Post TWO: Life, Interrupted– Emotions in the 2nd and 3rd week of coronavirus

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This post is a continuation of the series I have written about the 40 known subjects I interviewed as part of an informal qualitative research study on Covid 19. If you didn’t read part 1 first, it is here. If you already read that one, keep reading…

 

Post 2: Inner Emotional Lives During Early Lockdown, and Feelings about Work

“Yesterday I had this moment of feeling mile three of a marathon, in the beginning there is adrenaline and people there to cheer for you, we are all in it together, and after two miles that wears off and you realize OH F*CK I have a long way to go— more like work, less exciting, and you are the only person who can get you to the finish line. No exits on the tunnel, we all gotta figure out how to get our emotions in check.”

“I also learning that I need sympathy and empathy outside of my partner, but as a Southerner, I am embarrassed to need support. I am dealing with those conflicting emotions. and I need to remind myself— this is not embarrassing, it is not my fault, I did not make a mistake, this is a situation that happens to some people— and you have to call on people for support.”

“And hugging is one that I have thought a bit about. I have had no physical contact with anybody, and I probably wont for months. I have a cat. Physical contact but in some ways, it is scary. How long before we will feel safe hugging people again? It is something I really want — having physical contact with somebody, definitely.”

“I will use a Jim Gaffigan joke here— it is like drowning, and then somebody hands you a baby. You are already taking on everything you can and then something new happens that requires a fresh burst of caring and empathy and nuance and patience and I feel like all the time, we are being layered on more and more, asking more of ourselves”

“I talked to her a week ago and she was FINE. And then, Monday afternoon, I got a call from my other former co-worker and she said, ‘I need to talk and cant text.’ I thought she was going to tell me SHE had it, but she said that our other friend passed away yesterday (from COVID). I thought she was joking. I was like, ‘This isnt f*cking funny.’ I could not wrap my head around it. Everyone was shocked. I have assumed someone I know would die. I never thought I would skate cleanly through this. But there was something terrifying, knowing someone with nothing else wrong with them and how quickly it progressed.”

“When I go for walks, I have two sensations— one is to be scared of people, and to wave to people. I dont normally wave to strangers, but I am now a believer that you should say ‘hello.’ I dont want to live in a world where we‘re scared of each other. That will take time to get over.”

I would say because I think a lot of people will do those things they put off, or they rationed away and said, that is for another day. Nothing is promised right now and people understand that. An appreciation for life, nothing is promised in this world”

 

Inner Emotional Lives in the First Few Weeks of Quarantine

Wide Emotional Swings for Many Stuck in Quarantine—

Especially for those confined to homes (non-essential) for weeks, emotions could spike and crash at a high velocity— the instability of the virus situation, the changing directives emerging early-on, and general anxiety in the background about the virus meant that emotions could vacillate widely, and people felt they were constantly on the precipice of emotional changes

      • “Walking a tightrope— because so far I am on it and doing just fine, and actively trying to focus. But anything that could happen, a gust of wind, whatever, a misstep, then you would not be so straight and narrow”
      • “It is like trying to stand up on a surfboard, you are going to fall over and over but you have to keep trying, even if you stand you will be wobbly.”
      • “A roller coaster— getting different information and news every 5 minutes it seems. The last couple days it was, can I still work? Can I got to the store? How many people are at the store? Am I going to bring this home to my mom? Trying to figure out what
      • “Like riding a roller coaster in the dark with no safety belt when sections of the track are missing— as a business owner, it is a terrifying ride. A roller coaster is exhilarating to be terrified only when you know it can be safe. And you can grab that shoulder harness to feel safe and at some point you know it will not jump the track. Terrifying when you dont have anything to hold onto.”
      • “A yo-yo— You are like, tethered to this heavy thing and it feels like you a re constantly being flung without much control but you always end up where you started. Emotionally, it is like a yo-yo.”
      • “Roulette— you dont know how you will feel emotionally or what will pop up in the news. You are trying to entertain yourself, you are adding more tools to the toolbox, survival or connection or entertainment or working, all this gymnastics. You cant just sit on the couch and save lives, it’s not that simple.”
      • “Surfing waves— you feel the swell. You find ways to feel good, and you feel you are going to be OK — and something happens, and you’re like WOOF. You can really tumble in it, or get back up on it”

Renewed Compassion for Those in One’s Immediate Circles—

People seemed to ratchet up their compassion for those in their immediate circles during the early weeks of the crisis, from people who naturally felt pangs of concern for elderly parents and grandparents, or worked to support colleagues during a difficult transition, to people who were more motivated to reach out to new and old friends who might be struggling — in general, people were tuned-in to the feelings of their own networks in a heightened way

