The pandemic rages on around the world and, here in Australia, we are lucky to have an almost-normal existence. 2020 undoubtedly sucked in many ways. Undoubtedly. I have written about its suckitude through the year – in blogposts, emails, and on Twitter.
That said, there were elements to it that I found really positive and I want to talk about the Top 3 of these in this post. Yes, I remain a sucker for listicles. I should preface all that follows with the caveat that I am (for the moment) in a continuing academic job and cushioned from many of the financial ramifications of living in lockdown and not being able to travel.
1. The biggest thing for me is living a non-commuting life for most of last year.
I wrote about this aspect in our final post for Research Whisperer, but I have more room here to expand. I flagged that I am the healthiest I’ve been for years and this means that I am more energetic and alert, and less stressed, than I have been probably since I started this job (which requires a 3-hour return commute).
As I also mentioned in the RW blogpost, 2020 was also a year that saw me clock in more ‘good’ work hours than ever before. I actually relished elements in my work that I previously just got on and did.
I have always loved working from home and am lucky enough to be in a house that has space for me to have my own desk in a shared office. I share the room with my partner, and we share with #KingRoop the cat, whose house is also in the study. During lockdown, I got to see my kids leave for school and come home each day. I can help out with dinner because I can clock off from work and be immediately mixing it up with the fam rather than only getting back at a time that we all have to be eating already. I can help my Mum out if she needs me. I can hang out with the cat, dog, or chickens during breaks.
I am a homebody at heart and the forced at-home-ness of our lockdowns didn’t change that.
2. I did and attended more things than I normally would have if we weren’t all living the Zoom life.
One of my earliest posts in 2020 was about how I was intending to go to more things this year. Despite the lockdowns and banned travel, I attended more talks and conferences than I have for a long time. This was partly because I had more general energy and, therefore, curiosity and motivation to show up to things, and partly because it was so much easier for me to attend things via Zoom (or similar) than to depend on – and account for – public transport and timing it with work and home and family and down-time, etc. I could just register or organise, and turn up. I was able to do so much more because I didn’t have to account for travel time and location changes (and didn’t have any of the stress this usually entails).
An associated element in being able to attend so much more was that people made their events more accessible and often free. I was able to be an academic tourist at other disciplines’ conferences that I would normally not have had the finances or time to prioritise. For 2020, I got to go to colleagues’ conferences and symposiums that were of interest but not central to my research areas, and attended a PhD researcher’s conference presentation in a discipline that isn’t associated with anything I do.
3. The everyday relief from social stress is remarkable.
I am an introverted type; I relate to every single one of these elements listed by @JennGranneman, for example.
Working from home for so much of 2020 meant that I had extended relief from the general anxiety of dealing with people. I like many people and there are folks I would choose to spend hours and hours with and wouldn’t mind seeing often, but the broad work of being out in the world socially and in a role that requires an engaging, accessible face takes its toll. I didn’t realise how much of a toll until I didn’t have to do it anymore. Many days started with a feeling of heady liberation because I knew exactly the times that I would be taking workshops or in meetings. It’s not like I’m pretending to be someone else when I’m out in the world but it’s the weight of being myself despite the constant anxiety of dealing with random people, interactions, potential for judgement and the depletion of my social batteries (even with people I like being with).
Part of the relief for 2020 of being off the everyday social stage is in not having to always respond to how I am, or talking about dire things and carrying that mood around while trying to also be encouraging and supportive. Sometimes, it’s good to retreat from feeling like you have to be things for other people, as @DangerousMere wrote in the blogpost “Solitary Mind: resilience“:
But on the days when you feel fragile, unhappy, or disorientated just remember that you don’t have to spend your energy being brave, or tough, or positive, or productive. No one sees you; No one is keeping score or rewarding points on how square your jaw is. On those dark days, just spend your energy on existing; don’t waste energy on asking yourself any more than this.
2021 is looking strangely the same as 2020 for at least the first semester, without lockdown but with teaching still online for the most part.
It is a privilege to be able to say that the biggest things I’m anxious about right now are the small raft of revision deadlines that need to be addressed and finalising the new year’s programming. I have a few days left of my summer holidays. I have work to go back to, and I know this is not the situation for many.