Philly Clouds

Reaching 6 Months of Self-Isolation

posted in: Personal Essay | 0

When I left work on Friday, March 13, I suspected we would soon get word that we wouldn’t be coming back to the library for the foreseeable future. Little did I know that after 6 months, many of us would still be working from home with still so much uncertainty ahead of us.

Given that our university tried opening for partial in-person classes for the fall semester and had to move all but essential classes online after a week indicates that rushing back to campus isn’t practical and the talk now is that the spring classes will be mostly online as well. Those of us who can work from home will continue to do so far a refreshed foreseeable future.

It has been, without a doubt, an unusual 6 months.

Things to Be Thankful for

Despite all the uncertainty and challenges, I feel thankful for many things.

Holly and I still have our jobs and both can work from home so our jobs are relatively secure.

Holly and I get along really well and spending all this time together has been great. Although we work together, we’re in different departments. When we are on campus, we don’t often see each other except for during the commute and lunch. Now, we share a table together all day long. It’s also important to note that we’re on the same page in terms of how cautious to be during this time. I can’t imagine trying to live with someone who was cavalier about going out or not wanting to wear a mask.

We are both introverts so staying in as much as possible and reducing social interactions has not been much of a problem.

We both have hobbies we enjoy so we’ve been able to easily keep ourselves entertained and reasonably sane.

After a brief scare early on about not being able to buy basic supplies, the truth turned out to be less concerning. Other than some minor inconveniences, we have been able to get our hands on whatever we have needed.

On Working from Home

I have been pleasantly surprised not only by how much I have enjoyed working from home but also by how productive and busy I have been. I’m more surprised by the latter. I suspected I would like being home all the time but was never sure that my job was conducive to doing so. Now I know it is. I feel more productive and busier now than when I was going to work every day.

A big part of that is feeling like working from home is better for my mental and physical health. There is, honestly, little I miss about my workspace in the library. We had recently moved into a new building which is lovely to look at. Our work area, however, is somewhere between cubicles and an open office. There is no privacy and a lot of distractions. Despite being around so many people, I felt that I actually had less interaction with them. I seem to talk to and work with my co-workers more now albeit through email, Slack, and Zoom.

Although we didn’t have a long commute (usually under 40 minutes between the walk to the subway and the ride itself), I certainly don’t miss it. And I definitely don’t miss commuting in bad weather. I’ll have an even greater appreciation of this during the winter.

It’s nice being able to eat home cooked meals for lunch, being able to wake up a little later, being able to take stretch breaks when I need to.

Before shutting down in March, we had the option of working from home 1 day a week, which I took advantage of once in a while. I was unsure about how well I would be able to do my job from home so was not willing to commit to it. Now that I know how well I can work from home, I will definitely be interested in doing so as often as I can after we go back.

The feeling at our university is that the spring semester will be mostly online which likely means we’ll be working from home deep into 2021.

The Sudden Change

It’s really difficult to capture how quickly things changed.

We had left work that Friday suspecting that campus would close, and we would start working from home. But the seriousness of the situation had yet to sink in.

That Saturday, we went to the farmers market and out to brunch as usual. It was the last time we would do either. I remember feeling a little anxious at brunch about being near other people inside.

We had also taken a long walk along the crowded Schuylkill Banks also with some anxiety, but, obviously not feeling so anxious as to curtail our activities.

The previous weekend, Holly and I went out to dinner with a friend of ours to Chinatown in a show of support. People had started avoiding Chinatown due to the incorrect and unfair perception that it was less safe there than other parts of the city. I don’t recall feeling any concern at that time about being out and about.

Earlier that week, I had taken a photo walk through Chinatown to finish my first roll of film in the Minolta Autopak 450Ex Holly had gotten me for Christmas without any thoughts about the coronavirus. Yes, I had heard that people were growing leery of being in Chinatown, but it seemed as busy as ever.

The prior weekend was my birthday weekend, and we celebrated it the same as we usually did. We went out to brunch and Holly made me dinner on Saturday, and then we met my brother for a dinner out on Sunday. We went from a normal birthday celebration the weekend of February 29 and March 1 to self-isolating and working from home by March 16.

