Let’s get this clear up front: I’m in the boredom-loneliness-depressive-episodes camp of #pandemiclife risk. I work part-time, and I don’t have kids. If you’re overwhelmed, don’t you dare use this article to shame yourself. You’re here another day. You’re doing great.
In March of this year the virus came for everyone. It was undeniable, although plenty of people denied it. Most of us masked up and stayed home. (Some shouted about it, unmasked, with guns. ‘Merica.)
We adjusted. We baked sourdough, we sewed masks, we moved our social gatherings online. We thought it would be temporary.
In June cities started opening up again. The experts told us that was a bad idea, and it was. Now we’re shutting back down again. And it’s becoming clear to most of us—based on science as well as watching our fellow Americans—that this virus isn’t going to disappear from our society any time soon. We are in #pandemiclife until there is a vaccine.
So here we are. It’s the summer of COVID-19, and it’s about to become the fall, the winter, and years to come. We aren’t going back to normal.
How do we adapt?
It’s the summer of COVID-19, and it’s about to become the fall, the winter, and years to come. We aren’t going back to normal. How do we adapt?
The answer depends on what COVID has taken from us. If we can’t breathe, or if our loved ones can’t breathe, there is no cute solution. (Black lives matter, by the way. More on that later.) If you’re struggling to stay afloat right now, my heart goes out to you. If you’re one of the millions trying to work from home with small children and you feel like you’re dying, or if you’ve lost loved ones: I’m sorry. It’s awful. It shouldn’t be like this. Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you to look on the bright side. In fact, I think you should be allowed to smack them.
But for those of us whose primary challenges are boredom or loneliness, here are some ideas on how to adjust to long-term pandemic life.
Change Your Expectations
My friend Dorothy used to say, “The pain is in the resistance.” What she meant is that as long as we keep pretending that reality will be different any minute now, or that if we just try hard enough we can make it different, we cannot accept reality. And acceptance is the way to peace.
No, this doesn’t mean you have to like the pandemic. You don’t have to think it’s acceptable that we have no coherent and loving national response. But it does mean you have to really sit with the fact that this is where we are.
We cannot hug each other.
We cannot travel freely to see each other.
We cannot teach the way we used to teach, or meet the way we used to meet.
That’s just the way it is.
So start where you are. If you haven’t accepted that this is life now, then take the time to do it. Allow yourself to sit quietly and feel what that feels like in your body. Anger may come up. Grief will probably come after. These may all come in waves, they may be mixed with other things, and they may ebb and flow for a while. That’s okay. Peace is waiting on the other side … eventually.
Start where you are. If you haven’t accepted that this is life now, then take the time to do it. Allow yourself to sit quietly and feel what that feels like in your body.
Turn to Values-Based Work
When I lost most of my job in June, I had more free time than I was comfortable with. (Also less money, but that’s another story.) Many of us are reckoning with feeling less productive than we ever have before. But productivity is a lie. What really matters to you? Is it service? Joy? Usefulness to others? Leaving a legacy?
If there’s anything you’ve been wishing you could get more involved in, now’s the time. For me it’s social justice and spiritual work. For you it could be other things. No matter what it is, this is a good time to get connected to it.
A few options:
- Relationship building
As the great quotation says, find what makes you come alive and do that.
Rethink How You Connect: Community
I can only speak for myself here, but I grew up comfortable. I didn’t learn until I was an adult that most people in the world rely on their neighbors. Not just say hi to their neighbors, or know some of their neighbors’ names—rely on their neighbors, and are relied on in turn. Share food. Watch each other’s kids. This kind of community-building was foreign to me until recently.
If you grew up like me, let’s learn it now. Not just because we’ll need community—although let’s be real, we are kind of trending toward the apocalyptic—but because community is good for us. Humans are meant to connect. We survive as a species because we talk to each other and build systems and share.
So go knock on a neighbor’s door, then wipe it with disinfectant and step way back. When they open up, tell them your name. Offer them some baked goods (if you washed your hands a million times). Find out if they need pet food or paper towels or canned tomatoes. Let them know what you can help with. Are you a mechanic? You can make a repair they can’t afford. A teacher? You can organize a cohort-model community homeschool setup. A walker of dogs? You can take one burden off your asthmatic neighbor’s plate.
Are you a mechanic? You can make a repair they can’t afford. A teacher? You can organize a community homeschool. A walker of dogs? You can take one burden off your asthmatic neighbor’s plate.
We will need each other in the days to come. But you might also find that having a real community enriches your life now.
Rethink How You Connect: Family and Friends
If you’re reading this article, you probably have internet access. Use it.
Yes, we’re tired of Zoom (and all the other methods). We have screen fatigue. We want to sit beside each other and lean on each other and see body language beyond the face. But here we are. Being together in person all the time is a relatively new privilege anyway. We need to get along without it for a while.
So let’s notice what’s good about that. I live across the country from my natal family. I only see them a few times a year. When this whole thing started and we were very sad and scared, we started a weekly family video call. It’s still going. I see my parents more now than I did before COVID. When another friend moved out of state we stopped meeting up weekly, until we realized we were seeing everyone else online anyway. Now we meet all the time.
Are there any relationships you could rethink now that you’ve accepted you won’t be meeting in person? Be creative. How about writing some letters? You could get yourself some stationery, create a little writing nook, find an old-fashioned pen pal. You might feel like Emily Dickinson.
Invest in Long-Term Projects
If you’re going to be home for a long time, you might as well start improving the space. Have you already cleaned it all out and reorganized your shelves? No? Start now. Actually, first watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and then start.
You’ve already cleaned everything, you say? Great! Now start thinking about long-term projects. What have you been meaning to do for ages? What have you always wished was different about your space? Make a list. If you had an unlimited budget, what would you change?
Now is there anything on your list that, while you can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, you might be able to learn to do yourself? You have time. Think about using that time to learn new skills, then using those skills to make the space around you feel better.
At my house we put in some raised beds in March. Since then we’ve cleared several patches of lawn and planted food in them instead. I wake up and head outside with my coffee now to patrol for caterpillars and water the tomatoes before it gets too hot. If ever I get bored—and it happens—there’s always weeding to do. There’s often harvesting too, and then there’s what to do with all these green beans.
Is there anything on your list that you might be able to learn to do yourself? You have time. Use that time to learn new skills, then use those skills to make the space around you feel better.
And what’s really magic is that when I go outside and get my hands in the soil for a while, I feel better. There’s a meditative rhythm to gardening. It keeps me moving and breathing. Gardening also changes my perspective. No matter how bad yesterday was, the sun comes up.
Accept Where You Are
The pain is in the resistance. If you aren’t in a place of acceptance yet—if you’re still angry or afraid—accept that too. This is really, really hard. This is a once-in-several-lifetimes, society-shifting event. Nothing will ever be the same again. Give yourself and the people around you some grace.
And when you can, get in the garden.