      • “With family, in general, few years I have reached out to people I was not before. At the end of the day, certain relationships are important, especially knowing people are definitely getting sick and could die. It has me re-thinking, ‘oh well, I’ll do that next month.’ Maybe this needs to happen NOW.”
      • “Talking with my family, talking to my parents almost every day. My parents are vulnerable, in their 70s, with health conditions, and I had one panic attack already, only the second week of working from home. Panic attack, and I had a hard time getting it under control. It was nighttime before I was like, ‘OH MY GOD, I don’t know if I will get to see my parents again.’ When that crystallized in my brain I just burst into tears. That is the thing that could be an outcome to this which is 100% out of my control. That is what I worry about”
      • “New compassion for parents with kids at home, if I had seen a baby on a conference call before, I would have been like cool, but let’s get back to work. Now, I feel I want to nurture and protect everybody. My people work late on projects, and I apologized to my colleague and said, ‘You have this baby and you had to work late,’ and one of my editors was like ‘I always have the baby. The baby is always a part of me. Work always interrupts my life.’ I did not consider that, they (kids) are always in your orbit if physically or elsewhere. Now I see you.”
      • “Even the fact that I have friends who want to call and check in on me. Those small gestures of a text or voice note or call and check in, that is f*cking amazing. I get teary-eyed — we DO have a community”
      • “Im terrified. For my parents, we are across the country and my aunts and uncles all over 65. I dont want them to leave their houses. I feel incredible guilt that I cant take care of them from afar. I had a friend of mine go grocery shopping for my parents because I am trying to keep them out of the stores.”

Privilege Became Easier to See, and Gratitude Surfaced for Basic Needs Met—

People lucky enough to have the resources to stock up on groceries, jobs that flexed easily to work-from-home, continued paychecks and insurance from employers, or had a social circle in good health experienced the polar ends of the emotional spectrum, as a strong sense of gratitude was present even as negative emotions also swirled

      • “Grateful— sounds unusual, but my husband and I both have our jobs still. Nobody in our family have been laid off or gotten sick. And so, when you hear about these other people struggling with being ill or losing jobs or being on furlough I have none of that. I have been grateful and thought about it a few times, I am really lucky— it is a minimal sacrifice not to be able to see a friend. Not the end of the world!”
      • “Gratitude— feeling that things could be so much worse”
      • “The first is I feel very SAFE— a privilege, I feel safe emotionally and physically and with my career, even if my job goes away. Safe is the first emotion I have been feeling”
      • “We are extremely fortunate in that sense. No problem working from home — yes they might cut budgets, but they need my discipline more than ever”
      • “Oh my god, first world problems. A Clorox wipe to wipe off this and let them dry, delivered by Instacart. This is not WW2, and we are not making clothing out of drapes. This is the new normal in the short-term for quarantine.”

 

When Bustle of Daily Life Stopped, Introspection into the Self Started

Running from place-to-place to participate in activities in the world occupies time, and also, space in the mind— in the absence of darting around town, introspection rushed into fill the void, meaning people questioned many aspects of their lives, from core beliefs, to elements of their personalities, to passions and interests, to the possessions they prized: this re-calibration was germinating in the weeks after the crisis, and could deepen over the course of lockdown

People Began Examining the Necessity of What Kept Them So Busy—

In the weeks after the shutdown, some reflected on the values, conventions, and tasks that had kept them busy before, with a renewed focus on examining the basis for the high degree of energy and stress they devoted to those tasks, re-considering busyness as a limiting factor that could hinder their ability to stay focused on what mattered

      • “I was just so focused on all the sh*t that just had to get done that I never stopped to think, ‘why am I so anxious about this job or that job?’ I just constantly had to keep doing it and once I didn’t think, ‘OH, this is how I want to be?,’ so what am I going to do about it? Going back to school. I could have half a degree done by the time this is over. If I am gonna use this to change my situation how can I do it?”
      • “I had worked hard for a friend to plan a fundraising event for the preschool and it was the Friday after the governor closed schools— cancelled, fair enough. I put a lot of energy and time into raffle baskets sitting in a basement now. I dont believe May will happen either. Like all this energy was put into things that do not matter now.”
      • “If the laundry does not get done today, so what? Will the police arrest me? So what? When I was traveling on a plane every week, if I did not get the laundry done on weekends, it was a problem. I was on a constant treadmill was comforting, and I don’t have it and don’t know what to do. The plane will not wait for me. Was that a trap?”
      • “Basically whole Cult of Busyness that was written about a decade ago, how married to it we all have been. And I hope that will shift for people who are like, ‘What the hell was I doing?’ I don’t want to go back to that.”

