Looking Back at a Year in Quarantine.

I don’t know the exact date that I started my quarantine, but I know for certain it was around this time. I specifically remember going to the grocery and getting enough food for 1 month and then a few days later, I went to a dance class and decided that would be my last “hoorah” before lockdown.

I think I’ve kept myself from looking back on this year because it’s been so difficult. I had some good times, and I’m here, I’m alive, but some days I have no idea how I’ve made it this far.

After a year in this weird situation, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be productive 24/7, that life will go on, and that dinner tastes better when I actually sit at the table.

But, I figure I may as well look back and document the highs and lows of lockdown. Here goes:

Career + Work

I started lockdown in mid-March and at first, I was still working full-time with a large client load. I was actually working 60+ hours a week.

I started working for myself — from home — at the end of 2018, so I was already used to that part of it. But on April 1st, I got dropped from my largest client. They laid off 50 percent of their staff and I lost a large part of my income. Within that same week, I lost another regular client. I ended up losing $6,000/month in income because of COVID.

Money noise stresses me out and this was terrifying. Because I’d had such a large workload prior to COVID, I’d actually put some paychecks into savings (most of my earnings went to credit card debt that I was trying to pay off), and for the first time ever, I had money just in case.

My “just in case” money plus the tiny bit of severance I got ended up making it possible for me to pay bills while I searched for new clients.

Losing my clients was one thing, but not getting new ones was another. Prior to COVID, I rarely had to look for work. I got referrals and emails about new clients and I knew I was really lucky because of that.

Nearly 51 weeks after losing the bulk of my work, I still am not at a full client load. I’ve been able to get by on the clients that stayed, and I did get one new client and a handful of one-off jobs. Unemployment has also helped me pay bills. In October, I made the last car payment on my Jeep, so not having a $500 bill each month has helped me rebuild my savings.

Anytime I’m not working on client work, I’ve regularly applied for gigs and full-time jobs. I’ve also been working on my blog, adding items to my Etsy shop, trying to get more Patreon memberships, and working on my craft as a writer. I wrote my first novel entirely during the month of November, and I published it in February.

Staying busy is important to me, and that’s been one of the strangest things about this year. I went from constantly being busy and having plans to having weeks with nothing on my planner and I’ve had to find things to do to fill in the hours.

In 2019, I was very lucky to have a great group of clients. But since the pandemic started, it’s been ROUGH looking for gigs. So many people are out of work, so the competition is much more difficult, and many clients don’t want to pay standard rates. I’ve also really struggled with clients looking for work to be done immediately, and especially clients contacting me after-hours or on weekends to get things done.

I have always been pretty big on boundaries for the sake of mental health, and I really tried to remind myself that just because everyone is at home more this year, that doesn’t mean we all need to be working 24/7. I don’t even have enough work to do that if I wanted to!

I have hope that as the vaccine becomes more available and more businesses get back to “normal,” I’ll see more work come my way. Until then, I’m going to continue to apply for gigs and jobs each week, and work to keep the small group of clients I currently have!

Food

Isn’t it funny to think back to the start of quarantine when the stores were out of flour since everyone was at home making their own bread?!

After I went to the grocery that initial time, I sort of made going on a monthly basis a thing… but all of it gave me anxiety. I didn’t like standing in line outside to get in, I didn’t like having to plan enough meals for a month of eating, and I hated how much everything had changed — arrows on the floor, plexiglass boxes around the cashiers… all of it was necessary, I know, but it gave me anxiety.

Since then, I’ve been relying on food delivery for 95% of my food, which has made for an interesting year. I usually get meal kits from Green Chef or Martha Stewart, and I’ve eaten a lot of Daily Harvest smoothies and grain bowls. I also tried a lot of things that could be shipped like Olipop soda and Magic Spoon cereal.

I also tried to support local restaurants by ordering takeout. I had some really great food, including a full-blown afternoon tea spread, a massive vegetarian “sushi” order on New Year’s Eve and a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich to celebrate PRIDE! Earlier this year, I ordered a King Cake from a Louisiana bakery to celebrate Mardi Gras at home.

