Hello from quarantine! This will be a longer update than usual, but don’t worry – only the first part is self-pitying. The rest is all positive. And there are pictures! Lots of pictures. Promise.
The obligatory “where I’m at right now” bit
By now, I’m sure we can all agree we’re tired of Covid-19 and wish it would just piss off. But another thing that can get in the sea is the idea that the pandemic hasn’t affected creatives, introverts, or anyone whose work can technically continue anywhere and anytime. I accept that people like me are in a position of rare privilege compared to many others at this time, and consider myself relatively lucky, but here’s the thing.
Despite having a job I can do from home, self-isolation is… not as good for productivity as you might think.
A few months ago – before this pesky pandemic – I was experiencing low mood and reduced motivation, which I eventually realized was a consequence of working from home. Contrary to popular belief, not all introverts thrive in a hermit-style environment; we need quiet time to recharge, sure, and prefer to limit our social interactions accordingly, but spending every hour of every day in the same small space on our own (or worse, with lots of other people) is far less than ideal.
Thankfully, I was able to start traveling in to work at the office with Colin (my boyfriend). It’s a really nice environment; his colleagues are friendly, and it felt good to not only be surrounded by other people who were focused on work but also just to have that sense of routine. Physically traveling to a different location – in other words, delineating my workspace and my homespace – had such a positive impact on both my mental wellbeing and my capacity to concentrate on work (and relax when at home). (And I got to use a standing desk. It was awesome.)
So when the lockdown was announced, I was truly bummed out.
The low mood and lack of motivation swooped back in with a vengeance. And although I loved having Colin working from home too, our flat is Very Smol, and hearing him in the next room – getting on with work and generally being super productive, damn him – made me feel even worse about struggling to do the same. Basically, I admitted defeat on the very first day of isolation.
There’s also the mounting frustration of little things throughout the day: downstairs neighbours slamming doors; downstairs neighbours smoking weed and stinking out the hallway; downstairs neighbours drinking and talking and shrieking late into the night when I’m trying to sleep.
(Note to self: we need new neighbours.)
Add to that the fact that I’m way behind on my SPFBO reading AND am struggling with the pressure of maintaining the Fantasy Hive… yeah, I was feeling pretty worthless.
I have THE BEST support network. In particular, my Bogmaerke buddies (don’t ask) Beth, Nils and Julia have been shouldering some of the Hive’s responsibilities, and that’s helped immensely, as has their (and Theo’s!) involvement in reading and reviewing for SPFBO.
Letting myself rely on friends and peers – trusting them to take over tasks and obligations I’ve previously insisted on doing by myself – has been such a weight off, and I’m so grateful to have them. (More on that theme later.)
M a n a g e a b l e
It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally accepted that struggling in my current scenario is not a sign of worthlessness. It was, frankly, ridiculous (especially considering my history of fragile mental health) to expect that I’d be able to immediately adapt to the new work environment; that I’d magically be able to maintain my recent productivity levels in spite of all the upheaval.
So I started to focus on setting manageable targets. Smaller word-count goals for writing; fewer pages in my daily reading target. I’ve also found that rewarding myself for small achievements works too, even if it’s something really mundane (like allowing myself another cup of coffee as a reward for getting through my emails, or spending a half-hour playing a game after a successful trip to the plague-ridden post office).
Of course, there are days when nothing works. ‘Black cloud’ days, where motivation is a distant thing and the thought of even sitting at my desk chair fills me dread and anxiety. I no longer punish myself for these days. When it’s clear that the day will be a write-off, I’ll declare it a ‘daydreaming day’ (a term pillaged from RJ Barker) and just relax. My brain is nearly always ready to return to work the next day. I’ve accepted that ‘daydreaming days’ are a necessary alternative to what would otherwise be a miserable, unproductive week.
The good stuff
Okay, I’m done with the introspection. Now for the other stuff!
I built a desk
It took me several hours longer than intended due to a combination of boredom and incompetence, but I built the whole thing myself…
… with just a teeny bit of help from Colin at the end.
The final result:
I love my squidgy wrist rests (which I keep typing as ‘wrist wrests’), and my new office chair is pretty great too. Having it right beside the bed isn’t ideal (there’s literally nowhere else to put it, as Colin’s setup is in the living room and did I mention our flat is Very Smol?) but I’m adjusting. The weather is unseasonably warm right now, and it’s nice to have the window open and hear birds and smell fresh-cut grass.
Colin and I are generally a bit rubbish when it comes to food shopping, so a while back we decided to sign up for a weekly meal-kit delivery service to help us eat more healthily. A lot of folk recommended HelloFresh, but we checked it out and they had a grand total of zero (0) vegan recipes on offer, so instead we went with Gousto. They have a much wider selection of recipes, including a limited yet solid range of plant-based meals, and we’ve been really happy with them.
For those who haven’t used meal-kit services before, you essentially sign up, pick a delivery date, then choose your recipes. It all gets delivered in a handy box…
…with easy-to-follow recipe cards…
…that allow you to make culinary masterpieces…
They aren’t currently taking on new customers because of high demand, but when they are I highly recommend giving them a go. We’ve had our culinary horizons delightfully broadened by the experience.
Speaking of horizons…
A couple of weeks ago I was peer-pressured into downloading Animal Crossing: New Horizons on my Switch, and I will freely admit that this game is one of the greatest things that could ever have happened to me right now. The combination of cuteness, color and customization is soothing AF, as is the chill music and relaxed pace. It’s so damn friendly, and it’s the perfect escape at a time like this.
It’s also really nice to be able to play with others; Colin and I visit each other’s islands once a day to check out the different things our shops have in stock, and often share resources and send each other gifts. And of course we have the all-important WhatsApp group chat with other friends, wherein we swap Animal Crossing memes and exchange info on our islands’ ever-changing daily turnip stock-market prices.
(Not something I ever thought I’d say.)
Be warned, though. In spite of its cuteness, the game can at times be somewhat… disturbing.
I’m also finding it rather difficult to convince one of my unwanted residents (an annoying ram named Curlos) to move out, but I’m hoping my current strategy of periodically hitting him with my bug net will pay off.
D&D and beyond
As if sending one another romantic notes via virtual airmail weren’t social enough, we’re even managing the occasional online D&D session using Roll20!
Most recently, we continued with our awesome Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign, in which I finally got to debut my new character, Vai:
Gnarl, the ranger I was playing until now, was a little too chaotic and, well, murdery for our party’s tastes. So we gave him a good send-off (well, a quick and violent off-screen death) and introduced Vai the savvy warlock smuggler instead. (As in, she’s a smuggler who is also a warlock. Not a person who smuggles warlocks.)
Naturally, with great new characters come great new dice. Here are Vai’s:
Aaaand because I’d had these on my wishlist forever and there was only one set left:
The Roll20 site allows you to do all your dice rolls online, but to that I say: not today. Also: “you can take my life BUT YOU’LL NEVER TAKE MY DICE, YOU MONSTERS.”
Speaking of online stuff…
I’m truly thankful to live in an age where all this is possible. Roll20, Zoom, Skype, HouseParty, WhatsApp, Slack – we’re so lucky to have at our fingertips all of these means of staying in touch with those we love.
I’ve been avoiding a lot of my usual social media haunts, and even hiding from private and group chats because everything just feels so overwhelming. But knowing it’s all there waiting for me is surprisingly reassuring. Additionally, spending an unprecedented amount of time on video calls (which in the past has been a major source of anxiety for me) has eased a lot of the stress and loneliness that I tend to let build up without realizing.
I have the best friends.