For some reason, Mondays are harder in pandemic times. I usually like Mondays. I’ve always liked the ‘back to the office’ energy, getting down to making lists and schedules for the week ahead, ‘how was your weekend? convos with colleagues, a bike ride the office, and lots and lots of coffee. These days there isn’t much of that. Instead, I look at my calendar, think ‘wow, we’re still doing this’ and start my first videoconference at 8 am.
My last public speaking event was March 5, 228 days ago. March 10 my calendar just says, ominously, “cancel all flights and hotels.” My first COVID-19 contingency planning meeting/conference call was March 13, 220 days ago.
In July I wrote, “There are no boundaries any more. Life is one big blur of working at home, exercising at home, and relaxing at home. I occasionally look at my shoe collection in puzzlement. Will I ever wear real shoes again? I still have underwire bras hanging off a doorknob, neglected, and I’m wondering why I ever thought they were a good idea. These days only my comfiest of sports bras are in regular rotation.”
In light of the No Boundaries and the Great Big Blur, I’ve been thinking about restructuring my work week a little. Lots of things are busy during the weekend, out in the world, and I’m often working on the weekend. I’m wondering about taking some weekday time to ride trails, take Cheddar for hikes, and appreciate the outdoors. That’s the weekday/weekend trade but there’s also the daytime/nighttime swap. Yes, lots of work hours are fixed but if I am working into the evenings anyway, why can’t I squeeze some outside time in the sun into my day?
It’s hard to start work when it’s dark and finish after it’s dark again. Why not get out for a ride or a walk in the middle of the day?
Are you still working from home? How are you coping? 220 or so days in, are you making any changes to your schedule?
University classes here don’t begin until mid-September but south of the border friends are already teaching their first classes, most of them online, or in “remote alternative delivery mode” as we like to say during the pandemic. That’s to distinguish them from courses that have been designed as online courses.
We’re all just getting used to it. Everything is new. For professors and students alike. It’s not what we want. We mostly want to be teaching face to face in a world without a pandemic. But this is what we have and we’re all doing our best.
A friend taught her first class and spotted a student doing sit ups during the class. Oops! A clear breach of Zoom etiquette not to turn off the camera first.
Really, the student was just following the advice of the New York Times, Sneak in Some Exercise: “When you can’t slip outside for a walking meeting, turn off the video and sneak in a short desk workout or stretch session.” Well, except she forgot the ‘turn off your camera” bit.
If I were to turn off my camera (shhh!) I’d do Adriene’s Yoga at Your Desk. Mostly I can’t because mostly I’m chairing meetings. But it’s my favourite workplace at-your-desk set of yoga moves.
The ads in my digital media news feeds know what I’m up to. Which is to say staying at home, working from home, exercising at home, spending time with family, and napping. I’m also dressing differently now my life is one big blur of working, exercising, doomscrolling, eating, sleeping etc.
Enter the nap dress. I swear ads for different versions of this dress make up half of the advertising I see these days.
Rachel Syme writes, “Since sleeping through the night was not happening, I figured an outfit specifically designated for daytime dozing might be just the thing. One could theoretically wear a Nap Dress to bed, but it is decidedly not a nightgown. (For one, it is opaque enough to wear to the grocery store.) It is not the same thing as a caftan, which, though often luxurious, is more shapeless and more grown-up. It is not a housedress, which we tend to associate with older women shuffling onto the stoop to grab the morning paper, the curlers still in their hair. A housedress is about forgetting the self, or at least hiding it under layers of quilted fabric. The Nap Dress, on the other hand, suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body, and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
In “The Uneasy Privilege Of The Daytime Nightgown,” Veronique Hyland talks about the politics of who gets to wear a daytime nap dress during the pandemic. It’s not frontline workers, grocery store clerks, transit workers, and people driving UberEats to pay rent.
“I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a nightgown. I get that they’re comfortable, and who doesn’t crave comfort right now? It’s possible that I’m projecting way too much onto a few yards of fabric. But the nightgown, especially as daywear, strikes me as reactionary. Its evocations of passive Victorian and pre-Raphaelite femininity feel like an uncritical throwback to those eras’ mold of white female fragility. The styling of these images evokes sleeping beauties or Ophelias, or worse, invalids. Fashioning yourself as a tubercular Victorian might once have felt ironic; with millions in the grip of a real pandemic—one that is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities—it feels Marie Antoinette-at-the-Hameau-level out of touch. And in 2020, the idea of “checking out” and into the seductive world of blameless slumber that the nightgown invites us to, does too. It serves as a reminder that while some people are taking to the streets, others are taking to their beds.”
I don’t know the source of the above image but lots of friends have been sharing it on social media, some with critical commentary, some not.
I think it gets something very wrong. I suspect that most of us who are part of this blog community are to varying degrees both of these people. Fun comfort food, yay! Also, running streaks, daily yoga, and lots of time on Zwift.
