“If I could sleep all day, I would, so the cat saying, get up and feed me, that’s very helpful,” she says. “Once you’re up, you’re up.”
Everything else about her schedule is out of whack. Mallott, 34, who works for the city government of Columbus, Ohio, has been teleworking, and “unfortunately my chair in the office is also a recliner.” Her grooming schedule depends on the timing of her video calls. Foods no longer correspond to particular meals; she has occasionally found herself eating leftover lo mein for breakfast and then a piece of cheese for lunch. The weekdays and the weekends blur together.
Once you’re up, you’re up. But now up is down.
Silvia Manrique is up at all hours. The 43-year-old Chicagoan has always been a night owl, a tendency her marketing job used to keep in check before it went telework-only. Each night, she aims to go to bed before midnight. “The next thing I know, I watch five episodes of ‘Terrace House’ until three in the morning,” she said. Staying up so late might be connected to her anxiety. Or maybe it is related to her other recent indulgence: sugary cereal.
“On top of my refrigerator I have Lucky Charms, Strawberry Rice Krispies and Fruity Pebbles,” she said. Every night, she promises herself that the next morning she will eat the kind of grown-up breakfast she would have made in the long-ago days of February, like an egg sandwich. Every morning, she breaks that promise. It is not so much days that have been shuffled by the pandemic; it is decades. “It’s wild,” Manrique says. “I’m a child again.”
So much for settling into the new normal: The new normal is unsettled. It has been just over a month since the Beforetimes fell away — that Wednesday in March when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the NBA suspended its season, Tom Hanks announced he and his wife were covid-19-positive and President Trump gave a sober prime-time address from the Oval Office.
A month and change. You might have thought we’d have gotten the hang of this stay-at-home thing by now. But flattening the curve has warped our lives. The arc of self-quarantine is long, and it bends toward bad habits: cookies for breakfast, staying up late to play video games, midday naps.
“My routines around eating have fallen apart completely,” said Carl-Magnus Kjellman, 32, of Washington, D.C. He used to eat breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at 12:30 p.m. and dinner at 7:30 p.m. “Now it’s like, yeah, sure, breakfast at 10, why not? I’ll eat lunch at 3:30.”
But reader, what difference does a few hours make, anyway? As long as we are all exercising some discipline and maintaining a balanced —
“I ate an entire bag of Ruffles today.”
Look, we are trying. “I think a lot of us are mentally exhausted, because the energy it takes to mentally manage everything that’s happening is very draining,” says Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association.” The habits that we’ve worked to develop over time to keep us healthy and productive can fall by the wayside.”
Showering. Grooming. Meals that are not cheese.
And sleeping. Kate Ahern has read a lot about sleep hygiene, and she knows to limit her screen time and keep a consistent bedtime. But all the self-care in the world cannot keep the 39-year-old graphic designer from lying awake at 3 a.m. after a brief period of restless sleep. Sometimes, she cannot resist scrolling through Twitter — even though the light of her phone keeps her awake. At least there, misery has company.
“Someone jokingly called it the insomniac club,” Ahern says. “Like, okay, it’s 3:30, time to meet up.”
Leo Delgado, a 30-year-old actor, has found himself suddenly out of work, meaning there is nothing to keep him from staying up until 3 a.m. watching Netflix (what is it about that 3 a.m. hour?) and then sleeping until 11 a.m.
“Sometimes I forget to eat lunch because I’ve been here all day, and I haven’t really done anything,” he said, though that is not entirely true. He sometimes records monologues for his Instagram followers. He cooks for his girlfriend, who has a normal job and sleeps at normal times. And he takes out a bucket of scraps for the composting service every Wednesday, which has somehow become the only consistently scheduled thing in his life.
In the Beforetimes, Lisa Devlin longed for days that were free of morning obligations. Alas, she had to drop her 5-year-old off at school every morning around 8. When the end of in-person classes turned her kid’s school into an 11:15 a.m. Zoom session, it seemed as if she would finally get those nice, long mornings. “At first I was like, ‘This is great — I get to chill out, be in my pajamas, do breakfast whenever, slow and easy,’ ” says Devlin, 40, a stay-at-home mom. “And then I realized very quickly that just turns the day into an amorphous mess.”
Typically that mess looks like Devlin attempting to entertain her children (post-Zoom School) until 4 p.m., at which point “everyone kind of hits a wall,” and she throws on a movie to bridge the gap to dinnertime. Then it’s kid bedtime, ushering in the time of day when Devlin gets to zone out until she falls asleep, which has lately been 1 a.m. Stress and insomnia might rouse her about 4½ hours later, making for a different kind of long morning than the one she used to fantasize about.
The new normal is getting old. When will it end? How will it end?
There is a fantasy brewing about the Aftertimes, when we will just carry on the way we had been. People who got up at 7 a.m., ate salad for lunch and did not start happy hour until 5 p.m. will re-adhere themselves to their healthy routines. We will stop being slobs. We will start wearing pants with buttons. We will be healed, all of a sudden, by Real! Human! Interaction!
It may not be that simple, says Wright.
“I think, very similar to when you’re coming off a long vacation, there will be a transition that feels challenging,” she said. “But we will get back on track.”
Caitlin Irr hopes so. “I would say that normally I’m pretty type-A as a worker,” says the 28-year-old, who works at a trade association. “I like to be involved in a lot of things.”
But anxiety about the state of the world has made it hard to focus. She has found herself abandoning her mostly vegetarian diet. Some days, she has no appetite at all. She is re-watching “Gossip Girl.” She is spending too much time on TikTok.
“I have a few fitness apps that I try to use,” she says, “but it’s just like, what’s the point?” She thinks back across the void of April and March for the answer to her question: “I guess, to be healthy.”