The Surreal Reality of Everyone Living Like You

The world is weird right now. Rightly so. There’s never been anything like this. The world has shut down.

Everyone seems to be getting serious cabin fever due to the lockdowns, the shelter-in-place orders, the social distancing. Initially, I was confused by this. Then it hit me: everyone lives a dramatically different life than I do.

October 11, 2017: Lizz in a blue Vogmask

You see, up until now, I hadn’t realized quite how different my life was. I knew most people my age go to some sort of job most days of the week, and I don’t. While I don’t get paid for it, I do spend most of my week at doctor’s appointments (and getting to/from them), often more time than I spent at my part-time job. What I didn’t realize, was how different my “non-work” time was from my peers.

Even though this post (2017 Day in the Life) is several years old, it’s still very similar to how I currently live my life. As you can see, there wouldn’t be very many changes for me between then and staying home in isolation.

I also hadn’t realized how much social interaction people got from work. My main part-time job was retail; I worked in a small specialty store in a mall. Technically, I was a “supervisor,” but the title was due to the fact I needed to be a key holder. You see, the store was staffed by four to five people only. We worked eight hour shifts during the week, completely alone, with maybe a couple hours of overlap in the middle of the day. Of course, we interacted with customers, but anyone that has worked in a customer service based industry will tell you that definitely does not count for “social interaction.” I worked in that job for several years, and I enjoyed it as much as you can enjoy a job in a field you despise.

Currently, Dan is working from home, indefinitely. I’m high risk. The last half of March, I was very sick, but I couldn’t get tested. Because I was unable to get tested, we have to assume I had a “normal cold” and take all precautions to keep me from getting the pandemic virus. Dan is used to going in to the office from early morning (between 7 and 8) until late evening (often he doesn’t get home until 6:30 pm). He’s also in graduate school to get his master’s degree, so on class days he was driving across town to go to class for a couple of hours each week. I had never considered how much social interaction he was getting on a regular basis.

Having Dan home has made me significantly less isolated. On a “light” medical week (just the recurring weekly appointments), I would spend about three hours in medical appointments, and about four hours driving to/from them. The rest of my time would be spent at home, alone. Dan would come home from work, we’d get to visit a little as we made and ate dinner, and then he usually has homework or it’s time for bed. During a school semester, I’m lucky to get 15 hours of time with my husband during the work week. Usually, it’s closer to five hours with those extra ten being used for homework. Weekends vary too much to figure out.

2018 Anniversary Portraits:
We’re kind of obsessed with each other!

Now that Dan is home, however, I get a lot more little moments. He’s still working. He goes into the upstairs office/guest bedroom in the morning, while I’m still sleeping. If he’s not on the phone when I wake up, I get to go say good morning to him in person. He’ll come down to get water at some point in the morning, and we’ll exchange a few sentences. When we’re making our lunches, we get to socialize, and then he’ll take it upstairs to work. There will be a few more sentences exchanged during a few more water breaks, and then he’s “home” about 5:30 pm because there’s not a commute eating into his time. Even though his commute is short, it’s amazing how much extra time we have without it!

Until this lockdown, I didn’t realize that other people’s lives were so different. I knew we have a group of friends that tries to get together every single week for game nights, but I didn’t realize they were closer to “normal” than we were. Dan and I spend most of our weekends at home, but listening to people talk on social media, it appears most of our peers spend their weekends and evenings outside of the home.

Listening to people complain about being bored and isolated has been a surreal experience. I get it, I really do: big changes are difficult. Having something change your life that you have no control over is frustrating and aggravating. Being forced to stay in when you’d rather be out feels suffocating. For me, it happened slowly. As my health got worse, I slowly pulled away from the world. I didn’t want to, but my energy levels just couldn’t keep up with a regular social life.

February 2017: Still how I spend most of my days.

For so many people with chronic illnesses, this quarantine period has been what our lives have looked like since we got sick. Some of us had it happen slowly, like me, others had it happen rapidly. Listening to so many now experience what we’ve been living with, it’s surreal.

I’m realizing I felt forgotten. I have friends that will reach out sometimes, usually when they realize it’s been several months since they’ve heard from me. (My mental illnesses make it hard for me to reach out regularly.) I have internet friends, which are some of the best friends I’ve made. But the world as a whole seems to have forgotten me. People weren’t interested in video calls before this, they just wanted to see me in person, which always leads to a lot of cancelled or postponed plans as my health is so unpredictable. Some people weren’t even interested in text messaging, which is my primary means of communication as it’s far more accessible than phone calls. There was a complete lack of decent work from home jobs, with the majority paying very skimpy amounts for a lot of effort, or being a work-from-home phone customer service representative. When I was around others, I never knew what to talk about because most of my day is spent managing my health or hanging out with my cats. Being chronically ill and home most of the time, meant the world moved on without me.

I’m hoping that after this pandemic is over, average people will have more compassion for the thousands of people in situations like mine. That it’ll only be a couple weeks between check-ins. That people will want to get tea with us via video call in our pajamas. That people won’t scoff when we ask them to wash their hands when they come into our house, or look at us with fear when we wear our masks in public. That when people find out our living situation, they’ll respond with empathy instead of “I wish I could just stay home all day.”

I hope that people will go back to their normal lives while remembering that for so many of us, this is our normal life.

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