Sometimes when I’m stressed because I’m sharing a small place with three other people all with our own busy work agendas or I’m feeling overwhelmed by the global pandemic more generally, I do Yoga With Adriene or take Cheddar for a long walk.
Sometimes like Cate I find I can’t do yoga. My mind is too busy. Yoga feels so slow and I’m easily distracted. I have even paused Yoga With Adriene to doomscroll. Really. Sometimes I’m stressed but my knee hurts too much to walk Cheddar. Or he’s already been out for three walks! He even hid one day because too many people had been walking him. He’s looking pretty svelte.
Last week I had a busy work afternoon that was super stressful. So much Zoom time. So many hard issues to discuss. I retreated to my bedroom with a bag of peanut butter M & Ms to watch BoJack Horseman, which I know is not an easy show but the thing is when I’m like this sometimes fluffy, easy, light shows aren’t enough to engage me. I’ve always liked BoJack, hard as it is. See BoJack Horseman’s running advice.
My point though, my main point, is that there aren’t obviously two types of people in quarantine. We’re all coping as best we can. Sometimes here that’s meant excessive/competitive baking. Sometimes it’s riding bikes indoors. And sometimes it’s laying in bed with BoJack Horseman and M and Ms.
I thought of going for an actual outdoor bike ride this weekend. The weather was lovely and things are opening up a bit. Restrictions are being relaxed, here in Ontario. There are lots of bikes out on the road.
An aside, I think we need more precise language. We weren’t ever in quarantine or lockdown. We’ve always been able to leave our houses for exercise.
I’m with Shannon on this,
Terms like "lockdown", "quarantine" and "social distancing" are often exaggerations. E.g., if you can take a walk (or roll) around the block, you aren't in lockdown or quarantine. I worry that these exaggerations fuel dangerous backlash against sensible public health measures.
Remember in France and Italy there were stretches when people could only leave their houses for medical reasons or to get groceries. There were also rules against cycling and against running more than a certain number of kms from your house. Even the UK enacted rules about how many hours of outdoor exercise were allowed. We’ve never done that.
But that’s an aside. Whatever the right term was for Ontario’s state of emergency, it’s true that some rules are being relaxed. Some businesses are reopening.
Maybe it’s still a lockdown just not a particularly strict one, Lockdown Light.
My weekend plan was to not ride too fast or too far and ride with a person I live with. But when Cheddar and I went out for a long Saturday morning dog hike I started to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. For the first time we had a hard time walking and maintaining social distancing. So many people! Also so many bikes. I started to wonder about passing people safely and about stopping at lights with other bikes.
When the day got busy and biking got away from us, I was sort of relieved.
Sunday, I got my Brompton out and rode to campus to pick up an HDMI cable from my office. That felt okay. But I think I’ll wait until a weekday, maybe even a cloudy weekday, to take my road bike out for a spin.
I’ll bring a mask with me in case we do need to encounter other people.
Here are some rules for riding safely in quarantine times, from Machines for Freedom, above.
🚧 QuaranTIPS on How to Ride Safely: ⠀⠀ 😷 Cover your face with a mask or buff, especially when in populated areas ⠀⠀ 📍Opt for routes close to home and less busy streets or areas ⠀⠀ 🏠 Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest ⠀⠀ 🎒Bring everything you need with you! No gas station snack stops until further notice ⠀⠀ 🎶 Ride alone or with people in your household. Bored of riding alone? Try out a new podcast or Machines playlist! ⠀⠀ #machinesforfreedom
I also love that their model, above, looks like me on a bike. A larger woman on a bike. Amazing! It’s worth going to check out their website–this is not a paid endorsement–just for the diversity of their models. If I come into any unexpected money I’m buying a pair of their bib shorts.
And for now I’m sticking with this suggestion, “Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest.”
I’ll report back if I make it out their this work week
Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment.
On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape.
Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.
Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now.
The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors.
Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D.
Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile.
So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.
All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II.
Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.
Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.
Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.
As everyone who reads the blog knows, like cyclists all over the world, I’ve been riding lots on Zwift. It’s become a crowded place sometimes Just yesterday Sir Bradley Wiggins, CBE, former professional road and track racing cyclist, led a group ride on Zwift with nearly 3000 other riders.
In the past I didn’t pay much attention to some of the “game-y” features in Zwift like the badges. But then the pandemic happened and in short order I got the habitual, the addicted, and finally the unemployed badges. There’s been a lot of jokes among Zwifting cyclists about renaming them. Maybe we should add one after “unemployed” and call it the “quarantined.” If “unemployed” is riding 14 days in a row, maybe “quarantined” could be 30?
