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When You Feel Blindsided Going Back to Work

Everything I forgot during lockdown and what I am choosing not to remember.

I will start by acknowledging that I was in a privileged position to be able to work from home during the pandemic and am sending my gratitude to all of those who were less fortunate and had to face the three-dimensional world every day to keep the planet spinning.

After more than 15 months of lockdown, I slowly started putting my toes in the water then was blindsided by an unanticipated 8-hour-away-from-home workday. I was shocked by all of the things that used to be second nature that I had simply forgotten how to do:

I forgot how to stock a “mom purse” that could save us all from the zombie apocalypse.

During lockdown, I carried a little plastic bag with my driver’s license, insurance card, and ATM card that I popped into a pocket. On my first workday, a co-worker cut her finger, and I suddenly remembered I didn’t have my trusted mom purse with Band-Aids, tissues, mints, all of those little things that I or someone near me might need during the day. Then when I got a rash on my cheeks from wearing my mask for too long, I realized that I didn’t have my stash of emergency medications—ibuprofen, Azo, Zyrtec for whatever medical issues that might arise when I can’t just run to the hall closet to get what I need in the moment. That all reminded me that I forgot a brush, a nail file, and makeup. No wonder my purse used to weigh a ton!

I forgot how to drive.

I had been driving short distances during lockdown but don’t think I had driven on a freeway for over 15 months. As I was about to merge onto a busy interstate and saw a huge truck barreling toward me in the right lane, I had a sudden jolt, “Yikes, I need to be on alert!” That triggered my old expletive-laced patter about stupid drivers and my fury at people who text at a red light and then are the last ones to get through the green, stranding me at the next red. Grr. I suddenly remembered that it was important to flip other drivers off below the dashboard, and I realized I had completely lost the sequence of button presses that let me surf through my favorite radio stations without looking at the screen.

I forgot how to travel.

Arnel Hasanovic/Unsplash
I forgot how to pack
Source: Arnel Hasanovic/Unsplash

I looked at the empty suitcase and simply had no idea where to start. Something that I used to do on nearly a weekly basis drew a complete blank. When I got to my destination, I had too many tops, not enough bottoms, and no socks! I have no living memory of how I managed to expertly squish all of my necessary creams, ointments, gels, and pastes into a single Ziploc bag just in case my suitcase went missing (as it often does)…not to mention my three day-emergency medicine stash in case it stays missing for that long. I clearly had some motivated forgetting about how to manage my blood pressure when dealing with airline, Airbnb, and hotel websites or being on hold for eternities listening to grating background music while waiting for a live person to answer a simple question, or being sent to a dead-end phone tree and hearing the “click…dial tone.”

I forgot how to do clothes and jewelry.

I wanted to rip my bra off as soon as I got in the car after that first 8-hour workday. The girls haven’t been cooped up for 8 hours for over 15 months and they weren’t happy about it. Having a watch on my arm all day was torture. I was fiddling with it all morning and after a few hours took it off and threw it into my pathetically understocked purse. Pants? I can’t even. Why do we think it is necessary to have clothing that is tight around the waist? I don’t think I can do this anymore. I don’t think I want to do this anymore. I think I work and think better when I am comfortable. Not that I was ever a high heel person, but uncomfortable shoes, forget it. We’re done.

I forgot how to "people."

Medium photoclub/Pexels
Shh! Please
Source: Medium photoclub/Pexels

I think I have lost the ability to focus on a conversation if there are other conversations going on in the room. I looked over my shoulder and wanted to mute them, but there was no mute button. I lost my natural ability to insert myself into an ongoing conversation without a "raise hand" emoji. I forgot how to deal with the smells and sounds of other people, not to mention their quirks and personalities for more than an hour at a time. At times, my urge to click “Leave Meeting” was high. Or better yet, “End Meeting for All.” I gained a deeper empathy for people who can't filter environmental stimuli. It is exhausting to be bombarded.

I was surprised at how much I had forgotten, and I feel OK about not diving back into business as usual. It probably would have been a lot easier to ease back into face-to-face work, but in some ways, I am glad I got hit by this all at once. COVID-19 has taken so much from us that we deserve to squeeze every silver lining we can from this global disaster. My plan is to selectively remember so as not to get sucked right back into the treadmill of daily three-dimensional life. Re-entry is hard.