From my balcony – three years later

From my balcony, I catch glimpses of patchy grass and salt-bleached concrete popping up between bits of snow here and there. I see bare trees and warm coats with matching cute mitts. Looking out from my balcony, I feel unmoored, yearning to be tethered…to something.

We stayed the course – we locked down and masked up, we followed rules, and got through the worst of it (question mark). And now life is back to normal.

Is it though? Mine certainly isn’t. The pandemic, specifically being isolated for the better part of three years has changed me.

From my balcony, I look at the school across the street. Elementary. Lots of shrieking. I can see that things like kids back in schools and no more mask mandate or social distancing have made us feel like everything can just “go back to normal.” But I know there is no normal so I’m not confident that a new normal even exists.

To me, it seems these last three years function as a divider of sorts. Not in terms of people’s opinions, although that definitely happened and still is – a divide in time. There’s life before the pandemic, and then there’s life now.

Most days I feel cozy in my work-from-home situation; holed up in my apartment in comfy pants and my dad’s old hoodie, no make-up, no need to do anything with my hair, with someone I really like spending time with. Who wouldn’t want to spend their workdays like that?

Other times I’m so unsettled, I feel sick, like stressed-out-kind-of-sick.

Socializing isn’t the same anymore. I mean, with my closest friends and family, I don’t feel a dramatic difference. But I find it vastly different with colleagues both past and present. Or maybe that’s just my experience because I’ve started two new jobs within the last three years, and onboarding remotely is really hard.

There’s a lot less “hey let’s grab a drink after work” when you only see your colleagues once a week. And old friends, your former colleagues, seem to be hiding out. Friendships that were new or thrived during the pandemic may have faded away or abruptly stopped and you’re sure it’s because of that thing when you trauma-bond with someone and then maybe they don’t need you now that life is “back to normal.” But who really knows? I suppose you could say that with the looming (and actual) global health crisis, many have put their lives (and everyone in them) in perspective. Maybe people seriously evaluated their relationships and phased out those who didn’t serve them anymore.

Life is hard as it is, and when you add the stress of navigating a global pandemic, things always seem worse. Or maybe are worse.

My world is smaller now. That’s been the toughest part of all this. My social circles have shrunk, my calendar is empty, and I’ve been isolated. Just physically at first, like many of us were, but as time has gone on, that isolation has crept into all facets of my life, and it’s stripped me of an essential part of my identity – connectedness.

No longer am I the person who, three years ago, posted cute videos of herself talking about being locked down and working from home, who three years ago worked from an office full time, interacting with the world, walking everywhere, talking to people all day. I’m no longer the person who happily traipsed across this city to hang out with friends, no matter how far or inconvenient. I’m no longer the person who was finally feeling like her life was on track – in the best shape she’d been in in years, who had a good grasp on managing her mental health, was feeling financially confident and even planning her first trip overseas with great friends.

That woman is gone.

I don’t know where she went, exactly, but she doesn’t exist anymore. It’s funny, sometimes when I get thinking about this stuff, I have visions of what things might be like if I had come out of this on the other side the same person I was before this all happened. But that’s not productive and how would I really know, anyway? I wouldn’t, I don’t, I can’t. None of us can.

On the other side of this new me, this mysterious me who only reveals herself a bit at a time is quite happy in a lot of ways. I feel confident and more at ease with work (that’s a biggie), I’ve been able to hang out with family a lot and host dinners, which is a passion of mine. I’ve gotten quite a bit done around the house – like shelves going up, things getting organized, artwork on the walls, that sort of thing. And, of course, there’s my love, the man who is here with me, who supports and listens to me. He encourages me when I need some pumping up, he thinks I’m sweet and wonderful and impressive and tells me so every day. And he is too.

My world is smaller now. That’s been the toughest part of all this. My social circles have shrunk, my calendar is empty, and I’ve been isolated. Just physically at first, like many of us were, but as time has gone on, that isolation has crept into all facets of my life, and it’s stripped me of an essential part of my identity – connectedness. There is a disconnect from my previous self, my pre-pandemic, pre-2020 self and I grapple with what (and who) to connect with now. There is no going back, there’s no “getting back to normal” for me. Too much has happened in the last three years, too much has changed. I have changed. As they say, you can’t un smoke a cigarette.

But now I can say I feel open, I feel ready. For what exactly? I don’t know, but a change is coming for me. I think whatever the universe has in store for me will be extraordinary.

And so here I stand on my balcony, in late March, anxious for the warmth of spring, taking stock of all that has transpired in the last three years: the challenges, the grief, the depression, the bright spots, and the not-so-bright ones, the changes, the wins and losses, the triumphs, the confusion and clarity, and the evolution. Of me, of those around me, of life and the nation.

From my balcony, I see my neighbours scuttling here and there, some carrying shopping or takeout on their way home, presumably. Some are bundled up, concentrated on their walk, while others sort of meander down the sidewalks, testing the limits of weather having traded their boots and heavy coats for sneakers and jean jackets. And everyone is breathing in the fresh, somewhat warm air.

It’s beautiful outside today.

It’s almost springtime. Soon the weather will break, and we’ll start to feel the warmth on our skin again, sunshine will once again cast animated shadow images on the balcony floor. The grass will grow, flowers will bloom, and the trees will return to their former selves, canopied over sidewalks and porches. I can’t wait until the weather turns for good, and the city starts to come alive. I’m ever bewildered by nature and life and time because it just continues, season after season, no matter what happened during the pandemic. I’m encouraged by that.

We’re allowed to feel whatever we feel about living through a global pandemic. I think the hardest thing for me to make sense of is whether I’m supposed to be trying to “get back to myself” now, or if I should be accepting the changes I’ve experienced and just…move on? Maybe the answer is somewhere in between.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to take things as they come and I’m going to stay open to what the universe might offer me. That’s all I can do, right? And I’ll keep on looking at my neighbourhood from my balcony, trying to figure out people’s stories and imagine the extraordinary things they do.

It’s a great view.