Some people have suggested that since so many people have lost their jobs in the real world, that Zwift’s Unemployed badge isn’t such a funny joke any longer. Mostly I ride after work but sometimes in order to catch rides in other time zones, like the Australian breakfast rides with Chicks Who Ride Bikes, I take breaks during my workday. I was riding with someone from California the other day who was working while riding! Her company encouraged staff to work while indoor bike riding. Me, I’m not coordinated enough for that.
If you want to find out more, here’s this from Zwift Insider: ALL ABOUT ZWIFT’S “UNEMPLOYED” (AND SIMILAR) BADGES: “With many of us riding and running only indoors due to coronavirus-related restrictions, the topic of Zwift’s “Unemployed” achievement badge is popping up regularly. This is the badge awarded when you (as Zwift says), “Ride a lap 14 days in a row”.
It’s true I’ve been riding more. I don’t what May will look like but here’s April.
It’s gradually been dawning on us, here at home in Guelph, that fitness-wise, we’re in this for the long haul. I stopped going to the gym awhile ago now. On March 9th I wrote, Sam decides to take a break from the gym. And by “this” I mean working out at home.
If there were a work Covid-19 bingo, for sure one of the squares would be about this being a marathon and not a sprint. I even wrote a Dean’s blog post with that as a title. I hope I wrote that before we all got sick of hearing it. Maybe not. And while I am sick of hearing that phrase too I am only now realizing that it’s not just about work. My personal life has changed too. I won’t be flying anywhere soon.
And the more that I think about it, the more I realize, that even if gyms re-open, I’m not going back anytime soon. I’ve written about my 7 part physical distancing fitness plan and about the missing puzzle pieces of my at home plan. Now the missing pieces are mostly filled in. I’m getting lots of physical activity and it’s helping me with stress and sleep. It’s also a source of pleasure and achievement in these strange times.
I expect I’ll return to the gym if we have a vaccine or if/when we have reached herd immunity without a vaccine or I suppose if we develop effective treatments for Covid-19. Either of those options is more than a year away. Before that I am more likely to go back to our 24 hour discount gym, in the off hours, than I am to the campus fitness facilities.
Maybe I’ll change my mind. But right now I’m thinking if I can do a thing with less risk, I’m going to stick to that path. Hence, the backyard gym.
Inside, we have the TRX and yoga mats and resistance cables. We’ve also got a kettlebell and a lone 8 lb dumbbell. We’re pretty well set up for riding inside too though as things loosen up in Ontario, I’m looking forward to physically distanced rides with friends. Obviously, there’s still some shopping to do. Outside, we now have skipping ropes, the punching bag, and a giant tire. Between those things and the phone tabata app, and a few family members to work out with, it’s a good time.
Usually I envy my big city friends with their boutique gym options and a vast array of theatre, music, and food options. But right now. I’m feeling pretty good about life in my small city where we have a backyard and space to flip big tires. The streets aren’t crowded for walking and running even if the city parks haven’t re-opened yet. Yes, I’m privileged to have these options. I’ll totally understand if others choose differently.
Come winter we may end up with even more indoor fitness equipment in the room that was our livingroom but is now mostly a two person home office which turns into a home gym when we break for lunch, or do yoga after work or before bed. I’m not sure it will return to its pure living room status. On and off, I think we’ll be working at home (those of us whose jobs allow it) for awhile yet.
What fun piece of backyard fitness equipment would you buy if you had the summer ahead of you?
Why? I’m asked that a lot and I thought I’d try to explain.
An aside: Sometimes you write a blog post just to explain your reasons for some conclusion or activity. Partly I want to point people over here when they ask why. Partly I want to lay out the reasons for myself, to see if they still hold up. But what I am not trying to do here is persuade others. That’s not my main aim. If you find my reasoning attractive, join me. But that’s not my goal.
First, I take the advice of Cycling Canada pretty seriously. They say, if you have the means to train inside, do it. Cycling Canada recommends you extend your trainer season. “Canadians have been urged to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus,” says the organization. “At this time, Cycling Canada recommends that cyclists who are equipped to ride indoors strongly consider staying home for recreational riding and training.” And I’m very well-equipped. Without the smart trainer, I might well choose to ride outside. But I have one and I’m using it lots.
Second, I like riding in groups, close to other people. I like riding with friends. In the past I’ve liked riding with bike clubs. And that’s exactly the kind of riding that’s not at all recommended. Six feet away from another bike is pretty far away and it’s a hard distance to maintain. It’s also hard to be heard from one bike to another six feet, given all the breathing maybe ten feet, apart. I hate yelling.
Third, I like riding to nearby small towns for coffee and snacks. That’s also not allowed. Again, Cycling Canada says, “Cycling Canada recommends you don’t travel to the next city or town to ride. Travel between communities accelerates the spread of COVID-19, and can bring the virus to smaller communities that don’t have the same health resources as larger urban centres. Many small towns and tourist destinations – including Whistler, Canmore, Squamish and cottage towns in Ontario and Quebec– are asking visitors to put off visiting until it is safe to do so.”
