With vaccine rollouts becoming more accessible in countries across the globe, comes the much-awaited glimpse of hope all of us were looking for at the beginning of this calamity - the pandemic coming to an end. But is this still how we really feel a year later?
The consensus (albeit quietly) seems to be that no, in fact we don’t want the pandemic to end. Or rather, the structural changes that we were forced to adapt to when we first went in lockdown March 2020. Some of these “pandemic side effects” were first met with dread and fear of the future, but now we have come to embrace - and even cherish - them as the 12th month of this nightmare rolled in. At least, admittedly, I did.
And it doesn’t seem I’m the only one.
A New York Magazine reader posed the concern to the publication’s Ask Polly section: “I don’t want isolation to end!” Most of the 500-odd Instagram comments under the post resonated with the exasperated reader, who is scared of going back “to the real world.” One point that begs clarification is that those of us who do feel a certain anxiety of leaving our homes (and survival-turned-comfort hobbies) aren’t sadomasochistic monsters who want to see people continue dying from a tragic virus, or revel in people’s suffering as a ripple effect from the economic repercussions of such a pandemic. It’s about saying goodbye to a life we didn’t realize we desperately needed in a capitalistic world that values labor over mental health.
When Belize first went into lockdown in March (like most destinations), the inevitable and expected panic ensued. I began working from home, my partner’s business was already based out of our home, so now we were both stuck indoors with high functioning anxiety about our health and financial well-being (on top of normal everyday high functioning anxiety.) However, the most unexpected (or perhaps not) dynamic blossomed within our one-bedroom one-cat apartment: our relationship thrived.
Amidst the memes and jokes online about how couples would emerge divorced from a pandemic due to the excessive time spent together, my partner and I became closer than ever. Whether this is attributed to both of our clingy attachment styles, I do not know. But it proved to work during a time where we had almost no one but each other (until a scruffy almost feral kitty graced us with her existence in June.) Our routines melded seamlessly into one another’s. Before the stay-at-home orders, I used to wake at 5 am, leave at 6 am to commute for two hours on bus, then commute again in the evenings, allowing me to reach home about 7:30 pm. This led to us having marginally little time to spend with each other since I had to go to bed early in order to do it all over again the next day. I had been doing this for three years.
Obviously this routine was exhausting, for both of us as I would unavoidably have to wake my partner at 5 am when I got ready for work and he insisted to drop me off at the bus station. On weekends, all I did was sleep and clean to get ready for the next week.
Simply put, quarantine was heaven for us whose love languages were quality time and physical touch. Once I got offline at 5 pm, all I had to do was walk into the next room and tell him about what I did that day, and the same for him. Our usually short evenings seemed magnanimous now and we tried to fill it up as much as we could, we savored the time spent together. After all, who knows how soon I’ll have to go back to work, right? Mr. Elon himself predicted it’d be over by April, right?
We binged the entirety of Harry Potter movies, the Star Wars franchise, the Twilight Saga, completed puzzles, built figurines and played Minecraft. I couldn’t remember spending this much time with him since probably high school.
We learned new things about each other, like what our “meeting” voices sound like, which emails caused us to huff in exasperation, and - the best of all - we were able to have lunch together. It became a sacred act to which we bonded further. Every day we looked forward to lunch. When I went back to work for the first time (it took our company a few tries to finally go back fully) a deep sadness seeped over our days, now devoid of each other’s presence. The absence was a boulder, weighing heavily on my chest as I now ate lunch alone at my desk. The long commutes resumed, the stuffy work uniform constricting as ever, and the everyday walking-to-work harassment from men continued. Bottom line, I guiltily longed for quarantine.
One night before I was due back at work full time, my partner remorsefully blurted a dark thought that probably many of us shared: “I want quarantine to last forever.”
Why do we feel so strongly about such a terrible thing? We should be ashamed to even voice that thought, shouldn’t we?
The thing is, for those of us fortunate enough to have stayed employed, a new opportunity to have a happier, more convenient life was showed to us. And that was capitalism’s biggest mistake. Proof we didn’t always have to come into the office, or work from an office space to be productive. Of course, I am speaking from a place of privilege as I am aware many did not have the chance to quarantine with a loved one (or any one). Articles about the declining mental stability of many after being isolated for months was on the rise. (And it goes without saying kudos to those badass parents that had to be both parent and teacher to young children for a year indoors.)
At the risk of sounding tone-deaf, why do many now feel the exact opposite? Is it only if you’re an introvert? If you prefer your personal space?
Well, for many old hobbies were rehashed, new ones picked up, fashion senses revamped, and most of all, a forced reckoning with your own company. Arguably we can say a combination of all these things could have led to a growth or a newfound comfort in a pandemic world. We now had time. Lots of time. Time to do things we always wanted to do, time to finally clean that storage room, time to hone a skill you were only mildly interested in.
When news of vaccines becoming more easily available released, a sort of collective unexpected panic swept across all of us: we’re running out of time. To do what, exactly? Well, everything. That’s what the pandemic (i.e. quarantine) had gifted to us.
Throughout our working lives we are running what they call this “rat race” in fear of failing or not making enough to buy that house, build that family, follow that passion project. We became enamored with the glorious side effects of a horrible tragedy. Guilt mixed with relief, and eventually with dread, as our lives return “back to normal.” The phrase “the new normal” was drilled into us so much it seems we truly accepted it for what it was. A new way of living.
It is with immense gratitude that I am able to see my grandparents receive the vaccine here in Belize. I myself lost a dear family member to COVID-19, and am so thankful that I do not need to lay at night hyperventilating, wondering if my elderly loved ones would make it to next Christmas. I know the importance of such a health and technological breakthrough. However, we can’t ignore the brighter, less labor-driven lifestyle 2020 granted us. Our safety and (physical and mental) well-being was priority. Why can’t it always be that way?
Some companies have begun to adapt the remote work way of life, offering a sort of hybrid to employees. The travel industry will now focus more than ever on slow travel and sustainability, and brands are understanding the importance of employee happiness, all of these probably accelerated due to life in lockdown.
When I returned to the office full-time I shamefully grieved for life in limbo during those terrible, yet wonderful, months. I missed my partner, I missed drawing, and I missed getting my much-needed eight hours of sleep. Plus, I’m pretty sure I have completely forgotten how to appropriately interact with other human beings without seeming like a complete weirdo. Here’s to hoping another global reset isn’t needed for society to value human psyche over corporate labor. As one of the many comments under that NYMag post said, “I’m totally ready to go back…but at the same time, not ready at all.”
Thanks for reading! Which side are you on on this debate? Looking forward to re-entering society? Will you miss lockdown? Any thoughts to share? Comment below.
Wow! And here I was thinking that I was probably the black sheep for not wanting lick down to end. Great to know that I am not alone. Great article!