felt at Burning Man and recognized what it was. I felt trapped. Suddenly my home wasn’t my sanctuary anymore. It was my jail. And that’s how it felt in that little tent. Ok so it was a big tent, but it was a TENT. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT 100 MILES FROM CIVILIZATION. I was overwhelmed with the lights and sounds and heart-thumping music and sick of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and everything being so damn hard and the oppressive heat! And the stink of the porta-potties! It hit me all at once and I was spinning out of control. 

What helped me then and what helps me now is reminding myself this is temporary. The cliche’d quote, “this too shall pass” is quite helpful when those suffocating feelings return.  Take a page out of the Burning Man playbook–hydrate first and foremost. Find a spot in the shade. Sit down. Breathe. It will be ok. “This too shall pass”. And, as in #5, lean on someone. Don’t suffer alone. Get out of your tent. Go for a walk, call a friend, pet your cat, watch or read something uplifting. Stay away from the news. 

7. For God’s sake, bathe.

At Burning Man, some camps set up make-shift “showers” with a gallon of water you let warm in the sun and “wash” your body with. It feels good to let the water run over your skin and everyone knows that a shower just makes you feel better.  Burning Man makes you appreciate how we take for granted the simple act of showering (and toileting). When you finally return home, the very first thing you want to do (next to going to the bathroom on a real toilet) is take a very long, very hot shower. If someone had been listening they’d have thought I was having sex in there with all the feel-good moaning going on. 

One of the most fun things in life is spending all day in your PJ’s and for us women, not having to wear a bra. Woo-hoo!! Not to mention not having to do the whole beauty routine of washing and styling your hair and putting on makeup. At Burning Man, you can’t flat-iron your hair nor blow dry it (no electricity) and you’ve got that “awesome” style in your hair from 7 days of dust in it. There isn’t any running water, so not-showering/washing your hair for days on end is just one of the things you give up at Burning Man, and I’m guessing, many of you are doing the same. Also, giving zero fucks about it. Getting past feeling dirty both at Burning Man and now, quarantining, is so similar it makes me laugh. 

I ask myself, “why bother if no one’s going to see me anyways?” But you know what? I’ve found it helps my mental health. I have found that when I have a day where I “just don’t feel like” it, it often turns into two days, then three, and then despair has set in.  The less I feel like showering, the more I know I need to. Just because no one else is going to see you isn’t a good enough reason to neglect yourself. While you’re at it, put on a little blush, eyeliner and do your eyebrows. Do it for YOU.

8. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

I was pretty sure I was going to die the first year I went to Burning Man. It’s like one of those “Survivor” shows where you have a list of items you “must have” (tents, food, water, TP, hammer, etc). “Did we bring enough?”  “Did we bring the right things?” “What did we forget?” “Will I be able to handle it?” Same here. I wonder daily how long I’ll be able to handle this isolation.  I found it ironic that one of the things Burning Man has in common with the Big Quarantine is both share an obsession around toilet paper and water. Funny, here I am again mentally trying to calculate my food intake to poop-outtake ratio. It is not uncommon to see people dressed in tutus holding a roll of toilet paper on the way to the loos. Just yesterday, I saw a grown man walking down the street carrying a 6-roll of Charmin. I was like, “WHERE’D HE GET THAT??” 

