Adapt and Thrive: thoughts after working from home for 3 months

In the pre-COVID19 era, I used to work from home occasionally and treated it as a break from my long daily commute (90 min one-way). I spent the saved time reading, exercising, or sleeping. I never thought that working from home would be the new norm and I was not prepared for a seamless work & life, nor was my cat Maru – he was probably thinking “why is this hooman being not hunting outside? why is she still sitting on my sleeping chair? and stop disturbing my day-time nap!!!”

Like many people who worked remotely from home, I have gone through different mental / physical phases.

The first month was the worst: the chair and table at home were just not right as the ones in office, there was no big monitor that connects to my laptop, no breakfast/lunch/coffee (having to cook my own lunch was not just time-consuming, it also took away the fun of communal dining), no real human interaction beyond the monitor, and on top of all the workplace related inconvenience, there was COVID-19 and quarantine. My parents in China were mostly staying at home, and got their grocery delivered through WeChat group. There was one time my father went out to supermarket himself to buy some salt, and I got so worried and asked him not to go out again in tears. My husband, being a nurse, was still working as usual in a nursing home in Queens, and the mental burden of him getting infected just made everything look bleak. I constantly checked the COVID-19 case tracking webpage and saw the number of cases in New York getting larger every day. Last but not the least, there was stock market crash. It was not fun seeing my retirement account tanking and bleeding, and not knowing why it would ever bounce back, and worried whether my job would be affected by all these.

“We are all in this together.” Coworkers and managers in my team talked about the challenges of WFH, acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, shared personal tips to relieve stress, and encouraged everyone take time off to take care of our mental and physical health. Our company kept us informed of policy change, set up virtual fitness courses, provided IT support for remote work, and gave every employee allowance to buy equipment for home workplace. It was still a challenging period of time, but sharing the struggle with others and getting peer support was very helpful.

The turning point was in late April, when I just started to get used to the quarantine life and sitting in front of my laptop all day long, my husband became sick and then diagnosed with COVID-19. I was scared, worried, and exhausted, and felt helpless especially when his fever came back after Tylenol wore off. We scheduled virtual appointment with doctors for professional help, and talked with friends and coworkers. I lost interest in TV shows and could not read more than one line of book. The only thing that could keep my mind away from the downward spiral thoughts of the situation was working. So although encouraged to “take as many days off as I need” by my team, I went back to working after a few days off and put together a lunch & learn presentation which kept me occupied for a few days. Thankfully, my husband recovered after 10 days of fever, body ache, and fatigue. I want to thank all friends, family, and coworkers for your support, help, and blessings.

There is a saying in Chinese, 大难不死必有后福,  One who survives a great disaster is destined to good fortune forever after. After the COVID-19 episode, I certainly become more grateful and less stressed out. It is no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted my life negatively. In turn I have become more appreciative that I am healthy, most people that I know are healthy, me and my husband both still have a job (he went back to work after full recovery), and I have a very supportive employer. 

Entering May, like many people who are either bored or motivated, I started to bake cakes. I am not very into baking or cakes, but if I have to kill some time on weekends indoor, baking is definitely not a bad idea. After a few attempts to work with the inaccurate temperature of my oven, I decided not to waste more eggs for baking and switched to non-bake recipes such as ice cream. 

Recently, we got a second cat Jinbe to join the family. Making two cats get along has been much harder than I thought and I spent quite some time every day educating myself about cat hierarchy and their territorial nature.

So my day-to-day now is more or less:

  • 8:00 – get up
  • 8:00 – 9:30 – breakfast, oversee two cats play/fight, read books (have been reading The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin and Chaos Monkey by Antonio Garcia Martinez)
  • 9:30 – 12:30 work
  • 12:30 – 1:00 lunch (usually prepared the night before)
  • 1:00 – 1:30 rest
  • 1:30 – 4:00 work
  • 4:00 – 4:30 exercise (walk outside, or just run around with cats)
  • 4:30 – 6:00 work
  • 6:00 – 7:00 rest
  • 7:00 – 8:30 cook and eat dinner
  • 8:30 – 10:30 play Dota2 or watch Netflix
  • 10:30 – push ups (doing push ups before bedtime makes my body fatigued and helps me sleep)
  • 10:30 – 12:00 get ready to sleep
  • 12:00 sleep

With the work laptop at hand and no physical separation between workplace and non-workplace, the challenge now for me is to set up a clear boundary between work and off work. Sometimes, I have to restrain myself from continuing on a non-urgent task after working hours, and I urge myself not to respond to non-urgent Slack messages until the next working day even if I see them on my phone: Sorry for my late response, teammate! 

So after 3 months of working from home, my back still hurts at the end of the day even with the newly purchased big monitor using the company WFH allowance, I still miss the small chat with coworkers, snacks and espresso in office, and it still feels weird presenting to a monitor and not seeing the audience.

But life continues. If I cannot change the situation, I just have to adapt and thrive, and make the best of this non-commute work life accompanied by two cats.

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