Check back for updates as quarantine persists <3
May. 18 Socially isolated birthdays and virtual therapy
Just before the Covid pandemic took it’s hold on the social economy, I was planning to begin seeing a new therapist. I had my first appointment scheduled the week that the province entered into a state of emergency, at which point the therapist moved her practice to video format. It had felt important to me at the time to have an in person interaction so I put it off for about a month, though there were things that I felt ready to work on. Then it occurred to me that there may actually be no better time to start therapy, even if it is through a webcam. I’d settled into a supportive environment with my family, had no time engagements to be mindful of like work or school and had access to both the time and space to truly involve myself in the process of personal development. So I set myself up in bed one Saturday morning (and every Saturday since), with my laptop elevated on a pillow in front of me, and waited for my new therapist to appear on screen. I was worried that it would be awkward in the way that FaceTime is with friends you’re exclusively used to interacting with in person, but it turned out to be the most comfortable virtual interaction I’ve yet to have in quarantine. If anything is different from my previous therapy experiences, it’s that I’m in a more comfortable environment. I write out the points I’d like to discuss beforehand and share those during the appointment, and if I’m overwhelmed after, it’s not a problem because I’m already in bed. I just sign off and fall back onto the pillows. I’ve been fortunate to access insurance through my university institution, which covers up to ten therapy sessions. I didn’t know that I had that coverage until recently and I imagine there’s a lot of students who are unaware that they have similar benefits. If you need help coping with the uncertain times, and finance or insurance permits it, then I definitely recommend a digital quarantine therapist.
Another realm of social practice that I’ve had to improvise alterations to as of late, have been celebrations. Without the ability to have all my loved ones in the same space, it feels like a struggle to make certain occasions feel as special as they have in previous years. My sister Hannah’s 19th birthday for instance, and my grand father’s 86th- both events that we would have hosted parties for under normal circumstances. My sister and I share a soft spot for these sort of sentiments, celebrations such as w’eve grown up being familiar with. In our childhood, birthdays trumped all other holidays. Naturally, I didn’t plan on this year being any exception. For our grandfather’s birthday, I wrote a sort of digital dedication while my sister and mom set to work on a meticulously constructed trifle. Together, we drove to my grand parent’s condo and exchanged the birthday dessert social distance style through the car window. I’d performed a similar action for one of my friends the week previous, because I knew he was lacking reading material in his quarantine. We used the excuse to bake him and his family some ridiculously decadent brownies, packed with a couple of personally recommended books, and door delivered the whole thing. For my sister’s birthday, the expectations were naturally a little higher. After all, birthdays are listed above christmas on our family’s holiday hierarchy. With limited experience in online shopping, my mom and I resorted to various Etsy purchases in hopes of supporting some smaller Canadian businesses. Unfortunately the packages also arrived at various times (I’m still waiting on the last one, though Hannah’s birthday is officially two weeks behind us). Despite that consideration, I’d like to think that “Hannah day”, went over pretty well. We woke her up to pancakes, and watched her open all her mailed in gifts in front of us, in a room decked out with balloons and streamers from birthdays past. Then we spent the day together, the three of us, doing whichever quarantine activities felt right (per Hannah’s requests of course). She seemed pretty happy.
I’ve since concluded that quarantine birthdays are their own breed of special. An acquaintance of mine articulated it perfectly in an Instagram post on her own recent birthday: she wrote about how heart warming it was to have her friends and family go out of their way to “bridge the distance” between themselves in the midst of a pandemic that’s been forcing most people a part. An act as simple as a virtual checkup from a friend has had a largely reassuring effect on me, and I imagine for many others too. Add onto that, for instance, a package in the mail, a socially distanced door delivery or a drive by visit (birthday parades are a thing now), and it’s not hard to call up some happy tears.
