My plans were set. After my divorce, I moved to a small apartment in New York City. I wanted to get re-involved in theater, my first love, and connect with New York’s vibrant theatrical community. I joined the board of an amazing theater company, invested in a minor way in some Broadway shows, and began working with an incredibly talented group of artists on a new musical.
And then came the pandemic. Suddenly, I found myself locked down in NYC for 10 weeks. The news talked at length about “high-risk’” people, and I had to grapple with the realization that I was one of them. Walking outside was a minefield of workers, joggers and bicyclists, many without masks. I realized how fragile some of my relationships were, based on shared in-person experiences rather than long-time friends whom I could call up and vent to or just cry. And yet, I knew I was incredibly lucky. I had enough money to live comfortably and ultimately, I was even able to rent a small place outside the city so that I could enjoy the outdoors.
But, like many others, I am struggling. So much of what made my life enjoyable is missing. Many of us are infected with Zoom fatigue or a loss of productivity, and I’m no exception. And I certainly understand that my complaints are nowhere near as meaningful as the travails of those who struggle economically, are forced to work at jobs that put their health at risk, or have lost careers, homes, or, God forbid, loved ones. But I think there are two factors that make this pandemic particularly difficult for people like me, who thrive on contact with other people.
First is the loss of spontaneity, of possibilities, of daily adventures. Pre-pandemic, I loved walking in the city and maybe happening upon a free art gallery opening, a crowded concert in Central Park or a book talk; I would often have the most fascinating conversations with strangers about books, music, or the state of the world. And occasionally, I would satisfy my fangirl side by getting a selfie with a celebrity.
But all of that is gone. There are few unexpected meetings or events. You don’t sit next to strangers on a crowded park lawn or speak to people on the subway. We are, of necessity, distanced, and most of our days are filled with mundane decisions about whether to go to the drugstore or whether we can put off that dental appointment for a few more weeks. Attending a show or making a new friend or posing with a celebrity? Impossible.
There are, of course, some compensations—getting closer with spouses or family members, having time to work on personal goals—but in general, life has lost much of its flavor, its spice and that’s painful. And we don’t know how long this will go on, which makes it doubly difficult.
The second loss is in our feelings that we have something interesting and compelling to contribute to others. If your daily life is limited to work, trips to the supermarket and an occasional visit to a green space, you begin to feel boring. If you’re spending most of your free time at home in your sweats binge-watching a new series, what can you possibly contribute to a conversation? And even when you do speak to people, the conversation can dry up quickly; not surprisingly, the monotony in our daily lives has infected our ability and desire to talk.
So, is there anything to do about these losses? Well, I don’t think it’s easy. After all, we ARE in the middle of a global pandemic and our lives HAVE contracted. Uncertainly is the rule; adventures, travel, spontaneity, art, and theater have all fallen victim to the virus. But I do have a few ideas.
DON’T LOOK AHEAD
My first idea is one that my daughter suggested—don’t look too far into the future, just get through each day. And I think that’s very wise advice. When I think about the election, or the fact that we might not come of out of this for two or three years, my brain freezes, my thoughts get muddled, and I find myself sinking into a depressed state.
DO SOMETHING UNEXPECTED EACH DAY
My second suggestion is one I have turned to often throughout the years. Make a daily list and try and put one unexpected or novel item on it every day. It doesn’t have to be big; it can be as simple as visiting a different section of a park you always walk in or taking a photo that you might incorporate into a series. For me, my lists have included writing this article and taking photos of dilapidated barns in my neighborhood, both of which have stimulated my imagination and made me feel happier.
REACH OUT TO OTHERS
My third recommendation is to reach out to one friend or acquaintance every day. If friends aren’t contacting you, don’t assume they are tired of you or so happy that they don’t have time for you. It is more likely that they feel dispirited just like you do. In fact, your call or message might be a highlight of the week for them. And try and draw them out about things in their lives that are getting them through the day. You might find yourself laughing at your mutual enjoyment of Emily in Paris or binge watching all of Seinfeld.
I firmly believe that exercising and staying as healthy as possible is important. First, exercise generally lifts your spirits and second, getting healthier might actually save your life during the pandemic. For example, during the summer, I started to play tennis for the first time in years. I’m still a terrible player, but my stamina has improved and I just feel healthier. And if walking is part of your exercise plan, then try and find someone willing to walk with you. Right now, spending time with people should be a priority.
Remember that many of us are feeling the same sense of bleakness and monotony. There’s no shame in it and there’s a benefit to talking about it with others. It may be a cliché, but we really are all in this together.