“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These words from A Tale of Two Cities are echoing in a new way after the past few months. In some ways, the coronavirus pandemic has brought us to our knees. We’ve experienced profound loss and loneliness, been forced to adjust to new routines, and had to think creatively about how to effectively communicate and socialize from a distance. The line between our personal lives and work lives has gotten substantially blurier. And some of us are suffering from the economic repercussions of COVID-19 that have led to furloughs and layoffs.
Yet amidst all of this, we’ve had the time and opportunity to reflect on the forces in our lives that keep us stable — what is truly important in life has never been more clear to us. While it’s not easy, we are all clinging to the hope that this will be over soon.
Until then, we are reconfiguring our lives and learning to cope. We spoke with a handful of millennials to learn about their experience during quarantine. Read below to see how they’re taking care of themselves and managing their responsibilities.
Elizabeth Abrams, Ohio
My job has grown substantially busier since the COVID-19 response escalated in the U.S. As I shifted to a seven-day, over 40-hour workweek, establishing steps to stay balanced became critical. I have standing 1 p.m. calls that I can take without a computer, so I made those “walking calls” during which I walk two to three miles and explore new neighborhoods. I also have a daily Zoom call that is consistently more relaxed. During these calls, I give myself permission to be more honest about how I am doing, make a joke, even simply wear a hat. It is helpful to look forward to these calls among the other Zoom calls where I am “on” the whole time.
On a personal level, I try to embrace both gratitude and grief. I have much for which to be grateful: my family and I are healthy. Seeing that the natural world does not get COVID, I can release the energy I typically expend making sure I am more than six feet from others in an outdoor activity like weeding a garden bed, for example. But I must also acknowledge what I am grieving: experiences, physical closeness, friends’ weddings, a family funeral that could not be held in person. Framing those challenges as grief offers me a way to process them, and gratitude helps me notice life’s simple joys that COVID-19 can’t touch.
Quinn McKenzie, Washington, D.C.
Quarantine has been a struggle for me in multiple ways. I have been trying hard to cope and be as productive as I can be, adjusting to this “new normal.” When I work from home, I use my laptop on my desk in my room and try to stay busy. I don’t get as much work done this way, because I prefer to work in coffee shops and libraries. I guess I just focus better outside of home.
The biggest challenges have been the work-life balance and taking care of myself. The first couple of months I was inside gaining weight and feeling really bad about myself and how things were going. Luckily, I have a lot of outlets to cope—like sports, the gym, and being outdoors. I recently started playing more basketball, going on bike rides, and getting back into the swing of things with baseball. Doing those things has kept me barely sane (although it’s not the same as having 300+ lbs on your back or pressing 150+ lbs over your head.) Luckily for all of us, the stay-at-home order all over the country is starting to end and hopefully sports, outdoors, and good times are coming for all of us.`
Colleen Szypko, Massachusetts
When this work from home period first started, I was initially using a small desk (truthfully, it was just a repurposed nightstand) and an uncomfortable chair in my bedroom. But once the reality of the situation started to settle in, I realized that I needed to change my setup. So, I upgraded to a larger desk that I moved to face my window, and put a cushion on my chair. I look at that nightstand now and I can’t believe I worked in that small of a space. I think the absurdity of it is evidence of my denial of this whole situation. (This can’t be for forever, so I’m just going to repurpose this nightstand for a week or two and then I’ll just go back into the office! Right?!?)
Regardless of this more spacious setup, it’s still hard to separate work from everything else when the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is my desk. This has forced me to be more intentional with my routine. Without a commute, I had to create a different kind of separation between my work day and my life. Now, I usually still wake up on the early side, listen to the news on my Google home, brew coffee, and make a substantial breakfast. During my work day, I’ve tried to be disciplined in putting my phone out of sight, setting mental deadlines for work, and maintaining the same level of formality in my Zoom calls (even though we’re all likely wearing PJ pants off-screen with our formal shirts in the video frame). I always stop work at around 4:30 or 5, at which point I go on a walk, practice yoga, or lift weights. These routines have been effective bookends for my work days, helping me either slowly wake up for my work day, or decompress after my work day is over.
Colin Cutler, North Carolina
When the pandemic hit, I went from living and teaching in a medieval city in Transylvania, surrounded by Austro-Hungarian architecture and the Carpathian mountains, to a farmhouse on the outskirts of a one-stoplight town in the eastern North Carolina coastal swamps. My granddad passed away in January, and I’m keeping an eye on the place and cleaning it up for the family.
It was a shock to the system at first. After two-and-a-half years mostly in Europe, I’ve grown unfamiliar with lines of cars streaming past empty sidewalks, buying groceries in bulk, or driving half an hour to a Walmart or Lowes that is at least as large as the Great Square of Sibiu or York’s Parliament Square. But I’ve started settling in.
There are the daily tasks of beating back nature’s encroachments on the property: pulling briers, spraying poison ivy, power-washing the deck, trimming dead limbs, bombing fire ant hills. I’m starting an EMT class in a couple of weeks so I can help with the pandemic’s second wave if need be, and applying for an English teaching job at the community college up the road, where my great aunt taught for years. I’m also doing occasional online charity gigs with my music and working on some writing projects.
But, most importantly, for the first time in six years, I’m in one place for the growing season. So I put in a garden. Keeping a garden is, to me, an act of hope — of radical possibility in a confined space. Plants, if you take the time to put them in the ground and nourish them with the sun and water and soil, will do what they’ve done for ages and reward you with flowers and food and the entire cycle of life in a year’s space. Have patience, breathe, wait — and water.
Frenchie Huey, Utah
Quarantine has been a difficult time for all of us, both physically and mentally. I have been doing my best to keep both my mind and body healthy during this time, which has been difficult as I was furloughed from my job leaving an excess of time. Hiking, biking, and camping have kept me sane here in Utah. I’ve been enjoying the wonders of the outdoors and using this as a time to get grounded and recenter. I have also been happy to spend extended time with my family. I have lived far away from them for most of my adult life so this is the first time I’ve spent more than a few weeks at home with them since high school. It’s been a great opportunity to reconnect and create new memories with the people I love and am close to.
Mary Cunningham, New York
I was about two weeks into my new job in New York when my supervisor informed me that we would be working from home until further notice. Just as quickly as I entered, I packed up my stuff.
Being new to the area, I was staying with my aunt and uncle at their house while I got acclimated to the city and looked for an apartment. As the coronavirus crisis worsened, my brother and two cousins decided to join us.
For the first few weeks of quarantine I was working upstairs in my room — a cozy space with two windows and a wooden desk well-suited for work. I thought about joining my brother and cousins in the dining room, but I convinced myself I would be more productive if I stayed in my room. As the weeks dragged on, I began to feel stir-crazy. The only real break I had from the space was in the morning when I went on my run or at night when we ate dinner together.
One day, my cousin Julia, being the kind-hearted person she is, decided it was time I joined the cousins downstairs. We added a leaf to the dining room table and everyone shifted their computers and keyboards a few inches to make space for my stuff. The change of scenery brought immediate relief. I now had a separate space to work and more face-to-face interaction.
From my new vantage point, I observe my brother on tax calls, my cousin Jack building PowerPoint decks, and my cousin Julia meticulously combing through spreadsheets. In between work, we crack jokes, share music, and exchange advice. It certainly livens up the work day to have them around. I have the three of them — along with my aunt and uncle — to thank for keeping me healthy and sane.