I remember sitting in my therapist’s office in the before times. It was around the middle of March, the last appointment I had with her in-person, and the pandemic was just starting to ramp up.
“I wanted to check in with you about Covid19, and see how you were feeling. I know some of my clients have a lot of anxiety about getting sick.”
The only sickness I thought much about back then was Pascale’s cancer, and doing everything I could to fix her. The virus, something I expected to disrupt my life for a few weeks at most, was an afterthought.
“I’m not worried,” I told her. “I mean, we’re all going to get it. It’s out now. It’s just a matter of time.”
I wasn’t wrong, but in light of everything that has happened the flippant attitude is certainly not a good look.
When we were sent home from work around this time last year, I didn’t think it’d be my last time working in the office. I didn’t bring a monitor. I left my plant, and all of my personal belongings. The abrupt shift felt like a weird kind of snow day, at least for the early days. I beat the grocery store mad dash by a few days and got toilet paper (which was only available in a 24 pack… one that lasted this single lady throughout almost the entire pandemic) and groceries with plenty to choose from. Of course, that wouldn’t last and in the following weeks I got used to seeing entire aisles empty as the supply chain struggled.
Besides stocking up on food, which was a shift for someone who eats 40% of her meals at happy hour, I also got a lot of crafts to do. I dubbed them “Corona Crafts” and wrote reviews on my instagram. They filled the evenings when I wasn’t working. Throughout the spring of 2020, we all mostly stayed at home. Everything was big and scary, and the science hadn’t quite figured out how you catch this thing yet. I mean, these were still the days where you shouldn’t wear masks in public and instead save them for health care professionals.
I also spent a lot of time doing yard work. After Pascale died, I built her a memorial garden and kept digging through the dirt all summer. Many of us turned to home improvement with all the extra time at home, but I kept that to my yard. Something about getting my hands dirty made me feel marginally better about all the loss and stress.
As spring turned more into summer, I started to realize this pandemic was not going away anytime soon. It was clear people couldn’t figure out how to behave and do what’s necessary to stop the spread. So I began to adapt from a “hide at home” mentality to a “live my life safely” plan. Outside became my safety net, which of course lends itself to barn time.
We were put on reduced hours/pay at work for six weeks in early summer, so I halted lessons/training for a bit. I certainly won’t complain though, because the economy was (and continues to be) awful for many right now. In our downtime, Poet and I worked on building a more trusting relationship with each other. As shown by many rides in the big field. Eventually though, things went back to normal for me financially and that’s something I’m very grateful for.
I also did a lot of hiking with Lucie, hitting up a local off-leash park nearby. It was really nice to shut off reality for a bit and just march through the woods with my pup. And being how crazy high-energy Lucie is, she certainly appreciated our outings too.
Outside only also became the rule for friend gatherings. We swapped our nights out on the town for afternoons on each other’s patios. Takeout options abound. I think we each worked on and perfected signature cocktails of our own. Before long, we didn’t really miss going out as much. Friendship, social time, companionship. It was more than enough.
We even got to sneak in a little beach trip in my friend’s camper. It was a nice escape for the weekend, but seeing everyone out and about like things were normal was totally jarring. We brought our own food and stuck to the beach or the camper, but there were lines outside of restaurants and tourists shopping galore like everything was honky dory. Bizarre.
As the year went on, I had to confront my own feelings and fears about Covid. Mostly, I stayed pretty neutral. While I certainly didn’t want to get the virus, I wasn’t terrified of getting it. Although some days, the fear and uncertainty felt very real. Mostly I was concerned with making sure nobody else got it from me. I’m quite single, in good health, and live alone. Although I’m worried about Covid’s longterm effects we still don’t fully understand, I wasn’t exactly at a huge risk myself. So if I got it, meh.
But I couldn’t cope with giving it to anyone else. At best, I’d force them to feel bad and get stuck in their house for a few weeks, but the fear lies in the more severe options. So I met people at their comfort level. Some of my friends have completely, totally isolated since the event started. Luckily, no one in my inner circle has disregarded safety measures though I’d be lying if some of my friends didn’t push things farther than I felt comfortable with. Although, I’m sure some people thought I pushed things too far. After all, I did not stop living in 2020. I just lived a lot in a mask, spread out and outside.
