This is my first update in 5 months. It didn’t feel appropriate to let the anniversary-week of the start of the pandemic pass by without mentioning it. I mean, not much and so much has happened. We’re still in a pandemic (I know!) and we went through another lockdown (in California) over the holidays, but with a new administration coming in at the beginning of this year, vaccines are finally being rolled out (and at a rapid rate). Some of my family members and friends have been vaccinated already. Jon and I aren’t yet eligible, but I am hopeful that we will be soon. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least there seems to be.
Still, it’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since this all really started to impact every one of us on a very personal level. This week last year was when I transitioned to full-time working from home. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. A week later, California issued the first statewide stay-at-home order.
I remember the first few weeks when people frantically bought up toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, flour and rice, pasta and canned goods. When we stood in line before the stores even opened to make sure we could get in when the shelves were freshly stocked. We were supposed to drastically limit our outdoor activities to absolute necessities, but also not hoard supplies. As much as Jon and I tried not to panic-buy (I’ll never understand the need to hoard toilet paper), I admit, we also did stock up on a few things here and there, too. Just in case. It all felt a little surreal there for a while.
The standing-in-line-at-the-grocery-store and toilet paper shortage only lasted about two months before things returned to a more normal pace (at least at the supermarkets), but otherwise, things were anything but normal. As previously mentioned, Jon and I have been taking this whole situation very seriously. More seriously than other people. I haven’t been to my office, eaten inside a restaurant, or seen any family or friends in a year (last week was the first and only exception that we have made in 365+ days). We’ve canceled weekend trips, a visit from my family, and get-togethers with friends. We cut down the frequency of our grocery runs, I haven’t browsed the aisles of any stores for leisure, and I haven’t seen my family in over 1,5 years. I have not hugged anyone (besides Jon) or left Sacramento County in over a year.
One of the hardest lessons for me in the last 12 months was that yes, we’re all in this together, but we’re ultimately all doing it alone.
Guidance by our elected leaders more often than not was confusing and/or contradictory. The statewide and national efforts did not go hand in hand. Don’t get me started on the many failures or our previous administration. Lots of people cherry-picked information to justify carrying on as usual, as if we were not in a pandemic, often guided by the belief that ‘hey if other people are staying home, I can go out and do x, y and z safely because nobody else will be doing it.’ News flash: the purpose of a lockdown or stay-at-home order is that nobody is out doing things. It was hard to witness other people be so blatantly selfish and disrespectful towards others when all that was required was to wear a mask, keep a distance, and park your butt on the couch for a while. If only we had all done this collectively at the same time for a little while…
But I digress.
I am sure some people, who haven’t been as strict as we have been, think we’re overly cautious, but I’d rather be cautious than catch this virus. Nobody knows for sure how it’s going to affect them and even if the statistics for my age group look good, it’s not something I want to gamble with.
Did you also feel like leaning on other people didn’t feel like an option knowing that everyone was fighting their own struggles? Of course, we checked in with each other, we talked about the current situation a lot, the good and then not-so-good news, the ups and downs of cases, but did we really share how things felt inside, maybe too afraid to burden the other person more or ending up in a competition on “who has it worse”? I definitely felt this way sometimes, like we weren’t really sharing how this situation was affecting us. I know, Jon and I have been so lucky in so many ways, especially since we weren’t dealing with the loss of income or the added strain of trying to homeschool (and entertain) kids, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been hard.
For me personally, the hardest part was being so far away from family and the fact that I knew that I couldn’t get on a plane at a moment’s notice, that we were stuck in place to wait this out.
I also often felt that I didn’t have the capacity to keep up, to reach out, to ask how everyone else is doing (even when I felt I should), not because I wasn’t interested, but because I felt so damn tired. At the same time, small interactions have been so valuable, so life-saving really, throughout this last year. A handwritten letter. A text message when I didn’t expect it. To know that people think of you (and letting them know that you think of them) is really quite an impactful thing in times like these.
Life changed – and was put on ‘pause’ – in so many regards last year, but you know what’s funny?
The only thing that hasn’t really slowed down is work (for those lucky enough to still have jobs, that is!) and while we’ve been constantly praised for being so productive despite the circumstances, I sometimes wondered, how much less productive we all must have appeared before the pandemic.
I am not complaining, my workplace has been (more than) great when it comes to safety protocols and handling the COVID-situation overall. I am so, so thankful that the transition to full-time working from home was possible and sustainable. Nobody was pushed to do anything that they felt uncomfortable with, and honestly, I love working from home.
But I remember early on, in one of our check-in sessions over Teams, someone was brave enough to admit that he was struggling and that he felt distracted by *all the things* and less productive at home and that he hoped that wouldn’t reflect badly on him or get him fired. He said what we were all thinking at the time and nobody was brave enough to say. We were assured that this was all normal and everybody was going through the same thing and that we were supposed to be kind to ourselves. But while partial paid-leave options were offered for people with dependents at home – which btw, I totally support – day-to-day work has for the most part been business as usual for the rest of us.
Sure, we’ve talked a lot about being kind to each other and taking care of ourselves, but there has been very little guidance on how to do this in a pandemic while trying to meet deadlines. It often felt like we were expected to power through somehow, especially now that – after a whole year – we are technically experts on the pandemic work from home life.
While it’s true that things feel more normal now than in the early days of the pandemic because we have adapted (as humans do), I don’t think we really haven’t addressed the collective trauma that we’ve all been through yet.
My hope for 2021, going into the second year of this pandemic, is that we can learn from the bad and carry forward the good lessons that we’ve learned. To really think about what this last year has taught us, what’s important in life, to set our boundaries and not just preach, but practice self-care. And, of course, my biggest wish is that we can very soon feel safe enough to travel and see family and friends again.
Oh, and I could really use a hug. You?