People Began Ruminating on What Was Truly Necessary—

When access to obtain items freely was restricted, people began to question what true necessities really were, what daily-use items, possessions, and habits mattered most, and which paled when viewed under the new light of lockdown; many of the trappings that were more material or oriented toward self-presentation got scrutinized the most

      • “Regardless of circumstances, you cant help but be considering what your essentials are. And what is most important to you”
      • The things I know I was caught up in as far as self-identity prior to this, have all fallen away. Getting dressed and clean every day and makeup and jewelry used to define me, and now I am like, ‘wow— what does any of that mean anymore?’ This has been building. I am not gonna live forever, none of us will, I see my kids growing and growing more independent. They will not be under my roof in a few years. What memories and experiences are lasting for us. I want to collect experiences, not things, and I want to sell everything I own and buy a tiny beach cottage and just enjoy the ocean. That is not realistic, we have to pay taxes, and earn, but I literally have an envelope of cash stashed under my bar. I am gonna buy a beach cottage”
      • “Less shopping, mostly because it was a way to spend time. Which is really interesting to find out about myself. As like a, ‘What do you want to do this afternoon, lets go to the store.’ Passive consumerism. Consumerism as entertainment”

Unexpected items grew in importance over the course of the lockdown, with wide variance from household to household and individual to individual— the items people chose to stockpile, to add to their carts, to use to self-soothe, and to help bring order to the chaos, were often surprising even to those purchasing them; people found comfort in unpredictable things

      • I was laughing (at the toilet paper hoarding), because I have done this before. The (former) Peace Corps people in my timeline are pretty calm. ‘Yeah, this is fine.’ These people are not getting toilet paper. Because we never had it to begin with”
      • “I have enough toilet paper for four months”
      • “I came home and there were 5 boxes from Amazon and my wife was like, ‘I BOUGHT 50 CANS of soup’— just, boom, end-of-days-soup-stash. We both had the same thought, this is silly, but I like that we have it. Absurd— but I am glad.”
      • “We have bug-out bags ready and I ordered a hatchet. It is only partly for camping.”
      • “I added a machete to my cart on Amazon. ‘Is it time for this? Are we at this point?’”
      • “I asked my friends if they upped their junk food consumption. I am not getting as much movement exercise, I ordered these weird Japanese rice crackers on Amazon and got my husband Pop Tarts— we have not had those in 20 years.”

People Began Finding Enhanced Joy in Little Things —

With slightly more time for lingering in each day, people began to take more time to draw out the enjoyment from small things, taking pleasure from what they might have enjoyed before, but typically only found time for in small or occasional moments— these chosen delights mattered greatly to emotional health in lockdown

      • “Watching the cat play— of course we did not know this was coming, but we had just gotten this kitten and we could not have gotten him at a better time. We get up and sip our coffee and watch him play for an hour. We didn’t know we needed that.”
      • “I have definitely leaned unto I all my ‘woo’ self-care, make sure I do my yoga in the morning and meditation. I am doing morning pages like the Artist’s Way. Mama is going to the ‘woo’ medicine cabinet of ‘shit is going down and I need some self-soothing’! Placebo, whatever. My brain has accepted this is how we work”
      • “Cooking, I am cooking all sorts of awesome sh*t. I am treating myself like a queen now. Normally I only cook nice things for other people. If you cook something that takes 2 hours, that is a large chunk of time you do not normally have at home.”
      • “Training the dogs— we have been working with a trainer, one of our dogs has some issues. And the other is just stubborn. Since I am here all day, I can work with them in little bits and increments. For instance, working on PLACE and STAY and being quiet. We have made a ton more progress the last two weeks than we would have otherwise. It would have taken a month to get them where they are now. Far ahead.”
      • “Took a three-mile walk and felt great, the weather is beautiful in the desert. You have to make the most of what is available.”
      • “That has been my solace, because I can still be outdoors and nature I feel like, that is what makes me feel grounded, centered. Warm sun, it IS spring and there are things blooming and I am awake to that, I am awake to the beauty that surrounds me. I am a single person in a small house. But when I am outside, I feel this sense of freedom and essential to my sense of well-being. Even in my own back porch or succulent gardens, just enjoying THAT. Enhanced, it has been enhanced.”