As the holidays rolled up, I tried to make adjustments. With so little to look forward to, I decorated early and intensely. My Halloween decorations went up October 1st, and for the 1st time in my life I did the Christmas lights before Thanksgiving.
I didn’t have my big Halloween party at my house this year, but instead my trainer hosted one outside at farm house’s giant porch. The decorations were killer, and I got to dress up as a character from the “fun” time of the pandemic when we all stayed inside baking and watching Tiger King.
Thanksgiving was actually one of my favorites to date. I went to a friend’s house where four of us sat outside in perfect weather. We each cooked our favorite Thanksgiving treats, meaning there was a comical amount of food for four people. But it was truly lovely. Another reminder about what’s important, and how this crazy year really stripped things back to the basics.
In normal times, I’m the hostest with the mostest. I usually have 2-3 significant parties at my house, which of course isn’t exactly a good look in a pandemic. Though I tried to do a smaller gathering for Lucie’s birthday/holiday fun in early December, cases kept rising after Thanksgiving and Austin’s Stage 4 protocol (which is not exactly enforced but the official public health guidelines) said to keep groups to ten and under.
To cope with a strange and oftentimes very sad year, I decided to create a holiday pop-up bar on my patio. In Austin, holiday pop-up bars are a huge trend. Ordinary bars pick a Christmas theme, throw up a ton of cheap decorations, add a specialty cocktail menu and people flock. For my patio, I did “Christmas puppies” and decorated it as over the top as the Dollar Store and Hobby Lobby would allow.
Instead of a party, I did small groups of 5 & under for happy hours and on the weekends where we huddled around the fire. There was charcuterie. It gave some element of a social life to the holidays, which helped the general pandemic Christmas fugue.
For Christmas proper, I did what may be considered an unpopular choice and went home to see my family. I drove, so I could take Lucie and also avoid the extra exposure at the airports. Ultimately, I made the trek for my own mental health and also because me coming to visit was not putting my family at any more risk than they already were taking with work/their pandemic choices. If I had elderly parents or people truly isolating, I would have spent my first Christmas alone at home. But instead I made the drive.
It was a quiet Christmas for my family, cancelling many of our normal gatherings, but still a good one. I stayed in North Carolina for a few weeks, and especially enjoyed getting to spend time with my nieces (not shown, bc gotta protect the babies). They’re at such a fun age, especially with all the toys Aunt Lauren spoiled them with. Though I hope Christmas 2021 does not carry any anxiety about sickness, 2020 wasn’t so bad.
Over the holidays, vaccines started going out to healthcare workers and we all felt optimistic about the new year. I drove back to Texas with the feelings that things were going to change for me, for all of us.
And they have changed, and I think things are starting to get better, but I can’t deny it’s been hard. 2021 brought not one, but two snow storms to Austin. The second was catastrophic, although my old house never lost power and besides losing water for a few days remained unscathed by the storm.
But we survived (although all that gardening I did last spring? It did not). The snow melted. The temperatures rose. It’s now green outside, beautiful weather most days. I’m starting to think about what to re-plant in the garden.
Some of the pandemic changes seem permanent for me. I’m not sure when I’m going to want to walk into a movie theater again, although I can’t wait for live music and comedy. All those nights out at the bars? I think the friend’s porches and patios makes a fine night out, and so much cheaper. I will always carry hand sanitizer now, and use it often. I watch the local news now every day.
It’s hard for me to fully understand how the pandemic has shifted human behavior—for myself and everyone else. I do have the extreme privilege to say that I’m fully vaccinated. Writing this now a few weeks after my second dose, I’m 94.5% protected. What I can’t say is my mental clarity or sanity having lived through a year of this. Even with how fortunate I’ve been, I can’t deny the continued stress and emotional endurance the year took out of all of us. I certainly see the light on the other side now, which I couldn’t for a long time, but I don’t know what that other side is going to look like. Hopefully this global experience has given us all a chance to level set with what’s important, embrace our inner “yolo” and emerge as a more connected, caring community together on the other side.