This is part of a special series, We’re Reemerging. What Does the World Look Like Now?, which considers in real time how we cope while living through a historic time. It’s also in the latest VICE magazine. Subscribe here.
When work stopped and restaurants and bars and stores and all of the buildings I used to spend all of my time inside became sites of danger and plague, I quit therapy (ha ha) and started sleeping eight or nine hours a night. I dropped weeknight cocktails (no occasions to cocktail at) or whatever and started exercising regularly. I started cooking food that I enjoy eating. It obviously wasn’t the first time I did any of these things, but it was the first time I did them all as a part of the same routine. Was I bored? Obviously! Did I feel calmer and more grounded than I had in recent memory? Unfortunately, yes—and now I’m scared to lose it in the great Return to Normal.
Staying home all the time is like finally watching a TV show I’d avoided just because everyone wouldn’t shut up about it. You have to… It’s actually… I seriously couldn’t believe it until I tried it… But now I’m furious to be feeling a twisted kind of domestic bliss. I’ve learned I like settling in with a book on a Friday night. I enjoy having one craft beer and then going to bed at 11:30pm. I do not miss clockwork hangovers or counting my walk to the bus as substantive exercise. I feel like I have enough time—at last!—to take care of myself as I was delivered from the clutches of FOMO that often got in the way.
Of course, this is the 2020 social retrospective of someone who stayed employed and worked from home—someone who got to build new habits, who got to cope by being healthy, which still feels a little disgusting. I was sickly thrilled to have a concern so immediate and blazing it made every petty thing I could possibly worry about feel vanishingly small. It made crystal clear what I could control and what I couldn’t, and part of what I could control was helping other people. Like everyone else with eyes and the means and a conscience, I sensed the suffering around me and tried to act accordingly. I pitched into burgeoning mutual aid efforts, exchanged contact information with the other residents in my building, smiled more (as dumb as that sounds), and stayed home as much as possible.
What looms now, though, is that feeling good in this way might clash with the rising tide of socializing. With summer and mass vaccination on the horizon, those petty worries are reblooming with the springtime. I should be happy! I should be romanticizing an electrifying packed-dance-floor future. Too bad I’m busy fretting, and fretting about fretting. How will I keep up my 3x a week Peloton “strength” “training” amid the forecasted bacchanalia?
I do not want to stop “being fun” when the form of fun that means “getting drunk in public on a Tuesday” becomes a morally sound option again. I want to stay connected to the people I’ve been lucky enough to snatch a slice of outdoor time with over the past year. I even want to keep up with the less urgent relationships that have been winnowed down to tipsy Instagram story responses. But I don’t want to go back to feeling tired and worried all the time, and I fear that these desires are diametrically opposed.
This is all a personal problem, although I’m confident I’m not the only person having it. I know this because of conversations with friends and pleading tweets from strangers. It’s not a universal concern, sure, but the tension was certainly baked into our old mode of living. The last year made clear to me how our lives aren’t designed to accommodate all of the things we need to make ourselves happy, because we’re expected to prostrate ourselves at the altar of work: sink hours into transit, shiver in an office, and then go home with just enough energy to rinse and repeat. Somehow, there’s also supposed to be time for eating healthy, seeing friends, cultivating the side hustle, and on and on. All of these things manifest as added burdens and flashpoints for anxiety, instead of the essential components of a fulfilling life they should be.
“Normal” is coming back, slowly but surely, and it’s impossible to pretend it isn’t. Instead, I’m taking steps to “protect” my time: setting up a mandatory “night in” once a week, booking a gym membership that’s pricey enough that I’ll have to use it, and internalizing the idea that nobody will hate you if you say no to a pregame. And, more importantly, I’ll be going back to real life with a renewed interest in fighting for a system where employment doesn’t happen at the expense of everything that actually makes us feel human.
Follow Katie Way on Twitter.