What a Long Strange Year It’s Been: A One-Year Quarantine Reflection Roundtable

A year and six days ago, we published a roundtable about how we were all coping with the new and confusing onset of a quarantine in response to a global pandemic: “It’s a weird time, friends and loved ones; we’re all feeling disconnected and scared.” Some things have changed a lot since then; some have disconcertingly not changed much at all! Many of us have lost a great deal over the past year, whether that was loved ones, a job, our health, connection with community, and more. Few of us were prepared to still be in the place we are now a year in. It’s hard to know how to feel in the midst of so much grief and at the advent of what many tentatively hope is a milestone in terms of vaccination access. We were hoping not to have occasion to revisit this conversation as a one-year anniversary, but we do, so here we are, exploring the question: What do you feel like you’ve taken away from this past year of pandemic life?

Adrian , Contributor

This year, I am feeling more in touch with the seasons than I ever have before. I have been deeply aware of the changing seasons, the fluctuation of daylight hours depending on time of year, and the weather. Observations of plant and animal life have begun to come much more naturally to me. I have started to trust my body when it tells me that I am tired or that I need to do some kind of physical activity or that I have gone too long without eating a green vegetable or that I am dehydrated. Despite the fact that I live inside a building and spent 10 hours a day on a laptop, I am a mammal whose body is responsive to my natural environment. My ability to socialize with people is dependent on the weather outside, and going for a long walk has replaced getting a coffee as my go-to friend activity. Our cultural norms around labor and relationships de-emphasize the fact that we exist on a planet that has rhythms and realities of its own. It is spring, and the daffodils are back, and the sun is lingering, and I have more energy. All these things are related to each other. I hope I will allow myself the space to continue noticing.

Casey , Contributor

This past year of pandemic life has really made me appreciate my union–and the power of unions and workers’ rights movements in general. I was laid off (very unnecessarily!) from my library job almost immediately, and right from day one my union representatives were fighting for us. They worked so hard right at the beginning of the pandemic to help librarians like me not have to deal with the financial stress of losing income at the same time as the emotional stress and health scares of a pandemic!

Months and months after the success of my union’s work (we were able to get paid up through until the library reopened and we started working there in person again), I am still so full of gratitude for the collective organizing and mutual support that my union and fellow workers did. The experience has made me pay more attention to the labour practices and the way workers are treated more generally, and helped me be more mindful of the businesses I support by shopping there. Go workers’ rights!

Drew Burnett Gregory, Senior Editor

I mentioned this at the end of my “articles I wrote this year” Twitter thread, but in February of 2020 I thought that I needed to stop writing for Autostraddle. I was broke and felt stagnant in my larger career goals. I thought I should pivot away from my creative and personal instincts and start climbing up some sort of industry ladder. Then the pandemic happened and not only did Autostraddle continue to commission work from us, but rates were increased and a fund was set up for those of us who needed it most. It was just such a visceral reminder of my community and incited a renewed commitment to focusing my energy where it actually was called. Now a year later, I don’t feel lost in my career. Work that I’ve done at Autostraddle has led me to other work that will sustain me long term. Not to say sometimes you aren’t broke and need to just find ways to pay rent, but I think this pressure of always moving forward in a sort of linear way is a capitalist myth I want to leave behind. The pandemic has shown how broken our society is in so many ways and that has both renewed my desire to change our society and my desire to listen to my own voice when it comes to how I live my life. This has been a really terrible and traumatic year but I feel grateful to emerge from it more certain about my relationships, my community, my creativity, myself.

