As with all posts that start with “Life in a Time of Pandemic,” this is going to be talking about my life, thoughts, and reflections on the current pandemic conditions and crisis, so if you aren’t in a space to want to read that, please leave with my blessing. I don’t want these posts to be a stress on anyone else.
Writing and reflection go hand and hand for me, so as we have recently crossed the one-year mark with pandemic conditions, I wanted to take some time to think about where I’ve been and what the past year has been like.
It varied quite a bit when pandemic conditions started. For my little corner of the world (North Carolina, USA) and specifically for the university I work for, pandemic conditions started in mid-March 2020. We were all instructed to work from home if we could, spring break was extended for a week so faculty could redesign the second half of their courses to be delivered remotely, and masks and social distancing began to be encouraged and then mandated.
It’s now the end of March 2021. So for more than a year, I’ve been wearing a mask whenever I’m out of my apartment and within six feet of other humans. If I was going for a walk outside, I’d always bring a mask, but I usually didn’t put it on unless I was passing someone within six feet. This should, in theory, mean that I’m at low risk of passing the virus to anyone or getting it passed to me. Or so say those with epidemiology and fluid dynamics experience. (For the purposes of physics, air is a fluid, if you weren’t aware.)
This meant a lot of changes in my life. No more Sunday afternoons at my favorite café with my writing friends. No more evenings at a friend’s place for D&D. No more visits to family without serious planning for before and after.
Thankfully, there were a lot of online tools available for me to make adaptations to my usual routines. My Sunday afternoon write-in moved from a café to my NaNo region’s discord server. Roll20.net gave our D&D group an online space to play. My work access to a paid Zoom account gave me the ability to host a weekly meet up of friends to replace the once-every-couple-months party another friend used to host. For a lot of things, this works alright. I’m still able to see and laugh with my friends on Friday nights. I’m still able to get my Sunday writing in with those who join me on discord. I’ve recently started having an hour long Zoom call with my parents every Wednesday.
For some things, not so much. I was able to enjoy playing in and running some sessions of our D&D pseudo-campaign over the course of April through September. Most of the group does NaNoWriMo, so we took a hiatus for October through December. We started back up in January, and I realized that I could DM with about the same level of enjoyment, but that I struggled more to engage as a player. I’m currently on a semi-hiatus from the group so that I don’t ruin anyone else’s fun.
Similarly, the online write-in doesn’t work for everyone. A few of my favorite regulars from the in-person meet up don’t get the same things out of an online meet up, so they haven’t been coming and I miss them. I totally get that it doesn’t work for everyone though. I just hope we can get back to in person eventually and I can see them regularly again. As an added future sadness, the café we used to meet at was one of three locations of a local café chain, and they’ve (possibly permanently) closed the two secondary locations, one of which was ours, so even when all this is over, we likely can’t go back to our favorite spot.
Seeing family became a logistical nightmare. Things didn’t seem too bad for travel that summer, so after everyone quarantined at home for two weeks, my husband and I traveled to his parent’s house to spend a little over a week relaxing and hanging out with his family. His sister was already there (as emergency help for training two poodle puppies) and her husband joined us a few days later. It was really great to see family, especially since we hadn’t seen sister- and brother-in-law since the previous summer. It was a chance to decompress and not worry about work and have a little time with the people we cared about. Husband and I also quarantined for two weeks after that just to make sure if we picked something up in transit we didn’t spread it any further. We’re all lucky and no one in the family has had any exposure due to that trip or since.
By the time the winter holidays came around, cases were on the rise and all the Thanksgiving travel spreading was becoming obvious, so we decided not to travel for the holidays. We leveraged online tools again. We spent a couple hours on Zoom calls with my mother’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, with my parents, sister, and niece the morning of Christmas, and with my husband’s family for nearly four hours later that day. It was a reasonably good solution. I’ve never seen that many of my relatives in so short a time before. With an aunt in Washington state, an uncle in New York state, and the grandmother on that side in Florida, it’s rare to have that entire side of the family together all at once for any reason. Similarly, my husband’s family is spread across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, so we usually only get together once or twice a year. It wasn’t the most ideal holiday option, but with the risk of picking something up in transit, it was the safest option we had.
All that said, I’m still doing pretty well meeting my social needs. I have a few friends who started Twitch Streaming recently, so that’s one way that I get in a little social time. I’m also a member of several discord servers, some for in-real-life acquaintances and some for online-only communities. These have given me a place to chat and talk and interact with others when I need it. Between that, my weekly Friday Zoom with friends, Zoom meetings at work, and actually living with another human, I’m doing alright. I don’t want this to be forever, but I can probably last another year without any significant issues with my ability to meet my social needs.
The pandemic has also led to some routine changes that have been beneficial. I’ve realized having a consistent bedtime and wake up time all seven days of the week does amazing things for my quality of sleep and my general wellbeing. So the habit of setting my work wake up alarm for every single day regardless of whether I’m working is going to follow me forever. I sleep so much better, I get to sleep faster, and I wake up more reliably on-time. It’s pretty amazing. It also means my weekend days feel longer. I’m not sleeping until noon and going to bed at midnight. I’m waking up before six and going to bed around ten. That’s consistently four additional hours of awake time, which means four more hours to read, game, craft, or get stuff done. It’s been really great.
Being stuck at home with very few outside dining or entertainment expenses has also meant saving a bit of money in pandemic conditions. We’re being more thoughtful and frugal with our grocery purchases as well. Between that and consolidating out debt at the end of 2020 it’s put us in a better financial position going into 2021 than we’ve been in for five or ten years. It feels really great, and with any luck that trend will continue past the end of the pandemic too.
I feel incredibly lucky that I’m doing so well in pandemic conditions. I know the isolation can be depressing for many, the stress of working remotely grates on others, and the overall stress about the world as a whole can be downright oppressive. I’m able to insolate myself from a lot of this and rely on my partner to filter the general news and world happenings into times and places when I can deal with it, and I don’t find the isolation of working from home and social distances as stressful or depressing as some do.
As we sit here at the one-year mark with vaccines on the market and plans for distributing them as quickly as can be managed, I’m hopeful. I know the distribution plans aren’t necessarily going as well as planned everywhere and different places are doing better or worse than others, but the vaccines exist, and they are getting to people. My state is actually doing pretty well. They keep opening the next phase early because they’re filling appointments and getting vaccines out fast. It means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a time after, and we’ll be able to redefine what normal is (because it’s not going to ever be quite like it was before), and we’ll be able to move forward again.
But for now, we just have to keep going and keep our spirits up as we wait in the interminable time between before and after. I hope that we can use the time to improve and to be better and to think about ways that the After Times can be better than the Before Times. Being able to redefine what normal means is an opportunity to make normal better for everyone.