I Get to Return to Work Tomorrow

And suddenly office life doesn’t seem as attractive as it did

My back is killing me. I’m not comfortable sitting, standing, or laying on a bed. It could be a result of weeding for three hours yesterday. Or it could be a psychosomatic response in anticipation of my return to the office after COVID-19.

Or should I say “during COVID-19”? Because the nightmare isn’t over.

I’m one of the lucky ones who can work at home. Since March 24, I’ve been at home all day every day. With my retired husband who is also at home all day every day. Just over a week ago, I detailed the many perils of working from home. (It was a humorous take on my experience in my home office.)

In contrast, work seemed like paradise. My office was my happy place. I even missed my commute.

On Thursday, my boss told our entire department that we would slowly return to work starting Monday. On Friday, he sent an email to about 10 of us who would be the first to return.

What an honor.

I’d like to think he selected the most “essential” among us nonessential workers. But I believe he invited those who had expressed an interest in returning. You can be sure I had done so a couple of times during our exile; I told him I’d rather be back at work. I misspoke.

What I really meant was: I want everything back to normal, which included working at work.

When I return tomorrow, I will join a skeleton crew who I may not see. They will enclose themselves in their individual offices. My office opens to the lobby, where a receptionist working part-time will sit behind a newly installed Plexiglass wall. We will not have coffee in the common area, so my colleagues have fewer reasons to pass by my office.

While working, I will keep my office door closed. If I leave my office, I have to wear a mask. We will maintain six feet between us, should we encounter another employee. We will hold all meetings via Zoom and wave at each other with sanitized hands.

So sterile.

Which is the point, of course.

Hardship is in the eye of the beholder

During the pandemic, I read a new book by a friend of mine in which she shared her struggle as a girl without a country. She lived in a number of countries, spoke multiple languages, and lived on a huge missionary ship for much of her girlhood, moving from country to country.

What an adventure! As I read her struggles, I felt no sympathy. Instead, I marveled at the opportunity she had had. Oh, I could see why it would be hard, but my eyes were on the opportunity, not the heartache.

But one workday last week, as I took a quick walk down my street to get away from my home office for a 10-minute mental break, I felt my own desperation and despair in my situation.

“Jesus, help!” I said. “I feel as if I’m drowning. Help.”

Deanne’s book came to mind, and, at that moment, I understood her pain. I recognized that my struggles were microscopic compared to those suffering sickness, loss of loved ones or livelihoods, or who were working the front lines during COVID-19. Many would love to stand in my shoes.

Who am I to complain?

I have a job I can do from home, largely unhindered. My loved ones are healthy. My savings are quite diminished by the pandemic, but I had money I could lose. Yet the pandemic has disrupted my normal and threatens to keep normal at bay forever.

Each of us has been touched, continues to be touched by this pandemic. My pain is real. Your pain is real. I fear the pain will only worsen as the economic toll hits our country.

I’m a systems girl. When life was normal, I routinely awakened at a certain hour, completed chores, packed breakfast and lunch, hit the gym, arrived at work early to have some time to myself before the full-tilt boogie that started at 8 a.m.

These past weeks I have created new systems. I still awakened early, still made breakfast and lunch, but I exercised longer and showered at home, and barely squeezed in any alone time before the workday started at 8 (or after the workday started, for that matter).

(I also seemed to visit my kitchen a lot, something I can’t access when in the office. Yes, I need to return to the office.)

When I return to work tomorrow, I will create a new routine. Though the office is open, the health club is not, so I’ll modify my morning routine once again, create another new normal in hopes I will return to my old normal soon.

I will be starting a new normal in a world that feels quite unsafe, even if I face it wearing a mask and armed with hand sanitizer.

Am I happy to return to work?

I have mixed feelings. My husband is older and more susceptible to COVID-19 should he get the illness. What if I were to bring him the virus? (It doesn’t seem likely with the precautions in place, but it’s possible.)

I already indicated that I can largely do my job at home. Granted, I’m sexually harassed by my husband and tormented by non-stop COVID-19 news on talk radio and lack of air conditioning. My internet seems challenged by my workload. But does the benefit of returning to the office outweigh the risk of catching COVID-19?

(It’s almost “mental health vs. physical health,” isn’t it? Or “my good vs. the global good”? And certainly “present discomfort vs. potential future discomfort”?)

I think my desire to return to work is deeper than those choices. Perhaps I subconsciously think my return signals the end of the COVID crisis and the world’s return to normal. Is that my prayer? Oh, God, please, make it so!

And so I return. Working at work won’t be as it was. Part of the joy of working in the office is working with others to fulfill a mission. Even if we’re not collaborating on projects, we exchange pleasantries, hold conversations, even take brief walking breaks together.

I’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how we still manage to do those things while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. But for today, I feel a bit uncomfortable, and not just in my lower back.

Originally published through Koinonia on Medium.com on May 4, 2020.

2 thoughts on “I Get to Return to Work Tomorrow

  1. I, too, am looking forward to returning to work one of these days, but I don’t have a date yet, and due to my age and autoimmunities, I will probably be the last one to get permission to work in the office instead of at my kitchen table. Oh, I take breaks to get a little walking in, but I have to talk to myself rather than chatting with a coworker. And then there’s the lunch break, which means I get to sit at the other end of the kitchen table and look at the back of my 31″ monitor or watch the noon news, which is mostly about the coronavirus (but thankfully very little about politics during this election year).

    I miss you, Sara, and look forward to one day returning to the gym to work out with you–well, at least to visit with you while we work out separately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I drove past the empty gym parking lot and thought about how we would socially distance on the machines and still socialize. We’ll have to speak loudly! Not sure how we would wear masks in the shower…

      I’m sorry you are stuck at home. It’s been good to be back. So quiet. Such solitude. It’s quite lovely. Everyone has to be tested before returning, and those at higher risk will return last.

      I miss you, my friend! I also miss wearing lipstick and worrying about food in my teeth… and I hate masks! But I miss you more.


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