I went through phases with food. Sometimes I really enjoyed cooking meals, and other times I just wanted to heat up something quick. I really haven’t done much cooking from scratch this whole year. The thought of going through my cookbooks and making a grocery list of ingredients is just too daunting.

For Thanksgiving, I ordered a meal kit that had green beans, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, and I bought ready-made cranberry relish and brie bites. For Christmas, I definitely bought all frozen food!

Before COVID, I did order meal kits when I was overwhelmed with work, but I actually enjoyed going to the store and picking things out to eat. I have always enjoyed cooking, so not really feeling up to it this year has been a bit of a downer, but I know I’ll want to get back to it eventually.

Mental + Physical Fitness

Ugh, this part of quarantine has been so difficult.

Before lockdown, I was going to the yoga studio or the dance studio 6-7 times each week. I finally figured out a really good balance between work and taking time for myself. Going to yoga during my lunch was honestly my favorite part of the day and I could tell I was getting stronger.

And then COVID came! Luckily, the yoga studio and dance studio have offered Zoom classes, but I quickly learned that it’s not the same. Learning choreography on Zoom means everything is backward… and there’s not much room in my 500-sq ft apartment to do leaps and turns.

As for yoga, I’ve made it work. Barre classes are a little easier to do at home than regular flow classes just because they require a little less focus. But, there have been streaks where I haven’t done any dance or yoga. At the start of quarantine, I didn’t do any of it and I took a walk every evening. I even bought a pair of new walking sneakers!

But, walking laps around my tiny apartment complex got old quickly, even after I tried listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks.

At the start of the year, I bought weights and workout equipment since it feels like we’re never going to back to in-person life. And while it has helped, it’s not easy to stay motivated. I’m trying to give myself grace when it comes to working out. This whole year has been a lot, and I’m just glad I’ve not gotten sick and I’m still alive.

As far as mental health goes, this year has really been tough. I have been very lucky that I haven’t suffered any loss due to COVID, but the stress of all the uncertainty has taken its toll. Being stuck at home and without the same physical fitness routine has also not helped my general anxiety and depression.

For a bulk of lockdown, I’ve really struggled with the weekends. I can stay busy with work and personal projects throughout the week, but when the weekend rolls around, I feel lost. I used to spend my weekends going out to eat, shopping, seeing movies… anything!

I have been able to combat the weekend anxiety a little bit by making a list of things to do — not anything work-related. It’s a list of movies I could watch or projects like work on my scrapbook. It helps, but I have to do it every week or else I’ll wake up Saturday morning with a head full of anxiety.

For a few years before the pandemic, I started using the Calm app for meditation. I was just using the free version (which is really great if you’re looking to start meditating), but this year I invested in the premium version and I’ve used it nearly every day. It’s helped a lot.

I also have been journaling a ton throughout the year — I even went through an entire journal — and it’s helped me vent when I’m feeling low or just like I need to spill my guts and not have anyone judge me. If I don’t have a busy day of work, I’ll light a candle and play some music and sit and journal right when I wake up, which is a really nice way to start the day.

Fun

I know many people would not describe this last year as being “fun” by any means, but I’ve really tried to have some good times. I’m big on seizing the moment and I didn’t want a month or a year to go by and I look back and feel like I did nothing. So, here’s some of what I did to entertain myself:

  • Rewatched every episode of “Insecure” in prep for the season 4 premiere
  • Got a monthly wine subscription and have been trying new wines every month
  • Finished watching the entire series of “Friends” for the first time
  • Made a cheesy 90’s boy band playlist
  • Ordered plants and seeds online and spruced up my patio garden
  • Did a 30-day challenge and used a different face mask every day to clear out my skincare stash
  • Watched “She’s All That” at least 40 times for the sake of nostalgia… and FPJ
  • Went to a drive-in movie to see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and discovered my FM radio didn’t work… so I listened to the audio using Amazon Prime… yeah.
  • Made a cork wreath from 250 wine corks
  • Attended approximately 25 virtual author events (and bought lots of books)
  • Celebrated Christmas in July with pizza, cinnamon rolls, and Hallmark movie BINGO
  • Tie-dyed a loungewear set… and used the leftover dye to color bed sheets and pillowcases 🙂
  • Put an inflatable pool on my patio… it deflated the same day and I had to frantically scoop out 80 gallons of water
  • Carved a pumpkin for Halloween… and it rotted within 48 hours
  • Watched every Laker’s game in the bubble
  • Paid $400 for a drive-in concert… it wasn’t for me but I tried
  • Cleaned out my entire collection of photos and memorabilia. I emptied so many boxes and got everything organized, which allowed me to start my scrapbook project!
  • Joined a virtual book club to reread the Babysitter’s Club books
  • Attended a holiday party via Zoom
  • Read approximately 70 books, including many by Black authors as I continue to learn about racial injustice in America
  • Discovered a love for the farmer’s market and enjoyed picking up fresh flowers and canned pickles!
  • Cleaned out my closet and mailed a large shipment of items to ThredUp
  • Attended a Zoom Justin Bieber concert on New Year’s Eve

