Pandemic journal

Here I write about my experiences with the coronavirus pandemic. When things are back to normal, it will be a reminder of how crazy things were. And if they never go back to normal, it’s a reminder of how we got there.

I do feel ambivalent about making it public though. After all, the thing about the pandemic is that it affects the whole world. Millions of people experience things very similar to mine. In fact, I don’t think our lives have ever been more the same than now. And then there are people who really have it much worse than I have. The possibility to go into isolation and not losing my job is a big privilege.

This journal is here anyway, because these are tough times to many. We’re more alone than ever. And maybe something I share in here will be useful to you.

Show oldest entries first

Day 130

Five weeks ago we had to decide: are we going on vacation? Well: we did it! It was just a short train trip to the Baltic Sea, where we stayed in a hotel for a week. After going nowhere for months, this was a very welcome change—I was finally able to really relax again and see things with a different perspective.

My daughter and son running towards the beach

As I learned from the book The Elephant In The Brain, often we think that we do things for reasons, but in reality, we make up those reasons after doing something. In other words: we justify our behavior by rationalizing it. I became very aware of this through this trip. Before we went I was on the fence about whether or not it was the right thing to do. Deep down I thought the wise thing would be to stay home and not risk spreading covid (rationalizing my behavior, staying at home, was the right thing to do). But now that we went there, I’m so happy that we did, to get out of that locked-in mindset I got at home. But again, that’s rationalizing my behavior. Similarly, the first time we were about to go to the hotel’s pool, I was worried—is this okay? Shouldn’t we avoid moisty places with other people? After going once, I felt fine; it wasn’t that crowded, it was an outdoor pool, etc.

Me and my daughter on the beach

I think this rationalization behavior is often forgotten in debates about pandemic fighting policies. Your opinions about things like lockdowns and where you should wear masks is much influenced by what you’ve been doing. As a result, I bet that WFH office workers are much more likely to support strict measures, whereas those with jobs marked as essential are more likely to see things a bit more relaxed.

Day 100

Yesterday I heard people talking about ‘during corona’ in the past tense. With our daycare opening at regular hours again, for me too it feels like the pandemic is over. Obviously that is not the case. But the infection growth rate is low here and people start to pretend that it’s over. I don’t know how to feel about it. I want to be happy and relieved. But I don’t think it’s really over. We still haven’t met with friends, don’t visit anything except a few parks, occasionally. My mind is still in ‘I have to stay home’ mode. I feel that if only we just stay in hour homes and keep our distance covid will go away and then we can go back to being safe outside. But that we’re not there yet.

Day 86

What felt like impossible finally happened. Our two children were allowed to go to daycare again. They only get to go half of the days: this week three, next week two days. And only a few hours. But they loved it. And so did we parents.

Day 79

All the weeks feel the same. Not necessarily in a bad way, but everything feels like last week. Everything before the isolation feels like a few weeks ago.

Day 75

When we went home from the park, we encountered one of our four-year-old’s good friends from daycare. They hadn’t seen each other for over two months. On a few other occasions we met children from daycare, but then they were just shy about it and didn’t greet. But these two friends now finally meeting again—it was glorious! The fun they had, just seeing each other, joking around on the pavement. We had to go home for supper, but it took half an hour of just pure joy before they were ready to go. And only when I made a racing game out of that.

Day 71

This pandemic has spared me so far and all I do is complain and worry about it. Weirdly, I’m not thinking much about the thousands and thousands suffering and dead. My worries are all about the systems of our global society and what may happen in the future. To me.

Now I may not have my priorities straight here, but let’s talk a bit about those worries. They don’t make sense—the world has always been a dangerous place. Going by the statistics, dying of covid is only a bit more likely than all of the other things I could die of at my age. Even if I were a pretty successful politician, there’d be little I could do about how global society works. And I’m not a politician at all, so that should not be something to worry about.

That’s the stoic way of looking at things. Can’t change it? Don’t worry about it. Can change it? Change it, don’t worry about it. I thought I internalised that. And I do know it, but it really doesn’t change how I feel. And stoicism is just one of the things I learned to control my emotions. There are breathing exercises, meditation, workouts, eating healthy and monitoring sleep, to name a few. And nothing seemed to have done much about my mood—until my circumstances improved.

That lack of control was yet another source of negative thoughts. Why, I asked myself, with all that knowledge, am I still so freaked out, while everything in my household is fine?! Is all that knowledge useless, once I’m not feeling happy? Then is the correlation between happiness and all the other things maybe reversed?

Paul Kaye as Matt's (Tom Basden) pyschiatrist in After Life
“Just don’t worry about it, mate.”

Just don’t worry about it—it’s a beautiful day and the children are happy and it doesn’t matter that the house is a mess, so enjoy the moment. It’s so much easier said than done. And I’m still hesitant to write about this, because I still actually think I’m a total wussy for not being able to handle myself better.

