Opinions and politics aside, nothing is normal about living through this pandemic. What used to be a typical day at the office has been replaced by an atypical day at home. I have been able to continue working without a layoff or hours reduction, and I know I am lucky because of that. However, this mix of work life and home life has created a bizare state of mind, that seems to have now become the new normal.
I have always liked to keep a clean break between work and home. When I’m working I’m working, and when I’m not I’m really not. When I left the office at the end of my work day, I didn’t concern myself with work again until the next morning. I didn’t go back and check my email, I didn’t check Slack, and I even have the notifications on my phone turned off so I don’t even know if there is anything to check. Work stayed in the office, and home stayed at home. That was the case even before I had kids, and it really became something I wanted to maintain after having them. I work for a digital marketing agency, so I can do my job anywhere with wifi, but I would always go to the office because that was where work belonged. I am fortuante to work for a company who holds a healthy work/life balance as a core value, so having the time to spend with my family was always available. And it definitly still is, but now that my home is my office the lines have become oddly blurry.
A regular work scheudle ended for me on March 13th. For the last five months my office has been my basement and my desk is our old kitchen table. At the start of this it was different. There was almost a sense of adventure about it – there was a challenge to be faced and we were going to hunker down, stay safe, and make the best of it along the way. My wife even made me a care package of snacks and drinks to keep next to my “desk.” Sacrifice and trail mix, those were the keys to success.
My wife was laid off, so she was able to watch the kids upstairs while I worked in the basement. I’d come up for lunch and to help get the kids down for naps, and she would try her best to keep up with the lessons that our daughter’s pre-school sent home. There was something quaint about it, almost Rockwellian. I mean, if Normal Rockwell painted the cover art for an apocolyptic graphic novel. But Rockwellian none the less. Remember those Disney family sing along shows? We were all in this together, and a spoonful of sugar was helping the crushing anxiety go down. Ah, simplier times.
When things opened back up, my wife went back to work, my kids went back to daycare, and I stayed home. I sit at my desk alone in my basement and interact with people through a keyboard and webcam. The work itself is the same as it has been – there are emails to send, tasks to complete, and meetings to have. But doing the work comes with a new challange, and I’m not talking about needing to remember to unmute yourself on Zoom. Now the work must be done from an irregular mental state. I have all the responsibilties of work combined with the daily routine of unemployment. Wake up, get dressed in something comfortable, sit at a computer for long stretches, long for a more normal situation, which you could have someplace to go, wait for my wife to get home from work. The parallells of what I’m doing now and what I was doing in the past when I was between jobs are really uncanny, and there are times it feels exaclty the same as being unemployed. The normal stress of work, combined with the uncertainty of the times, topped off with the ennui of the unemployed lifestyle – what kind of a mindf*ck is that?
And what does that do to the mind’s ability to actually focus on work? Nevermind the obvious distractions that come with working from home – mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, replacing that light bulp that you keep forgetting about until you go to turn it on but you keep putting it off because there are still two other lights in that room and its probably bright enough anyway. Now there are the added distractions of the pandemic, and the looming questions of what to do when schools open back up. If I am staying home, why am I sending my kids to daycare or school? Oh yeah, because I’m still working.
But as I said before, I’m lucky. I know that. Throughout all this, I haven’t lost a paycheck and I haven’t gotten sick. I have never been put in a position to choose between my income and my health. Generations before ours were forced to leave their families to fight in actual wars, and I don’t like it that I put my kids in daycare so I can stay in pajamas and sit at a computer all day. Though it may be the firstest of first world problems, it is a problem. At least it is for somebody who liked a clean line between work and home, and work has now become a houseguest who has overstayed their welcome and I can’t ask them to leave.