Okay, I could ride with people already in my COVID-19 family bubble and we could bring our own snacks. Maybe.
Fourth, I am also worried–not overly so but a bit–about what would happen in case of a crash. This isn’t a worry about dying on my bike. It’s a worry about the kind of small crashes I’ve had before, nothing broken, no stitches or concussions, but they’ve landed me in hospital for a day, getting gravel removed and being checked out. I don’t want to land in hospital, take a ride in an ambulance, or spend any time in an emergency room. (If you’re curious, here’s the story of one of my hospital worthy accidents. CW: gruesome photos.)
It’s why I worry about things like country drives right now. Friends went driving around the countryside, with the best of physical distancing intentions, and their car broke down. The next thing they knew they were in tow truck, very close to the driver, without face masks. I don’t want that. I’d risk that for an essential activity–like driving to work if I was an essential worker, or getting groceries–but a drive in the country isn’t needed. It’s an unnecessary risk. Ditto, I think, riding my bike. There are safer ways to get outdoor exercise. If I could run, I’d run outdoors. I can’t. But I do walk Cheddar a lot.
So given the worries, and that I like riding far, and fast, and with other people, there are a bunch of reasons keeping me riding inside right now. (Note that none of those worries have to do with catching COVID-19.) Also, I’m working long days and when I’m done it’s dark. And on the weekends there are a lot of people outside. Lots of them don’t have trainers but I do.
Will I stay inside all summer on my bike? I don’t expect so. I think I’ll ride casually in the sunshine because the wind feels good on my face. But I won’t be racing downhill or chasing QOMs for awhile yet. I’m hoping to get out on some local trails on my gravel bike once they’re re-opened. I’ll ride on the country roads near my home and the university campus, with snacks, and a repair kit, and my phone to call my son to come get me if need be. I’ll pack a mask in case something happens such that I need to be near other people. I’ll get there. But right now that feels, well, complicated.
I have a yard. I have a deck. I walk Cheddar lots. But for now, on my bike, I feel better inside. Follow me on Strava or on Zwift if that’s thing your thing and send me a “ride on.”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about looking after your mental health and well being during the pandemic. Since I work a lot in the area of mental health wellness and policy, I try to live the practices I learn about to manage everyday stress.
One of the things I have been sharing with friends is the need to grieve the loss. Our way of life has changed, and most likely, permanently. What happens in the next few months and after that is anyone’s guess. Some people may find Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — a useful way to process all the feelings. Also, regardless of how I have listed them here, it’s not a linear process.
The pandemic, though, is not everyday stress even if we are feeling it every day. I thought you might be interested in some of the things government agencies in Canada and elsewhere are offering to help. I’m quite glad to see the variety of material as we have had to deal with a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health and illness.
The relative openness about mental well being is a positive thing we should recognize and is an important part of the WHO’s recent updates. Their focus these days is on emphasizing that physical distancing does not mean social isolation. They also recognize the importance of building psychological resilience. I hope some of the links that follow are helpful to you.
For the science-minded among the readers, here’s an interesting article looking at what we have learned from past epidemics. The authors focus on what we can do better going forward and why we need to also apply psychological first aid when working with people in our communities during this time. The article considers the impact on providers as well as people in the community. They write:
The outbreak of pandemics has a potential impact on the existing illnesses, causes distress among caretakers, and affected persons and leads to an onset of mental symptoms among the young or old, which is possibly related to the interplay of mental disorders and immunity. In order to avoid the mental health effects of the COVID-19 infection, people need to avoid excessive exposure to COVID-19 media coverages, maintain a healthy diet and positive lifestyle, and reach out to others for comfort and consolation that the situation will soon be contained. Everyone should maintain a sense of positive thinking and hope and take personal or group time to unwind and remind the self that the intense feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety will fade. Additionally, seek information from reputable government sources for information and avoid the spread of erroneous information on the internet.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has put together a website offering evidence-based information and links from across the country. Their focus is on providing information you can trust: “In times of high anxiety and stress, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental wellness. That includes stemming the tide of non-essential information (my emphasis) and paring down your news consumption.”
Another Canadian site comes from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. They offer a variety of coping strategies to deal with the stress and anxiety you and others may be feeling. What I liked about the site was their recognition that not all tools will work for everyone equally: “Some might apply to you and some might not – or they may need to be adapted to suit you personally, your personality, where and with whom you live, or your culture. Please be creative and experiment with these ideas and strategies.” CAMH also recognizes that a key factor driving ur fear, anxiety and stress is the uncertainty that underpins our lives today with respect to the virus.
I hope you find the material in the selected links helpful. Remember to connect to people you care about, to look after yourself, to take time to focus on the good in your life and to wash your hands and take appropriate precautions. Be well, stay well.
MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador.