The Ennui of Quarantine

I am not dreaming of anything when I am awoken from my sleep. I blink into the darkness, wait. There it is again. A soft mew muffled by the sound of the £300 Dyson fan I got for free once upon a time for being an “influencer”.

I blink again and hold my breath, determining whether the squawk would turn into an all-out cry. It doesn’t. She, my three-year-old tornado of a gorgeous daughter, falls back to sleep. I reach for my phone, turn away from my husband so the blue glow doesn’t wake him.

I’m an expat (even after 11 years here, my biological clock still hasn’t embraced the five hour time difference) and a diagnosed insomniac. A chronic worrier and an anxious overthinker. All reasons for being awake at 3 am and unable to go back to sleep, I reassure myself. Nothing better to do than scroll.

My timeline is filled with recaps of everyone’s days. I love that being in quarantine has inspired everyone to record exactly what they do, making an effort to show that they’re not squandering this time, haven’t spent day after day on the sofa, binge-watching boxsets, their hands in a bag of chips or doughnuts.

Post after post (including my own) of social proof:

  • crafts that the kids made during the course of the day
  • evidence of their rearranged living room or newly organised clutter
  • mountains and mountains of baked goods (seriously ya’ll are killing me with all these elaborate desserts and I’m making mental notes of whose house to get quarantined at during the next pandemic!)
  • elaborate finished sewing, knitting or crochet projects
  • witty stanzas of poetry or prose from my writer friends
  • and the list goes on and on

There is so much propaganda right now about staying busy during the quarantine that it’s making me sick with worry. Sure, I’ve been taking photos of what my kids have been up to too and yes, I’ve made an occasional post about the woes of homeschooling but mostly I sit at my desk in the living room and stare at my pile of work and mope.

I cannot get through my to-do lists right now. I cannot get motivated. And when I do get motivated, I get distracted. (Carole Baskin memes are so addictive.) Or it’s time to make the kids another snack, or lunch or dinner and before I know it, it’s 10:30 at night and all I want is to be in bed with an Almond Magnum and Netflix.

Occasionally, I text one of my girlfriends: what is wrong with me? I can’t get motivated today. And she usually shoots back a quick response: Right? Me either! Rinse and repeat.

And I wonder, why am I struggling so much with this? I run my own business and I usually divide my time between working from home or working from my one-person office. I’m no stranger to this work environment; normally, I can make this situation work for me. But there’s something different about the quarantine. Something that is keeping me awake at night and keeping me distracted during the day.

And I’m not the only one, either. Working from Home used to be the goal in the corporate world — it was what everyone strove for. A job that allowed flexi-working was gold dust, especially if you had kids and needed the flexibility to do the school run or still log in from home when they were off school with a tummy bug. But now that it’s here no one wants it.

Spending the day braless in oversized tee-shirts and leggings, dividing time between work tasks and another load of laundry was Middle Class Bliss pre-quarantine. There was nothing better than a stolen duvet day, faking an illness and skiving off. During quarantine, it is just not appealing. But neither is work.

I feel like a snack robot in one of those The Good Place skin suits. I feel like every time I stand up, it is to fetch another glass of milk or peel another orange or make another ham sandwich.

And now I’ve gone and Googled the psychological effects of quarantine and the list is terrifying. There’s three more weeks of this, at least.

One small mercy: the sun has been shining gloriously in Manchester.

American in Britain • Confessionalist voice, exploring narrative essays, BAME topics, pop culture, parenthood, obesity, race, travel, literature and food.