My husband and I had 6 months to prepare for our first “Burn”. We had plenty of time to assemble everything we needed to bring. But with both, you don’t really know how much of it you will actually need nor what you wished you’d have packed. At least with the Quarantine, you can run to the store if you need something. But both do share a unique feeling of not-knowing what you’re in for. At first you get excited for the chance to drop out of society and reconnect with Netflix and your refrigerator and set your own “happy hours”. I “knew” Burning Man was going to be awesome because I’d heard and read and watched so many videos about it. And it is. The booming music, the lights, the vibes are all exhilarating. The art installations are truly indescribable. The costumes, the art cars, the fire-throwers, the makeshift bars, the PEOPLE. There’s literally nothing else like it in the entire world. However, Burning Man tests your very mettle: the extreme heat and cold, the strong winds, the lack of electricity and running water. Being isolated from the “Default World”. There aren’t any trees, no animals. It’s a man-made city in a barren land. I thoroughly believe the quarantine will test us similarly, albeit in different ways. The thrill of endless streaming and sitting and lack of interacting with the outside world is going to get to each and every one of us. Cabin fever. Monotony. Boredom. Lack of motivation. And don’t forget, there’s the nagging fear of, “what if I catch the virus?” It’s inescapable. Expect you’re going to be exposed. Do your best to avoid it and hope for the best. And remember, it IS temporary. “This too shall pass.”

  1. Access your inner warrior

Burning Man taught me to accept my circumstances and find a way to cope. The Big Quarantine of 2020 wasn’t something we all went out and bought tickets for, and none of us wanted this. It is out of our control, just like the dust storms on the Playa, but you gotta just ride that shit out. You do the best you can and if it knocks you down, you get back up. 

Those that are on the front lines putting themselves at risk to save us and our loved ones are the true heroes. Let’s keep this in perspective folks. The Big Quarantine is about helping save lives. It’s hard, it’s damn hard, but not as hard as some have it. I am grateful every day I stay healthy and my loved ones stay healthy.  We WILL get through this. We WILL cope. We have no other choice. And remember, if you’re sitting at home bored yet healthy, count your blessings. Many are not. Many are suffering from this virus and many will lose loved ones. We don’t know how long this will last or how bad it will get. Will I catch it? Will you? The unknowns can drive you crazy. I’m right here with you. Bob Marley is famous for saying, “You never know how strong you are, until strong is your only choice.” You got this. We can do this. 

  1. Cry it out

There are days you just have to have that big, sloppy, ugly cry.  Don’t hold back. These are scary times. There are so many unknowns and it can feel like one big waiting game. At Burning Man, you cry for totally different reasons, but I think both have in common deep feelings of gratitude, loss, grief, love for humanity, a deep longing for meaning and fear and acceptance of our mortality. We are absent of the distractions that many of us rely on to get by, and like Burning Man, we are thrown into a completely different lifestyle and world. Remember the movie, “Mad Max”? Burning Man is like that. As you drive onto the Playa, you immediately feel as though you’ve arrived on a different planet. Doesn’t your neighborhood feel that way now? I know mine does. It’s nothing like any of us has ever experienced. Everything shuttered and a lack of traffic. Schools closed. We can’t go to a movie, out to dinner, travel, fuck we can’t even get together with friends. We see more than two people together and freak the fuck out. I hate this “social distancing” as much as you do.  I don’t know when I’ll get to see my son. It’s heartbreaking what is happening. We have to adapt to this new world, and when the virus passes, we have the chance to start over. This is a huge re-set button for our entire human species. Just like Burning Man, it’s what you make of it. Resisting achieves nothing, but embracing all the emotions that flow are normal and natural and need to be expressed.

  1. Keep a journal

I love reading my journal from Burning man. I had so many “lightbulb moments” out there. You’re in such a unique environment and situation, that you have to capture them when they occur. Photos are great, but describing in detail how you’re feeling and what everything you’ve done and seen means to you is precious beyond reason. I remembered this and I started a “Big Quarantine 2020” journal just the other day and everyday I write a few sentences about how I’m coping. Someday, this will all be a very bad memory, and maybe I will have some lightbulb moments that I won’t want to forget.

