Yesterday I hit a wall.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I work for a university. Like most universities, mine transitioned to online learning earlier this term. In fact, we were one of the first in the region to do so, exercising a previously devised pandemic response plan. I heard afterward that other institutions in the region asked to borrow it. From my perspective, the transition was remarkably smooth, though I wasn’t teaching courses that I had to scramble to move online, nor was I part of the amazing instructional technology team helping make that happen. Nor was I student who was somehow expected to keep focusing in all of this. As I’ve said before, my job changed remarkably little. I was just doing it from my dining room table instead of my office. The biggest shifts were consulting with students by video, rather than in person, and finding workarounds when a student needed a book, since our building was closed.
This week, the semester ended. Under normal circumstances, we extend the library’s hours toward the semester’s end, for study groups and research–although our most used material is online, our students have told us that a space where they can work without other distractions is something they value. The library is the highest-traffic building on campus, second only to the dining hall. Now it’s empty except for a skeleton IT crew and, occasionally, a library staffer going in to empty the book drop.
Still, even without the physical cues of the term coming to an end, yesterday something in me decided that I was Done. It wasn’t particularly dramatic; I just realized that instead of responding to work e-mails, or working on my budget allocation project, I was literally staring at a Facebook page that I didn’t remember opening.
Work is one of my coping mechanisms, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been head-down in it since March. I haven’t been ignoring the pandemic–in my own small way, I’ve been trying to counter misinformation about it, and have found a whole new level of respect for epidemiology–but I’ve been working long hours, exercising, getting the garden going. I knew this wasn’t sustainable, that it really was as much a coping mechanism as needing to get stuff done, because any work that required creativity, invention, or the sort of focused daydreaming that is how a lot of people seem to think academics and artists spend their time, was incredibly difficult. I’m way behind on my writing, for example. I’d take a break here and there, tell myself that I really was going to make Sunday a day of rest (honestly, whether you’re doing it for religious reasons or not, one day not devoted to work is a good idea, especially now), but the to-do list was already there the next day, waiting for me.
Meanwhile, the case numbers keep going up. Meanwhile, the clustering behavior of the pandemic means that some people know many who are sick–and are often sick themselves–while others know none. Meanwhile, a media and a public desperate for concrete information (as a species, humans don’t do well with uncertainty) seize on new research that may or may not have gone through the review process before being released to the public. Meanwhile, individual responses to the pandemic group into political alignments. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable and least well paid among us are stuck on the front lines with inadequate resources. Meanwhile, the administration keeps insisting that it’s no big deal, and if it is, that’s not their fault.
So yesterday I hit a wall. I think most of us have, or will, sooner or later. Even those of us whose lives have remained relatively stable through all of this. For me, there’s always been a certain comfort in knowing that things were still going on, even if I wasn’t present at them: concerts, civic celebrations, community gatherings. This week, the photos of empty streets and crowded hospital wards are hitting me hard.
And, it’s the end of the semester. Even under normal circumstances, everyone at my place of work–students, faculty, staff, everyone–would have earned a break. A tacit theme running through these posts has been how those of us less directly affected by the pandemic keep going with our lives while also dealing with the fact that this isn’t business as usual, and won’t be for a long time.
That includes taking time, where possible, to recuperate. Today, that’s what I’m going to do.