If 2021 was the sandwich year between pandemic lockdown and a potential return to life, 2022 carried the promise of normalcy. We wondered, would our masks ever come off, would we return to the office and see our colleagues in the flesh, would our kids have a maskless return to school? Like bleary-eyed moles, we emerged from the confines of our homes taking timid steps toward each other, our arms reaching for hugs instead of elbow taps, unsure if such human connection was allowed. However, as we stepped further outside the safe walls we had built for ourselves, things looked somehow different, skewed, and in some cases, completely unrecognizable, as though we had stepped off a twisting carnival ride and were trying to regain equilibrium.
Dizzy, I stumbled timidly into 2022, and that topsy turvy feeling still hasn’t left me. Over the course of the pandemic, the neat rules, rubrics, and routines I had previously used to measure happiness, success, and accomplishment got caught up in the wheels of an egg beater, scrambled into oblivion.
My entire adult life, work stood at the center, as the constant, reliable place where I could wear my nicest clothes and shoes, connect with people, and if I worked hard, progress to the next thing. Through babies, it became a refuge, a last bastion of my former self, and she was someone I recognized and knew much better than myself as a mom. Out in the world Monday through Friday, I wore blazers and snakeskin loafers and carried a big purse and an air of confidence.
But thrust into full-time remote work, I was cut loose like an astronaut untethered from the space station, floating alone in a void, disconnected, in leggings. I struggled on video calls to read expressions, to connect, to feel like part of something. Work was the place I longed to go during the pandemic, to reconnect with my sense of self through spending time with my like-minded colleagues. As much as anyone complains about long days at work, I craved them. Yet, my department decided to move to fully remote work, and that door was permanently closed.
On every personality test, I score so highly on the extreme extroversion scale that I nearly leap off the chart into the arms of others around me, caught in their grasp. When I encounter a friend or coworker, a rush of adrenaline fills my body and my face erupts in a smile that I can’t hold back. Nothing energizes me more than being with my co-workers sharing ideas over a whiteboard or with friends shouting and laughing over beers in a loud bar. Yet alone I am standing in front of a mirror with no reflection, invisible.
In this shift to my suburban home in all aspects of my life including work, I have had to cultivate a new self, as though I am a paper doll, folding the tiny tabs of each interchangeable outfit over myself, seeing what fits. While my work life has shrunk, my personal life has needed to expand, and I have had to fill it with people and places and things to offset the void left in my life. Timidly, I grasped for connection and stumbled and walked and ran and fell down, over and over, trying to get my balance. I felt sideways, disoriented, swirling through the return to indoor restaurants, parties, and finally booking flights and traveling.
Unsure yet desperately eager, I started to let the world in again.
In July, we boarded our first flight since the winter of 2020 and jetted to Hawaii for a family vacation. The trip was like an explosion of energy, color, sunshine, and human interaction. Images and people swirled past, and my chest was filled with warmth, my head light with happiness. Then we returned home and the new school year started and I began to meet and connect with other moms again. I removed my mask. That part of me that I had hidden away started to see her mirror image again, if only small glimmers. But I was still unsure how to navigate this new existence. I was permanently changed, as we all were. Could I be out there again, even though I knew it was what I needed most, to connect?
As 2022 comes to a close, I am starting to find my footing again, sometimes. Each step forward is still a bit wobbly. My shiny loafers are still rarely worn, though they sometimes emerge for a rare in-person meeting or work trip. Yet even when they do, they feel different, unfamiliar. Most days I wear leggings and sneakers, drop my kids at school, chat with my new mom friends, and then head home to start work calls, ride my Peloton, and walk our new rescue dog, Coco. Then in the evening, I try to concoct new recipes and sit with my boys doing their homework at the island in our remodeled kitchen. My life is slower, yet richer in texture and more present. When I lie down in bed with my boys at bedtime, I know them more deeply than I did before, and the last vestiges of mom guilt are long gone. And lying there, I know myself much better than I ever did in the past, because so many layers have been stripped away and simplified. I can no longer hide behind work armor and chaos – I am raw and present, for better or worse.
If the pandemic taught me anything, it is that nothing lasts forever, and we must adapt and change like a moldable ball of clay rolling along, picking up new dimensions even when we hit a snag or need to change course. We are changeable and are not just one thing – we are many. And each of the aspects of our lives will come in and out of focus, take up more or less space as time passes, and provide unexpected gifts. And now I trust that no matter what comes, no matter how disoriented I become, there will always be a clearing ahead with a level path, and I can trust my feet to get me there, one way or another.