If until three months ago, uncertainty was that feeling that we knew existed but were able to trick ourselves into believing we could control, well, we can’t any longer.
Since we can’t, what can we learn from it, what can we do to reduce the uneasiness that we’ve been feeling when we look back at our plans for the summer holidays, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s; the goals we set for ourselves both physically and financially. The people we had planned to visit after such a long time away from them.
Those who know me well would say I’m not the “planner in advance” type of person, on the contrary, I’m a lover of the impromptu. Funny thing, for the first time in years, I set annual goals, I bought annual memberships, I made scheduled travel plans.
In preparation for a climbing trip in Laos next October or November, I made plans to train a couple of times a week. I bought memberships in two climbing gyms, one of them paid through the end of the year. I found a climbing partner who ‘clicked’. I was leading again, entering the roof, and could feel the progress after five months of climbing regularly.
I had planned for a pretty active 2020. I would finally learn a new sport and long time passion: surfing. I even looked at tickets and made a few inquiries about the best places and season for beginners in Indonesia.
I was going to cross two oceans to visit my friends who are family for two whole weeks. I would be there long enough to spend quality time with everyone I wanted to see, wander around the once familiar streets of Somerville and Cambridge, and watch sunsets along the Charles.
Not all plans involved international travel. There are so many things I still need to do in my new ‘home’. Places to go, foods to sample, parks, trails, waterfalls, the sea. To some extent, I can still explore some of it, but it’s not the same. It will not be the same.
The weirdest feeling in this whole situation is ‘being home.’ After four years of living out of my backpack, hostels, friends’ couches, or short-term rental arrangements, I have a home. The moment I signed the contract and moved in, I felt something I hadn’t felt during the years I spent on the road: I felt the need to j u s t s t a y h o m e; which I did, for most of the four months following my move.
While part of me wanted to be out and about, discovering new places and meeting new people, the other part wanted to go home as soon as I was done with work, spend weekends organizing drawers and running to the department store every time I realized I needed something for the house. For four months, I stayed inside, making this temporary home, my home.
Now, it feels like I was preparing myself for what was coming. I even managed to get whiskey glasses and an oven three days before the curfew started. Now I can sip whiskey while eating warm pão de queijo and looking at the plants in my balcony. Having plants has been crucial during this ‘stay at home’ period; they are the ones I talk to in the morning and they are extremely happy with the quarantine. I’ve never seen them so sparkly green.
A month ago I thought it would be a good idea to start a journal about how I’m embracing (or not) these uncertain times, as I’m sure a lot of people are doing. Somehow, though, I couldn’t get myself to sit down and write, not even a couple of lines a day. March 21st (day 1), 31st (day 10) and April 9th (day 19) are all the entries I have during the past 41 days.
April, a month that as I write feels long gone, was long, intense, tough. It passed so fast, and at the same time so slow. Mixed feelings and sensations of a level I don’t remember experiencing before.
When COVID-19 hit and movement restrictions were put in place, I had to deal with an inability to go (travel) around and solve things. I panicked thinking about my friends and family, I panicked more from reading the news. For several days I tried to work but all I could do was to stare at my computer screen, immobile. I couldn’t stop looking at my phone, checking social media, going through messages every few minutes or so. I was already exhausted from the first few months of 2020, as the new job, new city, new routine started to sink in and feel less temporary. I couldn’t wait to take a break. I had been so much looking forward to spending a few days on the beach in mid April. Then, the Thai government cancelled the long holiday in April. A few days later, all domestic flights were suspended.
I took those days off anyway and only after four days I was able to ‘turn off’, and stopped feeling guilty about not being as productive as I wished I was.
PS – guilt is a bitch; expectations too.
I alternated active days with those in which I probably walked less than 1,000 steps inside my apartment. I got into ‘obsession mood’ a couple of times. I burst out crying out of the blue. I danced with the lights off too. I took so many showers and baths! My water bill for April was higher than usual, and although knowing it’s not environmentally the best thing to do, I’m allowing myself to not feel guilty about it as water helps soothe my mind and soul.
I started taking pictures of my everyday life and playing with the reflections I see in the mirrors and windows around me. At this time of the year, the morning sun shows up in my apartment around 6h. By 6h20 it’s entering my bedroom window, through the curtains I leave half open. I love having the sun wake me up. I love even more watching the different shapes and shades its rays draw when entering my room.
In early April, I reached out to people more often. Towards the end of the month, I felt so tired at the end of the day that the last thing I wanted was to join another online meeting with someone who had just woken up and full of energy. Then, loneliness hit. Not the regular type of loneliness, to be clear. I have amazing friends and family around the world who are always there for me. But they are far, most of them with a 6-12 hour time difference, which ‘forces’ me to stay quiet and ‘alone’ during most of my day time. Except for work related conversations, the days passed in silence: 7, 14, 21…. I would wake up to hundreds of text messages sent by people before they had gone to bed. Then, 8-10 hours of silence would follow. By the time they would start texting again, I was already fed up with screens, after spending the 8-10 hours staring at one, for work.
Back when we could still walk around without face masks, or having to ask about how people were keeping up with social distancing (also as a way to figure out if it would be ‘safe’ to meet in person), I had made a resolution for 2020: that I’d get out more often, in a effort to build a social network, meet like-minded people, make new friends outside of work. Most importantly, people in the same time zone. I dared my introverted self to join meet-ups and reach out to different communities outside of the online world, and I was quite proud of my efforts. Then, we all know what happened.
Climbing gyms closed, then restaurants, then parks, I retreated to my turtle mode, into my shell. This time not because I wanted to.
I have also thought a lot about being single in times like this. I texted a group of friends, all married with kids, saying I was jealous that they had partners to share this time with. Oh…that the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ has never been truer. To these friends: thank you for being so open about your own struggles while supporting and understanding my own; I’m very glad to know we are in this together and have a safe space to share our feelings, thoughts, struggles.
I started running. I was never a runner. I started going for even longer walks as an excuse to explore the neighborhood and get enough daily steps. It started with 5km, now it’s about 10, and I’m looking for new areas to explore, preferably with back alleys, quiet lanes, canals, some green.
Not having plans, or having to change them on the go, was never a problem to me before, and I keep reminding myself that it shouldn’t be now. I was so happy with the pinches of certainty from having a new job and a steady income, that I forgot how happy I was with the uncertainties of my life before that. Writing about it and sharing with the people who have been following my adventures through uncertainty, help me stay grounded and aware of my own abilities to deal with whatever comes next.
For now, I would be very happy to be able to travel again. Domestic will do. A beach sunset, an outdoor climb; there’s so much to explore in Thailand. It’s not much to ask, is it?