Tedium of Caring for Oneself (and Others) with No Break or Aide is a Repetitive Grind—

Day-to-day, people felt boredom from time-to-time, but more prominently felt the rut of routinized, repeated caring for basic needs over and over, without assistance from services. Without being able to outsource tasks, people felt meeting the needs of themselves and their families could be exhausting, and so repetitive that the most handy analogy that sprang to mind was that of the movie ‘Groundhog Day’— referencing the same activities repeated ad nauseam, with little variety, over and over again; out-and-out frustration could rise at tasks that while technically minor, seemed never-ending

      • “I have never spent so much f*cking time in that kitchen. Do you know how many meals we eat now? Everybody is HOME ALL THE TIME. And everybody needs to eat all the f*cking time. Like, all the time. Yes, and I dont mind the making of it. It is just no longer a choice— people need to eat. And I am sick of all the people needing to eat. It is also not going to last forever. I feel so deeply for the people who have toddlers right now, because I feel that would be a living hell”
      • “It is almost like Groundhog Day. You wake up and everything is the same. The variety of taking the train or walking downtown and going to different things, the variety is done. Here we go again, 11 days at home, shelter in place”
      • “Groundhog Day, because I sat in a corner of the couch, and, ‘did I already read this article?’ ‘Didnt I already empty this dishwasher?’ Repetitive, ‘did I wash my hands before I touched my face?’ I hardly remember, I wash my hands a ton of times”
      • “Groundhog Day— I mean, come on. It is not just the space, it is because we are trying to manage the same 2-3 things, my jobs and a daughter, and those spill over. Every day is exactly like the day before.”
      • “The Groundhog Day movie— it feels like all of the days blur together and they are all the same over and over and over again. On the macro-spectrum, it is NOT good, it feels boring”
      • “Depressed. There has been the monotony of this for 3 weeks”

 

Feelings About Work During Lockdown

People Are Evaluating Employers on Crisis Response—

People were evaluating their employers’ responses to the crisis, to determine if the way companies handled the situation rose to the values they hoped an organization would have: some felt reinforced in their decision to work for companies, and some felt disenchanted by the way their company reacted, the latter feeling a distance between themselves and their employers as a result, with a few making decisions to cut ties even as the pandemic went on

(*note: these were often professional companies and academic institutions)

      • “I was really surprised, they always talk about the culture being important. And hanging their hat on taking care of their teams. Everyone who laid off did not much: just good luck. I am very disenchanted — took them a long time to realize it was a big issue to address. The way they handled things has been very dismissive of people.”
      • “Ok, so this is ridiculous. With the covid thing, they are getting rid of a level of management. One day, they were like, this guy retired, this guy is gone. WHAT. He is in his late 50s, what do you mean retired? I think he got fired. And now all of his responsibilities will be going to the someone else. They will hand her all his responsibilities and call it cost savings. That is f*cked up. Writing is on the wall, so I am also in the search process.”
      • “The schedule that he was given interfered with the Friday and Saturday of my surgery and the boss said worst-case, you have to switch or take vacation. It was his scheduled Friday off and Saturday initially, and now they expected him to take a sick day. Expectations from them were changed, and we did not get a lot of sympathy, they don’t care about peoples personal lives and situation”
      • “There was such a sense of responsibility. We do not want to be the stupid ones here. We want to do the right thing. I was in awe, honored to be working with people feeling the same way I was. Willing to do the hard thing and make the hard call, and if you want to say we are overly cautious — fine. But in hindsight, we were right to do that.”
      • “My dad and brother work at Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart is essential. My dad, what I have heard, is they didn’t tell him to not come in. That infuriates me. He is more susceptible. And he is a GREETER, so he is in contact with everyone.”

First Few Weeks of Lockdown Produced High Volumes of Work—

Those deemed ‘essential’ or working at-home were working harder than ever in the first weeks of the COVID shutdown, as the situation required unprecedented workarounds and fast action on behalf of companies, which often had to alter the way business was done— these pivots (and later hiring freezes and layoffs) meant workers were often being pushed to their limits