Carmen Phillips, Editor-in-Chief

I have been thoroughly and completely stumped by this! I want to find a light at the end of this dark road — not only for the prompt or for anyone reading this, but also for myself. I think the truth is that I’m just not there yet. It’s too raw (even a year later). It still hurts too much. I think one thing I’ve gotten particularly good about this year, more than any year in the past, is honoring my emotions? I’ve struggled with depression for my entire life, but I didn’t get serious about finding professional help until my late 20s. This year has taught me that even when I’m flirting with the depths of real hard emotional places, I have the skillsets not to let it pull me under. That even if I can’t make it better — I can care for myself in the small ways that keeps it from getting worse. Two days in bed doesn’t have to mean I’ll never get out again. If I have to coax myself into eating something, literally anything, even a grilled cheese sandwich then I can treat myself with a chocolate milkshake. If I go two weeks without going outside, I can force myself into the sun for a drive to the store. I can keep doing the little things, even when I can’d handle the big ones.

Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor

I’ve been trying to figure out how to answer this question all week because I think what I’ve taken away from the past year of this pandemic is a whole lot of stuff I’m not going to know about for a while. A friend of mine who got Covid when there were only like 150 cases in NYC, two weeks before me, and who also developed Long Covid, tweeted the other night about how she didn’t really think she had much trauma from the acute experience of Covid — which she rode out at her own home in her own bed — but after her second vax last week, she had flu-like symptoms and it brought all the Covid stuff rushing back. ‘Cause, yeah, it was like a really bad flu for a lot of us, but I honestly cannot even begin to describe to you the feeling of having a novel virus that shut down New York City and the only sounds any of us could hear were the sirens taking people to the hospitals that were so overcrowded that people were dying waiting in line. The refrigerator trucks outside of hospitals because the morgues were full. And then, for us Long Covid people, thinking we’d recovered only to be hit with hundreds of mystery symptoms doctors didn’t believe and couldn’t explain. Anyway my friend was saying when she got the body aches and chills with the vaccination, all that stuff she thought hadn’t stuck with her was like, “Surprise, sucker!” That’s what I feel like I’m taking away from the pandemic, a whole bunch of yet to be revealed surprises, like the coming years will be a Groundhog Day experience of the final scene of the Pretty Little Liars pilot, when the Liars step out into the sunshine after their time of mourning and get that text from A, talking about, “I’m still here, bitches! And I know everything!”

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Managing Editor

It’s hard to count all the ways I’ve changed and things I’ve learned during the pandemic—especially because RIGHT before COVID-19 hit the U.S., I made a lot of huge life decisions/changes. The structure of my life changed a lot independent of the pandemic, and then the pandemic just sort of heightened all those changes. Like my long-distance relationship transitioned into a living-together situation but then IMMEDIATELY became a we’re-trapped-in-a-home-together-and-can’t-hang-out-with-anyone-but-each-other situation. We’re lucky though. Because while the pandemic put a lot of strains on relationships for people I know, my personal life is pretty much the MOST stable/consistent/easy part of living through the past year. We had to learn a lot of things about each other/how to communicate with each other/how to live together very quickly and under very high stakes! Which I think actually worked out very well for us. It was like a crash course on how to cohabitate with a partner well.

Nico , A+ Director

Besides the bone deep sadness and general disappointment, the deepening of my values, and the actual incredible growth within my relationship (I guess being together this much is really kind of a ride-or-die situation), I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening! There was what Sadie and I referred to as the “tick forest” out back, an area for gardening that was fenced with six-foot-tall chain-link to keep the city deer out. The house was abandoned for three years before we lived here… so it had four years of old growth pokeweed within the fencing, among other things because we left it for a summer. We cleared it out and then I dug so many roots and weeds up with my hands and a hoe and a trowel, and planted a garden. Some things did incredibly, other things flopped, and I think the raspberries might have survived. It’s kept me figuratively grounded to go outside and stick my fingers in dirt, check on plants, and just try to make it work. When the garden is in full swing, and I can go out each morning with Mya sniffing around for things to kill when I’m distracted by work meetings (I had to dig a grave for a groundhog after an Autostraddle call and I don’t take those outside with Mya anymore because she’s figured out I can’t chase her when I talk to my computer), it breaks up the monotony to see what’s ready to be picked. If you were on the A+ Discord server, you know I’ve started my seedlings. That was a big deal. There are some things that really won’t grow if you just put their seeds in the ground and tell them to. (And there are plants that require you to sow them directly or else they’ll get mad at you.) Did I manage to will tomato plants into being and fruiting a few slug-riddled tomatoes at the end of the growing season after sowing their seeds directly into the ground? Yes, I did. Do I think they’re going to do a lot better because they started in March and I’m transplanting them into larger pots this weekend? Yes, okay!

