Emerging from Quarantine
How can those of us who have moved from bursting full lives to simpler lives emerge well?
Upfront — this is not for you if you have found your life more chaotic, with little ones running around, or heavier than usual work schedules — where leaving quarantine might be going back to a simpler life. This is for you who has found yourself living a simpler life.
It is April 2020. I have been “in quarantine” for 6 weeks and am about to enter week 7. I have at least 6 weeks left.
The big question everyone is asking: How are you doing? As I’ve answered this question repeatedly, it occurred to me that I had fallen back on patterns I established while living in Arizona, just a few months before.
You see, my husband and I live in Wisconsin, moving here after spending 3 years in glorious, sunshine-filled Texas. To escape winter, we bought a 5th-wheel camper to live in Arizona for a few months.
A simple life
While in Arizona, our lives were very simple. For 8 weeks, we worked from our camper, we cooked and ate, we went on walks in the mountains, read books, listened to podcasts and sometimes watched TV. We had shed all of our “extracurriculars” from Wisconsin — no church, no small group, no knitting group, no handbells, no online video games, no meeting up with friends, other than occasionally hanging out with Paul’s parents who were living a few feet away in their own RV and a few people in the neighborhood.
Which, sounds a lot like what we’re doing in quarantine.
But I’m not here to talk about how to live during quarantine (maybe I’ll write something on that later)— no, what I want to share is what happened after Arizona.
Emerging and Returning
As our time in Arizona was drawing to a close, I remember feeling anxious about returning — I was both excited to see friends in-person again but I was concerned about losing some really good habits that I had built in Arizona — time reading, time in solitude, contemplation.
It turns out I was worried about the wrong thing.
At the end of the first week at home — where I had returned full force to the office, to my knitting group, to small group, all at once, I found myself very overwhelmed. I wrote this post on Facebook:
I acknowledge that I chose to live in Arizona and we are not choosing to live this way now. But, even though it has been hard, you may be surprised on the other end of how much your brain has adjusted to living with less. Less noise, less people, less activity — just less of everything.
I suspected my overwhelm would abate, and I was right. I felt back to “normal” (which, was just in time for getting sick and my quarantine starting-hah!) But perhaps I didn’t have to go through that to begin with (or maybe I did so that I could write this!)
As we emerge
While the end of the strict quarantine is a few weeks or months ahead, I wanted to write this now to get us thinking — how can we who have been living a simpler life emerge and re-enter well? Based on my experience there are a few things.
Realize that there will be an re-adjustment period for you, and for everyone.
Even though you have not experienced what I did coming back from Arizona before, this analogy might help:
Our bodies get used to a baseline. Have you ever played music really loud in the car and it seemed fine. Then you got out of the car. When you got back in and turned the music on– it seemed like it was BLASTING — even though it was at the same volume as before when you thought it sounded fine then. Your brain gets used to having less noise.
We will emerge at different paces. You may want to run around hugging everyone, but I’d ask you to consider starting small — you may find yourself more overwhelmed than you realize. This will also help your friends who know they will find themselves overwhelmed.
Consider increasing things slowly
As I said — I returned to everything immediately. I wish I had slowly re-introduced things to my life such as:
- Returning to the office slowly — start with coming in for half-days then working up to full-days. (This is a recommended practice for people coming back from sabbatical, which you could think of this time as being a sabbatical).
- Slowly re-introducing activities.
Pause and Check-in with Yourself
As I said in my post, I found myself really overwhelmed and frantic. If I had a pattern of checking-in with myself, I might have foreseen that I was beginning to be stressed and scaled back earlier than I did, saving myself from some of the deeper stress I felt later.
If I could really sum it up in one essential statement: When we restrict, the impulse is to binge — resist the urge to binge on being in-person.
Looking back, I don’t know if I could have had the courage to actually do these things. I tend to pride myself on my stamina and ability to push-through. I imagine it will be even more difficult now as our world desperately desires to return to “normal” (though my suspicion is that it is gone — we will be rebuilding a new normal.)
I’m learning to be kinder to myself and to my human limitations, and I ask you to do the same — both for your sake and for others.