I’ve been isolating for 5 weeks already. You can do this.
On Thursday, March 5, my state (Colorado) had its first positive coronavirus case — a man who had traveled to the mountains from out of state. At that point, I was already on day 12 of what I suspect was my own case of coronavirus, which I contracted locally, through community spread — probably while “staycationing” at the train station downtown during the week after the busy Presidents Day holiday.
I fell ill on Sunday, Feb. 23. That means I’ve essentially been quarantined since then. Now, partway through my fifth week, I’m here to tell you: You can do this.
Remember: We’re all in the same boat
Working at home for 20 years means I did it throughout my daughter’s childhood. I know what it’s like to be on a work call while a toddler redecorates your office by going through the recycling bin and spreading every scrap of paper all over the floor, or to be frantically hitting the mute button on a video call while the dogs bark or an upset teen barges in.
The thing is, now we’re all in the same boat. Your kid got up early from their nap? I can relate.
The past few years, old-school work-at-homers have been the only ones on the team frantically gesturing to their kid to get out of the shot. Now everyone’s in the same situation, talking over the rest of our family as we all juggle simultaneous Zoom classes and meetings.
What my days looked like before
First I’ll throw out some caveats. I work at home and have for 20 years. I don’t have any little kids. And arguably, our household is unusually prepared for this situation.
My husband is a teacher, so he’s home every summer and every winter holiday. That means our schedule shifts up to all of us being around for weeks on end on a regular basis.
But we usually go out to eat once or twice a week. Head to our local bar for a beer on a Friday night or for Monday pizza special. We live near the grocery store and run over there any time we need something.
I take my dogs for a long walk daily and go the yoga studio at least once a week. Our daughter is a college student with two jobs, so she’s in and out constantly, not to mention hanging out with friends. On weekends, I love some retail therapy, whether looking for clothes or running errands to keep the household moving.
And after a couple of emotionally rough years, I had just recommitted in 2020 to spending more time with people in person. (Ironic, isn’t it?) The week before the now-infamous staycation, I’d had my busiest week in ages: dinner with a friend, reconnecting with a work networking group, coffee with a few folks, a volunteer driving gig, a massage, and a biweekly walk with a group of newer friends.
Then it all came to a halt. Sound familiar?
The day I got sick was a Sunday. I sort of shrugged off the sore throat and fever — I didn’t mind a day on the couch. I could use a rest after my busy week.
For me, the first week I hardly noticed being stuck in the house because I was sick. I know it’s weirder when you’re feeling well, as so many of you are. I worked from bed and texted colleagues as needed. A couple phone calls with these understanding co-workers kept me pretty cheerful.
I went out a few times — two doctor visits (at that point they weren’t even suspecting anyone had coronavirus from community transmission) and a trip or two to the pharmacy — but canceled a scheduled walk with friends and an all-day class. Little did I know that this was going to be life for the next X weeks.
Week 2: The hardest
The second week, I was really sick. Felt like I was losing my mind.
And I was stir-crazy, feeling so stuck at home. This is where a lot of Americans are now. This will pass.
On Wednesday of that week, I went to the grocery store. (Should I have gone? No. But I was panicking about the need to stock up (all I had time/energy to do was worry through the night and read online news), and three doctors had scoffed at the idea that I might have coronavirus and assured me I did not have it.)
So I put a cough drop in my mouth (so I would not cough at the store and spread droplets), sanitized my hands and cart, and shopped during a lull in the afternoon.
On Friday and Saturday, my husband was gone all day at a seminar, and by Saturday evening my anxiety was getting the better of me. When he came home, I felt better. We had dinner together and I drank a beer (the first in two weeks) — the combination soothed my nerves. If I had no partner, what I should have done is get on the phone with some loved ones or friends to talk through my anxiety.
Minimize online time (Facebook, Twitter, news) to avoid overwhelming yourself with anxiety-provoking information that you can’t do anything about anyway.
Week 3: On an upswing
The third week was a lot better, mentally. I still wasn’t 100% healthy, but I was over the hump. I canceled everything social or in person, but I was back to work.
I started to find my rhythm. I texted friends and family to see how they were doing. People were still checking in with me. I began getting hold of what I wanted to read and share on social media, and when to pull back and cut off my access to resist panic. I strongly recommend minimizing online time (Facebook, Twitter, news) to avoid overwhelming yourself with anxiety-provoking information that you can’t do anything about anyway.
I was able to get back out for my daily walks most days — and I can attest to the therapeutic power of movement, fresh air, and sunshine!
Week 4: New normal
During what was my fourth week of isolation — week 1 for most of you — things began to fall into a rhythm. My work meetings began increasingly turning to Zoom calls and conference calls. I spent some time helping to train members of my writing center on how to use Zoom, too.