  1. Live in the “now”

There is no Internet at Burning Man for a reason. TO BE FULLY PRESENT. It is honestly a breath of fresh air to be freed of the self-inflicted obligations of social media. You see people taking lots of selfies but it’s gratifying to know not a single pic is getting posted. And guess what?? This is when the emotions come, because you’re in the moment. It’s easy to fill our days with our phones and laptops and Netflix. I have been planning for weeks now a day to turn off my phone and laptop and just go inward for a day. I haven’t been able to do it yet. But I really, really think it will benefit me to just be present. Take this amazing opportunity to play with your kids if you have them, or your pet, and just languish in their beauty. If you’re lucky and have a yard, plant a garden. Stay up late and look at the stars. Find the joy, find the beauty. It’s there if you look.

  1. Let the little kid in you come out and play!

I’ve often described Burning Man as a “playground for adults”. It’s like you get to be 8 again only you get to drink. You can dress the way you want, wear your hair anyway you want. The other day I took all my makeup out and played with garish colors I’d never have the nerve to wear in public. I parted my hair down the middle and hated it and then curled it and then did it all over again. When I was done, I tried on clothes and played around with outfits just for fun and took a bunch of selfies. It was fun. You can start a YouTube channel if you want. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is you make time for fun. Start coloring again, do a puzzle. Make a mess in the kitchen. Create a new recipe, move all your furniture around, have a fashion show with your kids. Get on your hands and knees and garden if you’re lucky enough to have a yard. Pay with your pet. Create something out of nothing. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, spray one another with whipped cream. Why are you holding back? What are you waiting for?!

  1. Laugh every day

Sometimes Burning Man was so hard I lost my sense of humor. Then I remembered I wanted to be there. I’d paid to be there. I’d asked to suffer. However, we didn’t ask for this, and I had a rough day a few days ago where I found myself slipping into despair. I knew what to do about it: I reached out to my network of “friends” on Facebook. I simply posted, “My sense of humor is gone today. I’m having a moment. Please send memes” and sure enough, I ended up with 97 comments. People responded with a mixture of some of the most hilarious memes and well-wishes. Making jokes and laughing doesn’t minimize the very real terror that’s going on in our world, but we have to cope. There’s nothing funny about the collapse of the economy and everyone being out of work. But we are all suffering together and how can you not find the funny in people hoarding toilet tissue?? Humor is essential to our mental health and also strengthens your immune system. Find the funny anywhere you can. Right now I’m all about the memes and the coronavirus parody songs all over YouTube. 

  1. Go with the flow and stay optimistic

Someone asked in a Facebook post today inquiring, “how are you extraverts doing in quarantine?” They’d said they were an introvert and loved the social isolation but realized how difficult it must be for outgoing folk. I responded it was a very real challenge. Some of us like to spend more time outside our tents than inside them, and that can be a very real challenge during this quarantine. When I’d get overloaded on socializing at Burning Man I’d simply go back to my tent. But I remember the last year we went, we had a dust storm that lasted for hours, and it was extremely frustrating. We were missing so many activities and classes that were scheduled and wouldn’t be rescheduled. We laid there, the tent shaking and dust flying in, and all we could do was literally pray our tent stakes were hammered in securely enough. When it wouldn’t subside, we realized the tent was secure, and decided to grab a deck of cards and a snack. The wind monster was vicious and unrelenting, and waiting it out was all we could do, so why not have a little fun?

The Big Quarantine of 2020 is eerily similar; our homes have become our jail cells. We feel trapped and out of control and can do nothing about the invisible enemy that threatens our very lives if we leave the safety of our “tents”. Waiting it out and finding something to do is monotonous when you think of all the fun you’re missing. The key is to find the fun and the enjoyment and the meaning right where you are right now.  Worry solves nothing. Worry changes nothing. Go with the flow. The news changes practically daily with governmental guidelines. Roll with it. We are powerless. You can hunker down in your tent and feel paralyzed or you can sit up and play cards and grab a bottle of wine. It’s YOUR choice. 

If you or someone you know is really struggling during this incredibly difficult time in our lives, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Also, most mental health care providers continue to provide services via TeleHealth.

Quarantining can escalate domestic abuse. Please get help if you need it at 1-800-799-7233