On Being Cautiously Optimistic

Despite all the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress of the past 6 months, I’m feeling fairly optimistic about the long term (at least about the pandemic). It sounds like there will eventually be a vaccine, although I think it will be quite a while before we will reap the benefits of it. Even if there is an effective one by the end of the year, it will take a lot of time to produce and distribute enough of it to make a significant difference. I’m guessing it will be another year before a true transition to something like normal will happen.

And even after the vaccine, it’s going to take me a long time to feel confident and comfortable about resuming our usual activities. I’m going to assume it won’t be until 2022 until our life starts feeling normal again and will be pleasantly surprised if it happens sooner.

The late fall and early winter will be difficult. Things will probably get worse before they get better. In addition to the physical health concerns, being able to get outside has been therapeutic for a lot of people. It certainly has been for us.

Getting though the holidays will also be difficult. We don’t often do a lot, but we’ll miss our usual events and activities.

Unlike the sudden change back in March, at least now we have the liberty of being able to think about the next few months and mentally prepare ourselves.

On the upside, I recently found out that there will be a virtual Philadelphia Film Festival this year. The festival is usually in late October, and we have been taking the week off for an annual Staycation where we mix going to the movies with going out to eat. I was concerned that there wasn’t going to be a festival this year so getting this news has been great for my mood. Of course, it’s going to be very different since it will be virtual, and we won’t be going out to eat, but I’m sure we’ll make the best of it. And it’s certainly uplifting to have something to look forward to.

Of course, any optimism is tied to the outcome of the election. We have been living through a disastrous 3+ years. There should be no way that Trump could possibly get re-elected. That we have to worry about such a thing boggles my mind.

Although I’m thinking we have another year to go before anything changes significantly, I believe that, once we get through the winter, there will at least be a vaccine and some serious conversations about how it’s going to be distributed. I’m hoping that once we get to the one year mark, there will be even more reason for optimism. Hopefully, my “Reaching One Year of Self-Isolation” post will be full of good news.

The Other Side

It’s hard to imagine what things will feel like on the other side of this. It will also be hard to know when we even reach the other side since there won’t be some magic day when everything is suddenly OK. It will be a slow transition.

It will be interesting to see how my relationship with work evolves since I have enjoyed working from home so much. I’ve had steady fulltime jobs since 1992, all of which required me to show up in person. Working from home has been thought-provoking in the realization that I’ve been busier and more productive during this time. Would going back into the building 5 days a week really be better for me or the university? Would going back into the building 5 days a week take a different toll on my mental and physical health now that I’ve been able to take better care of myself?

Especially if I work from home for the entire spring semester, going back to the building is going to be a big and upsetting transition.

It will also be interesting to see which of the adjustments we have made over the past 6 months will stick. We no longer go to the farmers market, despite it being back open, and order local produce online instead. We enjoyed going to the market and picking out our produce and other things in-person, but we don’t miss having to get out early on Saturday mornings to do so.

We have enjoyed getting take-out and delivery which we rarely did before. It’s been nice being able to enjoy food from places we love without having to deal with the crowds. Certainly, we’re looking forward to going to some of these places again, but I’m guessing we’ll have a different balance of going out and eating in.

We never had a robust social life, at least since moving to Philadelphia, but what little we had has taken a hit. We have one local friend who we’ve gone on walks with but she’s the only person we’ve seen face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) recently. We haven’t seen my brother since my birthday weekend. I wonder if after we feel safe being around people again, we’ll have a different approach to our social life.

We’ve always been people who enjoy the simple things in life. This period has enhanced that since we only have simple things. Reading, watching movies, cooking together, enjoying our hobbies is the scope of our world right now and that’s been fine with us.

Not being able to travel has been difficult. We had to cancel 3 trips, all to California (Solvang, Carmel, and Los Angeles), due to the pandemic. This absence is all the more distressing due to the wildfires. As I mentioned before, it’s going to take a while, after the vaccine, before we start feeling comfortable engaging in our usual activities, and I would imagine getting on a plane will be far down our list of things to try again. It will, however, feel so wonderful once we do.

As difficult as things have been at times, I feel like I’ve been able to keep things in perspective. Over the course of an entire life, this time will only be a small fraction. I spent nearly 20 years in a lousy relationship. I can certainly hang out in our apartment for 1 with someone I like and enjoy being with.

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