Needless to say, I’m extra grateful for the little things right now, notably: birthdays and virtual therapy. <3
Today concludes three weeks and two days of quarantine in the suburbs. I’m feeling a bit stagnant as the days blur into each other, increasingly aware of the fact that life as I knew it a few weeks ago has been suspended. I miss the city and my friends. A couple days ago, I felt a particular wave of this sentiment, so I reached out to a few people I enjoy talking with and asked if they wanted to set up a FaceTime date. Then the day rolled around that we’d agreed to connect, and I felt so tired that I would rather have curled up in a ball watching Netflix. I thought to myself, it’s funny that social interaction requires a certain energy from you, even in isolated times as these when you’re craving it more than usual. Arguably it requires more energy (or a different kind), because even though you don’t have to get dressed or leave the house to talk to a friend through a screen, you do have to haul yourself out of the mentality of being home alone. Even though you are home alone. I was actually invited to a zoom party the other night, that I didn’t go to. I planned to, thinking that a) it would be a novelty experience to include in my quarantine and b) it would be easier to attend a party with people I’m not very close with if I didn’t have to commit my full presence to it. I got dressed up in my party clothes for the 6 pm login, and then the thought occurred to me: would it be lame to login right at 6 pm? How do you arrive fashionably late for a webcam party? Either I’m early and I’m having a one on one screen chat with someone I don’t know that well, OR I’m late and I arrive to 15 screens of faces all noticing my arrival at the same time. After some debate, I decided to side step the social angst entirely for a family movie screening in the basement. The social distancing version of “staying in” on a night out. I did however, push myself to keep my FaceTime dates. I spoke to one of my good friends for an hour earlier this evening, and I left the conversation feeling like I’d been revived from a semi-conscious state. Because even though talking to him made me miss the city, and well, life, it also reminded me that said life exists. It existed before this and will exist again after. Talking to the people I care about through a webcam feels like a promise to myself that I’m going to see them in person when this is all over. I’m exceedingly looking forward to that day. In the meantime, I’ll be here in the shwa, being ever grateful for my family, and channelling cabin fever into eclectic collage efforts. <3
In the first week that official quarantine measures were being taken, my impending unemployment date was still unforeseen. Many of the people around me had already packed their things for a prolonged stay at their family houses outside of the city, but my own thought of going “home” to my mom’s house in Oshawa to self-isolate remained comforting and distant. I pictured myself sitting on her living room couch with a book, hunkered down for a cozy two weeks with her and my sister, and our two dogs.
When my work officially closed and I had to decide what to do with myself, I panicked. For a few hours, I wasn’t sure that I actually wanted to leave Toronto for an indefinite amount of time, forgoing my sanctum of personal space in the process. But there was no denying that I felt a need to be with my family while this unfolded. I was only worried about the repercussions for my own passions and creative energies. I love spending time with my family, but over the years I’ve had difficult feelings about the house and city this time inhabits. The house itself, is my parent’s, or at least one that they own together. It’s not the house that my sister and I grew up in, which is about a five-minute drive away, but a smaller house in a newer neighbourhood. It encompasses many of the same interior details: framed photos of our family, old furniture, even the same light fixtures, but in this context they appear as echoes of their former home. Since I moved to Toronto in 2016, my parents have separated, and my sister has graduated high school and left the home periodically to travel. In the time in between, there were fights, tension, awkward silence. On top of that, there was a period of strain in my sister and I’s relationship that framed my visits with feelings of guilt and sadness.
I began to believe that this house, and the whole city for that matter, was harbouring those feelings, enclosing me in them each time I visited. A wish to see my family brought me here fairly frequently but an apprehension of energy loss sent me back to Toronto after a few days.
Having now exceeded a week at the family house for the first time in years, I’m finally noticing a different feeling emulating from the walls, a sense of comfort. As my sister, mom and I share in the stillness of this time and console one another’s collective uncertainty, the walls around me feel less like someone else’s home. Within these walls, my family and I wake up and converge for meals, laugh, and discuss the news, what books we’re reading or what movie we’ll watch together later. But then we go off to our separate corners of creation to do our own work, and I believe it’s this integration of artistic routine that truly renewed my relationship with the interior space. My sister heads to her bedroom to read or to the kitchen to concoct a meal or lavish desert, my mom heads to her studio in the basement to draw, and I sit at my impromptu dining room table turned desk, writing this, and whatever work speaks to me in the moment. There is something truly gratifying about cohabiting a space with creative people. Their energies and motivations rub off on you. A psychotherapist once told me that if you can change your thoughts about a certain subject, you can change the effect it has on your mood. Sitting here, at the impromptu dining-room-table-work-desk, I’m realizing that my thoughts and mood have shifted naturally. In the slow passing of each day, I feel a desire to create and consume flowing through me and throughout the house. I’ve developed an appreciation for this space, which I formerly took for granted.
Inside the chaos of this pandemic, I’m experiencing a forced stillness. My world, which I’ve only ever known to move forward, has come to a full halt. No school, no work, no schedule to adhere to, or plans to be made. I know that this isn’t everyone’s experience. Many are combatting increasing financial insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety. Their worlds are spinning. On social media platforms, I’ve seen a strong presence of support for the communities we know will be hurt by this the most, for families and youth in need of food, artists who’ve lost their sources of income, small shop owners, gig workers and restaurant employees, and many others, as well as the frontline workers who continue to support those of us at home. Instagram, the platform that I am most present on, seems to serve multiple functions right now. It is a news outlet, a community, a support system, as well as a source of continued entertainment, creative inspiration and comic relief. One aspect of content that I’ve found particularly beautiful is the collective documentation of this experience. As I go about forming new routines and creative practices, while connecting with my interior space and the people I inhabit it with, it is comforting to see others do the same. There’s a camaraderie in the shared stillness.
I’ve taken up an interest in collage recently, so it felt appropriate that I would document my first week of social distancing in this manner. Below are some moments from the past week. <3