My daughter had a birthday this week. On one of our rare grocery store trips, we picked up some steaks for a celebratory dinner.
On her birthday, we cooked a simple dinner — steak, glazed carrots, and creamed spinach (actually spinach au jus, with broth, not cream — from Julia Child), with a glass of wine, followed by the birthday cake my daughter baked herself (at her request, not because I’m a lazy mother, although I might be). I’d ordered her gift via Mercari a few weeks back. When it arrived, I washed the packaging with soap and then let it sit for a week at home.
The evening was quiet, peaceful, maybe even elegant, and definitely festive. I appreciated every delicious bite and appreciated our togetherness and well-being.
By Friday, my yoga studio was starting online classes, and I attended a restorative class in my home office. It was really nice to see my dear yoga teacher and some of my yoga classmates on the screen — even if our shared “Om” at the end sounded kind of wonky.
Side note: When we arrive home from the store, we take everything out of our bags, wash it with a soapy rag, dry with a clean rag, and then sanitize the counters where we set the bags. We still use canvas bags instead of plastic. We could wash the bags right away, but coronavirus doesn’t live that long on surfaces, especially porous ones. By the time we’ll use them next, they’ll have sat for days. Check out this guy’s video for a detailed procedure.
Week 5: Getting into the groove
Now I’m in week 5 and getting into the groove. Some things about the “new normal” are actually kind of wonderful.
On Saturday, before our city’s stay-at-home order was given, I went out very briefly to a craft store to pick up the project for the class I missed last month (which was scheduled to have its second session on April 5, now to be put online or rescheduled). The store was using excellent social distancing techniques. I sanitized my hands before and after shopping and washed all my purchases with soapy water when I got home.
On the way back, I saw that a church I’ve been curious about was putting its services online. Sunday morning, I tuned in to their service via Zoom. It was pretty awesome to check out a new church near-anonymously (I didn’t turn on my video but they could see my name and virtual presence), from the couch, in my PJs, with my dogs, a cup of coffee, and the needlework I like to do to keep my hands busy and my mind focused while I listen. A couple things keep me from going to church in person — new groups are scary, some past church trauma freaks me out, and I hate getting up and dressed on a Sunday morning. Maybe online services will finally change that!
During the rest of Sunday we did some household chores, and I cooked a nice dinner from our pantry — salmon croquettes using a can of salmon I’ve had for ages (not expired though! check those dates!), with a side of Israeli couscous left over from some past cooking experiment and some broccoli livened up with Tajín (which makes anything delicious). I started some brioche hamburger buns for a Monday burger night. In the evening, my husband and I watched a few episodes of “Schitt’s Creek,” which we’ve started during this isolation time.
Over the weekend, I also installed a bidet attachment on our toilet. That provided its own entertainment as I sprayed the door and my jeans leg while testing it; my husband and daughter both exclaimed loudly when they first tried it. Hilarious! And more apropos to the situation — toilet-paper conserving.
Monday night, we had our burgers and some frozen fries. I had a busy workday that started with an online yoga class — how wonderful it is to be able to regain strength from the safety and convenience of my home, with my own regular yoga teacher!
My husband was on and off Zoom calls all day with his students and colleagues, and our daughter did chemistry homework for hours. In the evening, she played some music and then continued her homework while I organized craft supplies and queued up a few new projects. In the background, my husband cleaned up the kitchen, listened to music, and chuckled at some jokes on Facebook. It was peaceful and felt more like “the old days” — say the 1990s, when we didn’t have the internet and yet still managed to find ways to fill our time. Later, another nostalgic sound filled the house — our daughter has dusted off the Nintendo Wii and dived into a Mario game she never got into years ago.
For the rest of the week, I have meetings and loads of writing lined up. I have plans to do some closet reorganizing. My husband is starting a garden and building a chicken coop (chicks arrive in a week or so). Spring is coming, and yard work needs to be done.
My walking group is cheering each other on from afar, and my writing group continues to chat online, although sadly we’ve had to cancel in-person meetups.
My daily walks continue, although it’s more challenging to keep a good distance because all my neighbors are roaming the streets too.
In other words, every day feels busy, even though we aren’t doing much. Best of all, it feels like a healthy busy. A human-scale busy.
Gratitude for good fortune
I’m trying to remember to be thankful. I hope you can too.
Most of all, do what you can. Take it easy on yourself. Know that most everyone understands. (Those who don’t — well, they’re jerks, and as I advised my kid when she was about 9 years old: Some people are just jerks!) And try to remember to be grateful.
Be thankful for having work, if you do. Whether you’re working right now or not, acknowledge and appreciate the technology that enables us to connect through virtual playdates and virtual meetings, for classes that can go on despite distance. For people and teams that, in many cases, are more understanding and empathetic than ever about the families and home life that tug at our priorities.
And that somehow, eventually, we’ll get through this.