I had big plans six weeks ago when we were ordered to shelter in place. I’d just started a weight loss regiment, and figured I’d lose at least five pounds in the supposed “two” weeks we’d be gone. I made goals for the novel I was editing. I’d probably have it finished by the time the two weeks were up and then let it rest for a moment while I worked on the next one. My closets would be cleaned out and my dresser cleared off. I’d Marie Kondo the shit out of my drawers until they were neat little rows of perfectly lined up t-shirts and pants, all of them sparking massive loads of joy.
Two weeks passed, and I didn’t accomplish any of that. Instead, I managed to gain back three of the pounds I lost, and my walking app measured my steps in the mere hundreds. There was one day when I walked a whole forty-two steps. My novel remained untouched and I started questioning why I wrote the damn thing in the first place. The free time I thought I’d have? It was there, but it was disguised as mindless internet scrolling and social media perusing, all in an effort to find something to bring me out of my boredom. My room remained messy, my closet and drawers no longer closing all the way.
At the two weeks mark, we received the news that this would last throughout all of April. Two weeks earlier, I would have been elated by this news. But two weeks into sheltering in place, I was like a can of Pillsbury biscuits, a little pudgy and ready to explode if anyone poked at my seams. I missed my friends, and I’m not even a social person. I missed skipping dinner in favor of a sit down meal in a restaurant. I missed unplanned trips to the grocery store, when you could just pop in and pop out for something as trivial as a bottle of wine.
I spent the next few weeks mourning my losses. Making it worse was knowing that I didn’t really have it that bad. I had a job and could work from home. Our household was not going to suffer financially from this pandemic. We had plenty of food. We had a roof over our heads. I could sit in comfort just waiting this out, unlike the doctors and nurses working the front lines in areas that were struck hard by this virus. Why was I complaining when I had it easy? I should have been living an introvert’s idea of paradise. Instead, I was acting like I’d been sentenced to solitary confinement.
Knowing I had another month of this, there was only one thing to do – numb the pain. I gave up my food goals and ate what I wanted. I ordered hundreds of dollars in clothes no one would see me in since we weren’t allowed to leave the house, putting it all on credit. I became my own personal bartender and also made use of some edibles I’d bought for fun back when sheltering in place seemed like a summer camp experience, aided by plethora virtual Happy Hours. I counted the hours to the day, and then the minutes, and then the seconds, waiting for the weekend when I could just ignore my home office altogether and stay in bed instead.
Eventually I reached a point where I knew things needed to change. Even though I hated being cooped up in my house with nothing to do and nowhere to go, I knew there would come a day when all of this was over and I’d be back in the grind, wishing I had the time to enjoy the home I was working for. I looked at myself in the mirror and the person looking back at me was not who I wanted to be. She looked tired and defeated, dark circles under her eyes and hair in all directions. I peered around my room, noticing the piles that had grown larger on the ground, and a mountain of clutter threatening avalanche.
It wasn’t an overnight change, but change did happen. I began showering first thing in the morning and dressing like I was going to the office. I tackled all my hard work in the first half of the day while I was fresh, and gave myself permission to go easy in the afternoon. I opened my novel and remembered the parts I loved about it. I stepped outside and soaked up the sunshine, still within earshot of my office phone, my email accessible on my iPhone, but my agenda filled with enjoying a good book in the warmth of the rays. I started taking vitamins and resurrected my healthy eating goals. My mood increased and so did my energy, and I used it to completely tackle my yard through mowing and weeding, and then moved on to my bedroom. The piles disappeared, as did the weight on my shoulders, and a few pounds I’d regained around my midsection.
This past weekend, I came to the conclusion that if we were forced to stay inside for a few more months, I’d welcome it. My skin went from pale to sunburned to a glowing tan. I’d changed up my routine so that I was running in the morning before anything else, getting it out of the way and also setting the tone for the day. I realized the gift of time I had with my family, and the extra moments I had between the end of the work day and retiring for the night. I felt full of light, grateful for life, lucky that my job was flexible enough that I could do everything from home.
Monday, I got a call from my boss. He wanted to start the process of a “soft re-opening,” starting with the office staff returning to the office. I felt the light leave my spirit, his words stripping me of the newfound freedom I’d discovered in all of this. Most of all, I was faced with all the things I’d planned at the beginning of this pandemic – things I was nowhere close to accomplishing. At the end of sheltering in place, I thought for sure I’d be a thinner version of me with a finished novel in my hands. Instead, I was days into realizing what a gift I had, and now it was being taken away.
It took twenty-four hours to come to terms with the reality that my biggest problem is that I just don’t do well with change. Going back to the office is a change, but it doesn’t mean an end to my personal goals. I still have time to do all the things I want to do, it’s just not on my pandemic timetable. What I’d really like to focus on is what I’ve gained in this process – an appreciation for going slow. Once I accepted my role to stay home, I learned to treasure the moments of just being still and taking in the things around me. I planted a garden, and there were times when I’d just sit and stare at the tiny leaves poking their heads out of the dirt, marveling at this miracle of life. I took my time when I’d prepare my meals, and then sit and enjoy the taste and feel of each bite with nothing else to distract me. In the mornings, I wake and stretch with a smile as dozens of birds outside my window serenade me as the sun crests the ridge. Today I rescued a dove from my cat’s jaws and I noted its quivering fear as I made soothing noises, all while relishing the fact that this delicate creature understood safety in my hands.
Next week I’ll be back in the office. Gone will be my thirty-step morning commute, my afternoons soaking up the sun, and the weekday leisure of watching my garden grow. But gained is my appreciation for opening my eyes and noticing the things around me, and savoring the brevity of time. My novel is still there, ready for me to open whenever there’s space in my schedule. The sunshine is there on my lunch breaks and throughout the weekend. My home is here to enjoy at any hour of the day. There’s no race to accomplish my healthy goals, though consistency is key in reaching the finish line.
And life is still precious, here to enjoy a moment at a time.