“Let me know whenever you are available for a video call,” I texted her, and within a couple of minutes she called me.
My friend was making breakfast in her New York kitchen while I was in my recliner eating my afternoon snack.
After having exchanged news links and recent studies on this “surprise pandemic” that caught everyone off guard, we finally got the chance to have a “face-to-face” assessment of the situation. As a result, adults had to adjust their lives to working from home and school kids and university students to e-learning programs and apps, while working parents had to deal with both. Not an easy adjustment for anyone.
We discussed the implications of this pandemic on the planet. People’s lives have been disrupted as we find ourselves stuck at home. I told her about all the complaining I heard from almost every person I talked to: this really nice guy who had just moved to the country, and who couldn’t go anywhere now that hotel bars and restaurants have closed; these friends who weren’t really happy with home quarantine, although they could still technically go for a walk in their quiet and nice neighborhood every time their boredom kicked in; these neighbors who wanted everyone in the building to know that they were helping their kids with their homework. Many (or even most) of my married colleagues and friends have been expressing their frustrations over being stuck at home all day with their kids and having to help them embark on the unknown journey of e-learning, and all the while doing their own work remotely.
When my doctor friend asked me a few days ago how I am managing in this difficult time, I jokingly said that I have been rehearsing for home quarantine and isolation for the past few years and maybe even the past decade. I have moved to this city 11 years ago and have been living alone for nine.
I told her that staying at home in the time of Coronavirus was not easy, even for people who lived alone, like myself, and I admitted that I, too, had complained about working from home, seeing no one, meeting no one, and being stuck at home all day. I also confessed that I—the strong, independent, grown woman who did not really mind living alone and had visited a dozen of countries alone—must have had a panic attack the night before, most probably due to “cabin fever and missing [family and loved ones back home],” according to my doctor friend’s sarcastic yet accurate diagnosis.
As our conversation went on, I unknowingly found myself proudly telling her the perks of working from home:
1. Zero commuting. This is something that has actually been bothering me for some time, leaving me no choice but to look for a place closer to work.
2. Cooking. Making my own food after a year of daily meal boxes is something I missed dearly. I get to eat fresh meals made by yours truly and as many snacks as my forever-hungry belly desires.
3. Cleaning and tidying up. Who among us hasn’t procrastinated house chores under the pretext that we don’t have time? I finally got the time to organize—and color code—my winter/summer clothes and my kitchen cupboards, and I can safely say my OCD is living its best life.
4. Exercising. This was the biggest surprise. At the beginning, I went for walks at my favorite park, and after they closed all parks and public beaches, I have somehow managed to commit to not-less-than-30-minute workout sessions over video with my brother, and occasionally my sister, from my living room—which has most recently become my office, my gym, my favorite park, and my only yet happy space for social media outings and virtual gatherings.
5. Socializing. To be completely honest, the first few days were tough(er). I thought I would die if I worked from home. I need people in my life, I need to socialize; it’s the only way I recharge. Even during my busiest days, I had always found the time to meet up with my friends.
For extroverts who live alone like myself, working from home under lockdown is torture. But to my surprise, working from home made me socialize more: video calls with my mother for morning coffee before I start my shift and for culinary assistance; video calls with my friend of two kids and whose schedule didn’t really match mine, because she was available when I was at the office and I was available when she was busy with her kids; video calls with my friends who live in different time zones than mine, such as the United States and Australia. With no more unnecessary office interruptions, working from home has never been more productive.
As I confessed to my friend, it’s usually at night that it gets harder. But every time I catch myself frustrated and complaining, I remind myself of all the people who don’t have the same luxuries that I, in double isolation, am enjoying.
At least I have a decent place where there is enough space to work and exercise, at least I have a job that can be done remotely, at least I have my own laptop and internet connection. At least I have the money to stock up on groceries for weeks to come.
I keep thinking of those who have been trapped in the same place their entire life, the paralyzed who can’t leave their wheelchairs, the homeless and refugees who don’t have a roof to keep them safe, the less fortunate families who don’t have the means to buy a laptop for every child, as my family’s situation was when my father, the only provider, had to feed his five kids when we were all in private schools.
I keep thinking of all those who don’t have the option to stay at home for the mere fact that they can’t afford to or that their daily income from whatever work they do is the only means to keep the household afloat.
I keep thinking of all the doctors and nurses, including my sister and friend, who, even if they want to stay home and protect themselves like the rest of us, they don’t have this luxury. Instead, they show up to serve at the front lines, risking their lives away from their dear ones.
I keep thinking of those who don’t have access to information to learn about basic preventive measures.
How fortunate are we? How fortunate am I?
People who are all the time nagging and complaining about being stuck at home with their kids have nagged and complained before about not having enough time to spend with their families. Those who are complaining about living alone and now having to work from home in total isolation—including myself for a few days before I found myself—are the same people who needed more time to breathe, slow down a little bit, and relax.
If anything, we should be grateful to this pandemic for all the time it gave us to focus on what really matters and to go back to the essentials.