The Difficult Stuff

This year was full of cancellations, including lots of trips and concerts. I had to cancel a trip to Iceland TWICE, canceled a trip to the beach, and canceled a trip to the Poconos (this one stung) for an adult summer camp experience. I went from traveling the world in 2019 — London, Paris, New York, San Francisco — to not leaving Austin once in 2020.

The Justin Bieber concert was also canceled twice… and so was Rascal Flatts, which was their FINAL tour and I laid in my bed and cried for this one.

I spent my birthday with my kitty Blanche and the same goes for all the holidays, which, I tried to make the best of, but it’s just a giant cloud hanging over everything.

I also struggled with work in terms of dealing with clients. I had a few issues communicating with clients and had a traumatic experience with a male client who said a ton of sexually inappropriate things to me via Zoom.

Toward the end of 2020, someone broke into my car and stole everything in it. I had nothing of monetary value in there, so they took all of my CDs (which I thought were hidden in the console). What killed me was they took all of the mixed CDs my dad made me over the years. He passed away in 2018 so I can’t get them back.

At the start of this year, my paternal grandfather passed away after a battle with dementia. The loss was tough on my family, and I was unable to go to his funeral because of my COVID concerns. I have been grieving this loss slowly — some days I still don’t think I understand that I’ll never see him again.

My largest struggle this year has been staying positive and trying not to feel like I’m lying to myself. There are days when I feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Will we ever get back to life as we knew it? Will the economy bounce back? Will I continue survive as a contractor?

Sometimes it feels incredibly weird knowing that I can live a majority of my life without opening my front door. I can write a whole novel and no one will know about it; stay up until 2am watching documentaries and no one will care… it’s freeing, but also very lonely.

I have really had to abandon this feeling of failure when it comes to my career this year. I have so many sticks in the fire: I’ve written books! I’ve started a Patreon! I have an Etsy shop! I write a weekly newsletter! I’ve had a blog for 10 years! …And yet, none of it contributes to my bottom line. It’s easy to feel like I’m not good enough and I need to find a new way to make a living. 

No matter how many bad days I have though, I know I’ll pick myself up and continue with my life. Not only is it human nature to make the best of the situation, but it’s a message I’ve spouted for years — make any situation yours for the taking. At the height of lockdown, I really struggled with this. How do we grab life by the reigns when there’s nothing to grab?

During one of my quarantine walks, I came up with a few answers. For starters, we’ve got to be more in the present. Going down the rabbit hole of a questionable future does us no favors.

Next, have some loose plans. I’m a planner, so this is tough, but this could mean coming up with ideas for a future vacation, but not actually booking things yet. Or, in my case, I have a list of things I can do if I get really, really bored.

Finally, be mindful about what you’re consuming — whether it’s food, wine, or loads of toxic social media. Finding the silver lining in life right now means taking control of the bits that you can and moderating your intake of what’s out of your hands.

If you got anything out of this post, I hope it’s that you know you’re not alone. We all probably did quarantine a bit different, but we made it work and we got by. Even on my worst day, I know change is going to come… and I’ll be ready for it.

Thank you for continuing to read my blog — I appreciate all of you!

To see more writing from me, be sure to subscribe to The Bitter Lemon by clicking “subscribe” on the right side of your screen. Want even more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get roundups, book recs and lifestyle tips. 

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