Two Weeks in Social Distancing

It has been two weeks since I have been out in a substantial manner.

That day, March 11th, my wife and I went to Costco. I wrote about that previously, but even then the fever pitch of the store was still much much higher than anything I had experienced on a routine trip.

That day I had a friend over. We talked about COVID-19 purely from a theoretical standpoint, and we addressed some issues in our own lives. I ordered a pizza. We played some video games and he left.

And in that two weeks, the whole world changed, or I should say, our world changed. Clearly the issues of the epidemic had been around since December, but at that moment in mid-March, while we teachers were on spring break, we were given time to ignore it. Schools were cancelled (and are still).

There are some deeply rooted lessons that I think are worth mentioning since my time working from home that I think can be useful. If not only reminding them to myself, but also to share with anybody who finds that they also are having a hard time adjusting.

  1. Working from home is a habit transition

For the first set of days, my routine was almost non-existent. I read sporadically, and I went for random walks in the neighborhood, and I had not written my own work in several days. I played video games, I snacked on whatever was at hand, and I found I was constantly returning to my work and personal emails, as well as any news I could get my hands on for the coronavirus outbreak.

The realization hit several days ago, probably Monday, that this world problem was here to stay. China reports resurgent cases, and despite the fact that they have controlled the outbreak and are nearing its closure, it did not do so without intense measures that Westernized and democratized places are unable or unwilling to emulate.

Knowing that we were in it for the long haul changed something in me. Yesterday I was writing and the quality was so poor, I realized it was due to my health, which had suffered because of a rationed and poor diet, but also from at least a week of not elevating my heart rate past a “fat burn” level. Running on the elliptical again really helped to remind me of my own creativity, as I was able to get blood flow to my brain. My wife is starting an online Pilates session. I am writing more regularly, and reading at appropriate hours.

So the first realization is that this transition took a lot of time, in a way that I had not predicted. As a teacher we get months off for summer, but those are planned.

This was not.

So try to be patient with yourself and others to develop new routines, which we’ve been told takes about three weeks anyway.

2. Your boss, teacher, or supervisor is more worried than you

My principal used to be able to walk into my room to check in whenever he wanted, and other members of administration could “check the pulse” of the school by taking a stroll. But now in the digital world, everyone has been put onto their own little island, and now they have no idea what is going on with their staff or students.

This lack of physical management terrifies them.

As such, there are certain decisions that they may be making to keep school or work functioning. Either they are trying to make normal life return through digital tools, or they are creating something new, and they are using digital tools to do that. One is reactive, the other is productive.

Many teachers are attempting to get students on Zoom at certain times each week, and they are trying to do lectures, instruction, in a similar synchronous format to what was happening in our industrialized world. That can only go so far.

On the one hand, we must be patient with our supervisors, who most likely have no idea how to address this, because bureaucracies hate innovation, but they hate catastrophes more. On the other hand, this is the time to discuss new possibilities in work that could awaken a new avenue in your business or school.

3. Mental health just received a catalyzing stressor

My friend who was the last person I saw before our world shut down told me that he has been making vlogs, and yesterday he said he was “frolicking” in the front yard. He blamed it on a burgeoning loss of sanity.

Even before this, the United States was suffering from an underground series of mental health problems of stress and loneliness. The amount of SSRI’s taken from all of this may vary, but in the state of Texas where I live, we rank almost last in mental health, from a medical standpoint of taking care of the people most at risk.

This will be a rollercoaster for many of us. In the service industry, in the restaurant industry, and even and maybe especially in the home delivery service, where suddenly expectations (and profits) are almost assured.

Yet still employees are going to work sick, and it is anybody’s guess as to when this will end.

I would encourage everybody to find some self-actualizing techniques for getting through this that you may be able to keep when all this is over. Meditation, writing, a daily crossword puzzle from New York Times Briefing, whatever it takes really to keep yourself centered.

Because otherwise the days will blend together, and so begins the question of why getting out of bed is necessary, or why putting on clothes is unnecessary, and while that can be fun for a while, it is also a slippery slope.

I think with the coming weeks I will have new lessons, but these three have really expressed to me that we were so unprepared for a disaster of this type at an economic, political, social, and psychological scale.

Years later we’ll have some hindsight and wisdom to apply that is likely more accurate, but for right now this is what I see.

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