There were a lot of posts this week that spoke of the fact that, a year ago this week, March 1st to 7th, 2020, would be the last ‘normal’ week we would have for a while.
The timing was off by a week or so, depending where in North America you were at the time, but where I am in the world, it was certainly true.
March 6th, 2020 was a Friday, and it was a busy afternoon in the client-facing section of my office. From photos and conversations shared with friends this week, I was reminded it was a pretty big day in the office. It was the grand opening of an Access to Justice Centre aimed at assisting people with their navigation of the legal landscape within our courts, and aside from all the excitement of the event, it was just a very busy day that day.
I remember being really happy. I was looking forward to my scheduled week of vacation. At the end of the day I turned on my out of office message, turned off the ringer on my phone, and put my “I’M ON VACATION!” note in my inbox. I chatted with my colleagues, hugged my friends, and said my generic “See ya in a week!” salutation.
No one had any idea, that for the majority of us, it was going to be the last time we would lay eyes on one another in person, hear each others’ voice, or feel the love that belies the pressure of a friendly squeeze or embrace.
None of this is to say that we were oblivious to what was lurking on the horizon. The nature of our work tends to advise us of certain global trends, but perhaps an unfortunate combination of hope and arrogance led us to somehow believe we would be immune to the awful breadth of impact we were seeing elsewhere.
Over the course of that week sanitizer and gloves began to show up in spaces where we interacted with the public and people became more and more wary of the sound of a cough. As a person with an asthma-induced cough, it was particularly disconcerting for me. I was used to the looks people would give me when I coughed, but this was different. There was fear in their eyes. That was new, and it scared me.
Messaging was changing constantly, and frankly, part of the reason I was happy to be off for a week was that I hoped someone would have some idea as to how to properly and safely move forward by the time I was to return.
The thing is, today is March 7th, 2021. I have yet to return.
When I woke up the morning of Saturday, March 7th, 2020, nothing much was on my mind save for my upcoming interview on The Kevin Show, scheduled for the following Saturday, attending my monthly Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) meeting at Durham College, and attending the International Bike Show with my husband. It was going to be a busy day, one where maybe I would buy a electric bike (spoiler alert – I did not) and would most assuredly, eat lots of tasty snacks while watching BMX bike performers do amazing tricks.
I made a mental note to go see one of the vendors at another upcoming bike show, or the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) to buy this neat thing I saw.
At the time I did not know it would the last public gathering I would attend for a year (and counting…), and that the CNE, the event that for many signals the end of summer, would be cancelled for the first time since WWII.
Oblivious to what was unfolding, honestly, I was enjoying my time off. I was keeping up to date with the public health suggestions and staying attuned to the messaging coming from my office. I was comforted by the consistency of messaging from the top, but was a bit unnerved by the lack of clear instructions with regard to what life back in the office was going to look like.
The week passed quickly, as vacations tend to, even when they are staycations, and I was sitting with Kevin, doing the interview for his podcast, unable to appreciate it would be the last time we would sit together like that for a very long time.
It was there, as we sat chatting, that my phone began blowing up with messages from friends and colleagues with questions flying back and forth with passion, incredulousness, and fear about expectations for return to work on Monday.
I drove home and spoke with my husband about it. He didn’t have any clear answers from his employer either. So we waited.
My answer came late on Sunday night. The office would be closed as they tried to sort out how to move forward. His answer came around the same time. He was to report in as usual.
And so it has been since March 16th, 2020. Me at home. Him on-site.
The transition to a Work From Home was tricky, though not as difficult for many of my friends who have young children who were/are learning from home. I truly feel for folks who have to simultaneously manage being parent, teacher, guidance counsellor, and functioning employee at the same time. I know they may not always accept this is true, but they are doing an incredible job.
In my world, challenges presented themselves in a different manner. Living in the country comes with challenges related to internet speed and the lack of other conveniences I was used to having at my fingertips when I would attend my office in downtown Toronto. Though, admittedly, it also comes with the built in feeling of safety of not worrying about commuting on public transit for extended periods of time to a large, densely populated metropolis every day. That fact is a doubled-edged sword of security and isolation. I miss my bus and train friends.
One of the hardest challenges was to draw a hardline between work hours and home time. With the office mere steps away, it was easy in the beginning to constantly be checking emails, be online all day and working well into the evening. I needed to remind myself that if I were in the office there would be parameters within which I would work, and I needed to implement a better workflow to protected my personal time, because if I didn’t I would soon burn out.
As it turned out, I was only successful in putting off the burn out, not completely avoiding it. The combination of changing work priorities, outbreaks, and the absence of human interaction eventually took its toll, and I needed some time away.
Work stress only served to accentuate the personal stress I was experiencing. Thankfully, I found comfort in my writing. I kept myself busy working on several projects, and though I have yet to be able to write under my pen name, Caycie Thompson, I did manage to publish a book of poetry and prose (For The Quiet), as well as complete the first draft of another novel. I even decided to take a tiny thought from way, way in the back of my brain, nurtured by the kind words of friends, and expand this space into the auditory realm and start a podcast.
As I turned on my out of office and said “See you in a week” to friends on MS Teams, the weight and timing of it was not lost on me.
It may turn out to be a new tradition for a strange anniversary.
It’s been a weird, stressful, lonely, and incredible year.
Together we were thrust into this Great Unknown and without the support of my family and friends, without my creativity as an outlet, it would have looked very different.
I hope you have been able to get the kindness, patience, and support you may have needed to get you through these strange days and those that lie ahead.
As things continue to shift and change, just know, if you ever need one, my arms are extended to welcome you in a warm, virtual for now, embrace.