I’ve been working exclusively from home for over a month. It doesn’t feel that long, but in other ways it feels like it has been forever.
I’m fortunate to work for a very forward thinking healthcare system. A few years ago our department leadership saw the day when we would run out of office space, and also the need to be flexible in terms of where people work to make itself an attractive place for college grads entering the work force. Thus emerged the Alternate Work Arrangement initiative, which was the catalyst to getting folks wired so they could work from home. It certainly has served us well when the virus hit and we had to transition a lot of people from the office to their homes.
While I was never an advocate for or desired working home full time, I did dip my toe into the water by working home one day a week. I enjoyed not having the daily commute where the round trip took between an hour and a half to two hours. I also enjoyed rolling out of bed, making some coffee, and working in my sweats. I didn’t have to get up as early to get to the office at my desired time, and finished the work day at home a lot earlier too.
When the reality of what was coming was irrefutable, I was glad to have been set up for a remote location and have taken to it like a duck to water. The only downside was that my world began to shrink considerably. But I have to admit, I enjoyed spreading my stuff out on the kitchen table, and enjoyed the casualness of working from home. I still do.
However, the recent flood forced me to reorganize the work place at home because my mother in law is living in the big open area that includes the living room, where she sleeps, and the kitchen. I removed a table and the rolling office chair that went with it from downstairs, deposited it into a corner of my bedroom, and parked my laptop upon it.
Every morning now, I literally crawl out of bed, throw on some sweats, brush my teeth, shuffle over to the kitchen to make my coffee, then head back to the bedroom to pull the table and chair away from the corner and get to work. This takes all of maybe seven minutes.
It’s a more comfortable set-up, and the view, which you can see from the picture that leads this post, is much nicer than anything I can look at from the office back at the mother ship, but my shrinking world has become even smaller. Other than occasionally going to the bathroom and kitchen, I am there from about 5:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. I enjoy the new house and my new work space, but sometimes it feels like a glorified prison.
The psychology behind self-isolation is a weird thing. It’s a necessary evil, but we are more alone than ever. I don’t know about you, but being alone with my thoughts isn’t always a good thing, especially now. How can you not wonder where this will all lead, and what things will look like on the other side? When this all started, I firmly believed, and still do, that someone who is near and dear would perish from it, and there was a good possibility who this person was would turn out to be a complete surprise. So far, I know one person who I believe has the virus (not tested but has symptoms and is self-quarantined). Thankfully, he seems to be doing well. I have not been near him since that time. A good friend of ours who is a nurse was exposed at work due to a colossal management fuck-up that from the way she describes it is negligent at best and borderline criminal at worst. K and I worry about her.
It is hard not to feel alone even when I venture to the store. Social distancing requires us to give everyone a wide berth, so if I see someone I don’t know heading in my direction I turn the other way. And when I see someone I do know, I make sure I’m at least ten feet away from them. How can anyone feel connected to anything under those circumstances? When I do go to the store, it’s at 6AM on Saturday mornings, when practically nobody is there, so even these chance meetings are infrequent.
Most of the news is bad, so I have sworn off watching news programming of any kind, getting my information via the print media instead, which only creates a different kind of isolation. Because of the MS and how it affects my walking, I can’t go for an easy outside stroll, or visit state parks, the beaches or nature preserves. I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the plight of many with MS who have had lived like this for a long time because their disabilities make it hard to do otherwise.
I can’t explain why this came as a surprise, but isolation is also boring as hell, so I’m trying to cope in a variety of ways. Other than pouring myself into my work more than usual, I am also working out a lot more. I try to get outside at least once a day to breathe real air. The good stuff on Netflix, Amazon and all those services is really limited, even thought there is tons of stuff to see. I’ve refused to watch dramas because there is too much drama in real life as it is, and there are no sports. So I’ve reverted to watching a lot of documentaries.
I’m also drinking more. Not a lot mind you, and certainly nothing to be concerned about, but where before that was something that was reserved for weekends, a can of beer or glass or wine has become an every night kind of thing, along with the MMJ. On weekends I’ll indulge and have a vodka (or whiskey) and seltzer (or two). And there have been nights where I have made sure I was numb to anything and everything.
Whatever has been preying on my mind never seems as terrible with a buzz-on. It also helps me stop thinking about shit I don’t want to think about, at least most of the time. It is hard to think about happy things when the world around you is turning into shit, so this becomes an emotional crutch.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, so I can’t help but wonder if there going to be a lot more people with substance abuse issues compared to before this started.
Life has become routine and predictable: Get up, work, work out, have dinner, clean up, take a shower, have something to drink and toke/eat, watch television, then get up the next day and do the same exact thing. Just like the subject of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” I sometimes feel like a happy idiot, struggling for the legal tender.
On weekends, add house cleaning, whatever outside stuff that needs to be done, and a trip to the store, but those diversions don’t change the fact that we have become solitary, secluded beings out of necessity, and it isn’t fun.
Each day and week that goes by deepens the feeling of my detachment from the world. At least I have a spouse that I adore and can hang with, but that doesn’t prevent the feeling of separation from everything I know from building and deepening every day and week this continues. I can’t imagine how this will feel in another month or two.
All we can fall back on is that we are doing the right thing. The short-term sacrifice will help hasten the spread of this thing and save lives in the process (unless the Federal Government continues to downplay the severity of this), so how can anyone bitch about that?
Still, I sometimes feel like the incredible shrinking man, whose only connection to the world outside of my family unit are the words on texts or the voices on the phone. It’s a poor substitute for the real thing, but it’s better then nothing.
We will all be changed when this is over. Only time will tell if that is for the better or worse.