Also, I know this is maybe something that is making the rounds, but it turns out, I could have always been having regular video check-in’s or movie watch-a-longs with loved ones. That’s a revelation. Sadie and I try to keep a regular movie night with a friend in Richmond, VA that started as a mutually supportive way to combat depression but has resulted in me seeing more period dramas than I ever thought existed (K calls them “mortgage movies” because the actors clearly just needed a gig), and also a regular date with my sister where we’ve tackled the entire Twilight franchise, watched The Baby, and are working our way through the first season of The X-Files because my sister’s never really watched it?! She lives four and a half hours away on a good day, and post-vaccination, I absolutely don’t think I’m giving up the regular, de-pressurized talking-over-movies-over-video call way we’ve been spending time together. It’s really, really nice.

Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor

In addition to so many real-life things, one change over the last year that’s felt monumental is a real shift in my relationship to work – “work” both as an abstract American ideal and its place in my life and my own actual job. I’ve always been very work-focused – not so much in terms of career ambition but in terms of the space and energy I’ve given over to work relative to other parts of my life, whatever ‘work’ might signify at any given time. The pandemic has been no different. I’ve worked actually perhaps harder and longer than ever before; all of us have, especially during our last fundraiser (thank you so much for helping us reach our goal and bring it to a close!). For the first few months I resisted taking time off or even ending my workday at a normal time; it felt pointless, since there was nothing to do except close my laptop and just move it a few feet away while I remained in my apartment, perhaps looking at a larger or smaller screen for recreational purposes. If there was nothing else to do, why not work?

I also spent those months sharing my coworking space with my roommate as he now transitioned to working from home, listening to endless agency office calls about ‘getting on the same page’ and how many billable hours were left at any given moment, stilted happy hours for employee morale, and working late to hit client deadlines — all without any extra PTO, health coverage, or contingency plan for how employees should cope if they or a loved one got sick. It felt increasingly absurd to listen to office chatter and micromanagement while case counts skyrocketed without anyone mentioning it. I was so grateful to work someplace that actually acknowledged what was going on and made some allowances for it; at the same time, I was exhausted and increasingly distraught watching the pandemic ravage my communities unchecked. When I did finally start taking breaks – a few personal days! A long weekend! — I was, stupidly, shocked at how much better I felt. Everything was still awful, but it turned out that when you weren’t working in front of a computer 10 hours a day, it was less awful – because even when I’m not “doing” something else, my life & existence are still sort of worthwhile to just be in outside of any given job or external purpose. Is this an elementary observation and everyone else already knew this? Probably! But it’s really caused me to reexamine what about my values and sense of self made this surprising new information, and why I’ve organized my life the way I have; I really want now even after my life is defined by the pandemic in the specific way it is now to work on building a life where time & energy spent not in service of an end goal or concrete project is still valued and prioritized.

Ro White, Sex & Dating Editor

This is the longest I’ve gone without performing in some capacity since I was four years old. I was a child actor who joined a theater company right after college. I loved my theater company because I got to write and direct my own work, but my other post-college performing pursuits never fulfilled me. I’ve been acting in plays, movies, TV shows and commercials to pay some bills while pursuing my true passions — writing and stand-up comedy — on the side. Once the pandemic hit, I lost most of my work, and I’ve slowly built a full-time writing career for myself. It turns out that I’m much happier this way! I’ll probably return to stand-up when I can feel safe inside a crowded bar, but I’ve decided to step away from acting (i.e. performing someone else’s writing) for good, or at least for a good long time. This is a huge relief! I spent years in an industry I didn’t like because I was addicted to the affirmation. I’ve been applauded for my acting work by family, teachers, friends and partners for nearly my whole life, and it was hard to step away from something that has brought me so much praise. But now I have a much longer, more varied list of ways in which I value myself, and I’ve given myself permission to focus on skills that enhance both my happiness and my self-worth.

Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor

I’ve mentioned it a lot, but I work pretty constantly in normal times. This time away has given me a chance to slow down and think about who I am and what I want outside of my job. I cannot currently afford therapy but I have been doing a lot of work on myself, which is often painful but has been (I think) productive. I’m also really obsessed with the weird shit everybody’s gotten into during quarantine. Me, I got really into… tea? I order and drink a lot of weird tea now. I learned how to bake vegan challah, and then transferred this skill into making extremely tiny, individual sandwich-sized vegan challah. I bought an e-drum kit and became a better drummer. One time I tried DIY olive brining; it didn’t go well. I’ve had a lot of time alone with myself, and I’ve been trying to spice it up by trying new recipes, to mixed success.

Hilariously, I had joined a gym in February 2020. I’ve spent the entire last year fighting with said gym, because they are open (and monsters!) and I do not feel comfortable going there. However, in quarantine I did finally bite the bullet and start learning how to exercise, which I knew I needed to do. Somehow, I am gonna come out of quarantine with actual muscles in my arms, which has literally never happened.

Valerie Anne, Writer

My roommate stayed with her girlfriend at the start of the pandemic, when we all thought it was going to be two weeks, a month tops, but when the date of reopening kept being pushed back a week, a month, two months, she eventually decided to just fully move in with her girlfriend. I was nervous at first for money reasons, but luckily the balance of all my trips being cancelled and not having to spend money on the subway, etc, I was able to swing it. It’s going to be difficult to keep up with it once life starts to open up again but living alone – truly and completely alone – for the first time in my life has been really eye-opening for me. While it’s not an ideal time to be without human contact in general, I didn’t realize how much social anxiety I was holding onto in my own home – even when my roommate was staying at her girlfriends’ but still technically lived here – until she moved out. And I loved this roommate! She was one of the best roommates I ever had, and I really enjoyed living with her, but it turns out I was never truly “off” when I was sharing my space, which is something I didn’t fully realize until I wasn’t anymore. I think once it’s time to socialize in person again, I will be better for having my own space to recharge in. Another bonus of this realization is that it’s lighting a fire under my ass to start looking for a new day job (something I’ve wanted to do for years) because while I could convince myself it was “fine” I was being grossly underpaid for a while because I liked my boss and coworkers, now that my newfound sanctuary is at stake, I’m more motivated than ever to do something about it.

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  1. Valerie Anne! I came to a very similar realization about never really being “off” with roommates! Different circumstances of course, but I wasn’t expecting to identify with yours so strongly. It was such an odd feeling to identify, but I now live with just my partner and it’s a lot easier somehow. I also really liked my roommate(s)! There was just a level of like self-monitoring involved while living with other people that I didn’t realize was happening until the pandemic. Good luck with the day job hunt!

  2. I feel like I’m living my purpose and hitting my stride. It has been a crazy twelve months, and I still fluctuate between feeling kick *ss for doing all of the things and just tired from doing all of the things. I used to wonder how my mom could just keep working all the time and now I get it. You just keep going because things need to get done so you do them. Trying to live my values while giving myself grace for my imperfections. And love and gratitude for all of the kindness in the world.

  3. I learned that while this is the most isolated I’ve ever been, it’s not the loneliest I’ve ever been. and that put some stuff into perspective about how actually, I am kind of fucked up from what happened when I was younger. because if I can say “yeah, this is fine, it’s been worse before” while everyone around me is going absolutely bonkers from the isolation, then maybe that’s a bit of An Issue

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