      • “I have not slept in 10 days. That is only a slight exaggeration, working 14-16 hour days, every day. Worked all week and all weekend, when you dont do a national lockdown — each state, city, and county does something different. Critical infrastructure, supply chain, or essential businesses, each state uses different wording and our employees need documentation to carry on them”
      • “I am trying to remember not to sit here all day without moving. I get sucked into this computer and every conversation I have is with this computer, and the work I do is at this computer… and I am like STAND UP AND GO OUTSIDE, walk, or you will turn into a slug. I am working more amount of time because I am not moving anywhere. (I normally have) three hours of commute. My day starts as soon as I sit down and ends when I get up, but it is probably the same amount of hours and all of that has been recaptured as work time. Exhausted.”
      • “We are working MORE than before, which is weird. It is exhausting. Now, you are on the phone, so you dont get as much work done. Team calls, team meetings, now you have all these meetings on top of it. This is going to be weird to say, but I wish there was more downtime. Still working ten-hour days. You see these celebrities reading a book from three years ago. We are still working all day. I dont have more free time.”
      • I am working more, we were supposed to take this week off. The computer at 7:30 AM and I look up and it is 11 AM, I am putting in 10 hour days. My whole mantra was work-life balance and organically— it is just happening, I am at my computer working harder than I ever have. I am being inundated with anxiety internally and externally. I think I am asked to push it aside, which means when I come home I am just (dazed), like, totally overwhelmed by all the emotions.”
      • “Every other person I know or have talked to, they are like I am watching videos at home. And I have never worked more in my entire life that I did in my last month. On Saturday I did not look at a computer and realized I have not fully relaxed in a month.”
      • “I have been very fired up about the work part of it. On the personal side, I feel I am not processing things, I have stuffed it down and was like, keep going.’”
      • “I have had insane amounts of work since this has started. I have been underwater and tucked away… Which nearly killed me”

People Pined for their Lost Commute to Decompress and Recharge—

People seemed to pine for their commutes, which they realized served as decompression time, providing an emotional buffer before and after a workday, helping them to cope with the day and rebound from any stress— while some acknowledged their commute could be stressful in itself, the introspection time seemed to be worth more, upon review

      • “My commute does not exist anymore, that was time to sit and get myself in a mental state ready fo the day and to decompress, to have some separation before and after work. My husband ‘commutes’ by going on a walk after work. I mean, my commute was something I HAD to do and you just do it, have to get home. I did not see it as extra time for myself. And when it went missing, I have to have something before I start the next part of my day.”
      • “I have my work life and then I leave and I go downtown and socialize, and then I go home. These were very distinct parts of my day, and plenty of time where I am not thinking about my job. Here (in lockdown), it is mushed together— so I spend my time thinking about it more. And I realized it is not 100% a great fit, so what am I going to change? It is not what I want to be doing in the next couple years. It is more pressing now, because I don’t have that break of a train ride”
      • “We don’t have commutes anymore. Normally I’d leave my house at 8 and see the world, get a cup of coffee,  read a book, and now I sit down at the computer at 8, and now, I am in meetings every minute of the day”

Those Deemed Essential Have a Divided Sense of Duty—

Those deemed essential, who left the house for work, were stricken with fear and guilt about potentially bringing the virus home to loved ones, or spreading it within their communities, this divided sense of duty tore at them– as much as they wanted to be there for colleagues and their businesses, they also wanted to keep people safe

      • “You know, I have moments of panicky, and I will tell you, that stems from having a child. Every time I leave the house I put myself at risk, and and I go and keep social distance, and then come home and see my kid. Am I being a bad mom? It is hard, one of the hardest things I deal with”
      • “My worst nightmare is not that I will get sick that we will make someone sick. We were thinking I might be immunocompromised so I had all these tests. Making someone sick is a terrifying prospect.”
      • “I think the main feeling is overwhelmed, especially in terms of my job. I felt both frustrated, and bound by responsibility to myself, and the people around me, as well as responsibility to the patients I am working with who need support and routine. And so, yeah, there is no way to engage in the shelter in place or social distancing, the responsible thing to do would be for no one to be coming in, however, I am also working in a place with high-acuity mental health symptoms”
      • “It is terrifying. The truth is, I cant do my job without being six feet from someone. The majority of wounds are feet or we have necks and faces, you never know where those are gonna happen. We are all talking about how we can go home and protect our families. Everyone I work with has kids, and I have a 4- and-5 year-old. My son is asthmatic and I am asthmatic. It is not a disease of people 65 and up, people are dying”
      • “It is stupid to be going into the office and it is stupid I am making that choice. It is optics. I would not be as worried, it is heightened because what I do affects other people (at home).”
      • “We’ve been lovingly referring to my husband as ‘sacrificial lamb’”

 

Thank you for reading Post 2 of my series on the first few weeks of lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which I interviewed 40 known participants on their experiences and emotional reactions to the crisis. If you’d like to continue reading, Post 3 is here.

A heartfelt thanks to the people who generously gave their time for this study, expressing difficult emotions about sensitive subjects, to further understanding of what people are experiencing at this unprecedented time.


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