The first three days of the pandemic, I lay on my bed doing absolutely nothing. After an initial period of wallowing, I decided I needed structure. I was going to create a rigid schedule for myself, and I would follow it to a T. That was all I needed—routine!

calendar notebook

pxfuel

"Monotony! That's what I'm missing!"

I pulled out a notebook to plan this schedule. Item number 1: Write. This is my job, and I’ve always done it from home, so that seems fine. Hmmm … It should kill a few hours … or maybe one … let’s just say I write from 8 am to 10 am. That will give me an hour and 45 minutes to check Twitter and 15 minutes to type and delete two paragraphs of text. At 10, I can take a two-hour walk. That’s a great way to kill off two hours. Plus, I can work on my tan. It’s now in the shape of a mask, but that’s just proof that I’m a conscientious person. 

And at noon, I take a shower. For one hour. Not that I run the water for that long—I’m an environmentalist, after all—but I dry off really slowly. And then, it’s 1 pm: time to think about brushing my teeth. That should get me through till 3, at which point, it’s time to actually brush my teeth and nap before waking up for my 6 pm Zoom. And so on and so forth. 

Woman sleeping

Petr Kratochvil 

Post-Zoom is when the day really gets started, if you know what I mean.

I’m sure you see the trend. Once I had to fill my schedule with only stay-at-home activities, I got inventive. I became more mindful, which is to say, I sometimes started leaving my phone on the other side of the room while I watched TV. I used to jump out of bed at the sound of my alarm, chug coffee, and leap into my day. Now, I didn’t even set an alarm and I only chugged coffee sometimes. I could settle into each activity slowly, not concerned whatsoever with conserving every minute. Though the lockdown was anything but relaxing, I learned to stop rushing. I took deliberate breaks between activities. And that was nice.

I also developed new hobbies. Listening to audiobooks on long walks, meditation, fermenting, drawing, throwing away the food I fermented because I’m actually really bad at fermenting (mold is actually inedible, I learned). My therapist suggested I take up knitting to occupy my anxious hands. I did great work, nearly making a scarf for my anticipated niece/nephew (I gave up on the project when my sister announced it was twins—I’m not going to make two scarves, that’s just nuts). I painted, drew cartoons, and finally learned how to clean a Swiffer. I found much to occupy me in my studio apartment, and while many of the activities were stopgaps to keep me sane, some were downright enjoyable. I wasn’t happy, but I’d made peace with my new normal.

Swiffer

Mike Mozart

Life isn't so bad. Swiffer can clean spilled mold.

Quarantine didn’t end suddenly, and, in fact, it hasn’t ended entirely. But lockdown orders have been lifted in many places in the US (although please continue to wear a mask indoors and isolate if exposed). After I was vaccinated, I started to dip my toes back into my old life. My schedule began to fill up with some of my old activities. I remember the first post-vax indoor dinner party. It was scary and awkward but also liberating and joyful. I began performing stand-up comedy at outdoor shows. I visited a friend for the weekend. I got my hair cut. I decided I didn’t like the haircut and adjusted it myself, which was a mistake. And my schedule began to look like what it once was.

Post-lockdown started to feel like mixing two groups of friends—my old life and my new. Who would talk more? Who would box the other out? I didn’t want to abandon my lockdown life. I found satisfaction in keeping my home clean, creating amateur art, and slowly preparing new foods. Also, I was midway through Game of Thrones when I got the first shot of the vaccine—bad timing, but at least I wasn’t tempted to stop isolating before the second jab. 

Game of Thrones Arya stabbed

HBO

The show also proved that jabs are ultimately harmless. 

Even if I had wanted to abandon my stay-at-home habits, I might not have been able to. Yuval Noah Harari writes in Sapiens that the history of humankind is that of luxuries becoming necessities and then becoming burdens. I fear the same is true on an individual level. Lockdown answered the question: Can I watch three hours of television a night? Post-lockdown asks the question: Can I fall asleep without it? 

The beginning of lockdown was filled with activities I never had the free time for before. My life now is filled with activities I never wanted to fit into my schedule before. “Self-care” has become nothing more than an irreversible scheduling hassle.

Annoyed Girl Brushing Teeth

Poppy Thomas-Hill

Wait, so now I have to brush my SOUL three hours every day?

I don’t have the same energy reserves. My non-nap days (or as I once called them “days”) are quite a bit more tiring than they used to be. I’m an introvert, so socializing always wore me down. But now—as grateful as I am for it—it’s tuckered me out completely. People I once used to see weekly are now on a more monthly rotation. 

No one stays out past midnight (although most of my friends turned 30 in lockdown, so that would have happened anyway). We have all gotten used to our homes. My calendar used to be filled with five activities per day. Now, if I see more than one or two outside my home, I’m instantly anxious. 

Sun through the window

Justin/Flickr

Even inside, in direct sunlight, is a little scary. 

I tried to fight this feeling in the months after I got vaccinated. But now, I wonder if I should be fighting it at all. Maybe instead of feeling busy all the time, I should simply accept that I’m not cut out to do as much as I once did. And maybe that’s fine. Maybe there’s no reason to give up painting—perhaps it wasn’t a stopgap measure to get me through the pandemic after all. Perhaps it was the start of a new chapter, a chapter in which I take time to myself inside my home.

Ironically, it was the idleness of last year that makes me feel too busy now. I’m forced to accept that we shifted from the old normal to the new normal, but we don’t get to go back to the original. We must keep moving forward, creating a new new normal. And if that means fewer plans outside my house than before, I’m okay with that.

Top image: pxhere

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