I mean, this is just a minor crisis compared to what famine and war could bring and—as frequently mentioned here—I’m aware of the vast majority of people being worse off than me. I guess despite knowing better, emotionally I thought dealing with crises would be about being brave, resourceful and heroic. Turns out it’s about dealing with yourself, stress and monotony. I gotta learn that stuff better, because I think it’s very likely that the pandemic is just a little taste of what’s to come with climate change in the next few decades.

Day 59

I’m feeling a bit more optimistic now! Good things:

  • At work, I’ve been pulled off a project that was depressing me more than I knew.
  • Going by the national recommendations, daycare should be open to our children some time in June. No word from the city or our daycare itself yet though.
  • My employer gave all parents 4 days of leave per child they have. I’m taking one additional day off each week; I now only have to work 20 hours. Now I finally don’t have that feeling of letting my coworkers down anymore.

Day 56

It took me more than two months, but I realised I don’t have to carry my wallet chained to my belt loops at all times anymore. I always have my wallet on me, so I don’t have to think of it when I leave the house. But pretty much the only place I now buy stuff are the supermarket and bakery where I can use Apple Pay.

Day 55

Obviously I miss:

  • Meeting people other than those in my street
  • Restaurants
  • The city center
  • Traveling
  • Fun
  • Free time

But that’s predictable. I finally realized I miss something else too: the feeling that I’ve had forever: that I’m constantly improving things for myself and the world.

Normally I’m pretty excited about my job. But now a lot of that happens against the background of getting the economy out of this standstill. It’s about regaining what was normal. Same goes for my own role in that: I’m struggling to deliver the bare minimum of what is required, rather than redefining and improving my position within the organisation.

Before the isolation, I used to spend about fourteen to eighteen hours per week on side projects: the website you’re looking at, Big Timer and the things I do for ForTomorrow. Then there were home improvement, gardening and trips with the children. Those activities all give me a feeling of progress. I’m not saying that it’s all useful, important stuff that gets me closer to enlightenment, but it felt positive, creative and I learned things from it.

Much of that is gone now. Life is about maintaining the status quo, making sure we sleep enough, get enough exercise, don’t get annoyed, keep the children happy and engaged.

This made me realize that until the isolation, my private and professional life had a big amount of excess capacity. Capacity I used to learn, improve and plan. Growth was the default.

I’m missing that now. But I realize too that growth can’t be the default forever and being able to enjoy the moment is more important for my wellbeing than being good at learning. And that I’ve been very lucky to have had that capacity required for growth to begin with.

Day 51

In general my outlook on things is pretty dark. I keep on wondering:

  • How much longer will this isolation have to be?
  • Shouldn’t we get a real lockdown for a week or two and really get it over with?
  • When will we get daycare again?
  • I don’t feel like I’m performing like I should. If daycare is staying closed much longer, should I look for another job?
  • Isn’t this the worst time ever to change jobs, am I stuck in this endless repetitive, stressful weekly cycle?
  • My family and everyone I know is healthy, I get to spend a lot of time with the children, we have steady income and don’t lack anything but social interactions. Then why do I feel so stressed?
  • What will happen to civilization if we keep doing these ‘intelligent lockdowns’? Tight social bonds are tightened, but at the cost of weaker, haphazard interactions. Will this lead to unpredictable power shifts on regional and national levels?
  • Why do so few people seem to realize that a lot of what we’re doing against corona is what we should have started doing long ago against climate change?

Day 45

Days and weeks have started to blur together. Memories of days, a week or several weeks ago all feel like ‘recently’. Some work tasks that I postponed for a bit suddenly were postponed for several weeks. Weirdly, they then still felt as urgent, whereas obviously they weren’t and nobody cared about them being completed or not.

That apparent uselessness of my work combined with the unpredictability of work assigned to me and nagging thoughts of the need to reassess what is Really Important™️ makes it hard to concentrate on work.

Day 42

Our supermarket plays this short announcement where they thank their employees for keeping Germany’s food supply up and running. In the first week of the isolation, I found it surprisingly moving. I experienced the atmosphere in the empty supermarket as weird and somewhat tense. And then there was this friendly voice, this time not trying to get me to buy the promotions, but calling for what’s important: gratitude, empathy and unity.

But next time, I noticed they play the message several times per hour. I imagined working there, hearing it dozens of times a day. For weeks. I imagine it’s hard to take that seriously anymore if even I’m getting annoyed by it by now.

I experienced the first weeks of the isolation as a major emotional event. I mean I even started this journal to deal with it. I imagine for many others it’s been similar. It’s been more than six weeks now and the measures are considered successful enough to open up society again. I think we all feel fatigued by the situation and find it harder to take it seriously. Where in the first week the streets were eerily empty, they’re full of cars again. I see my neighbors inviting friends over and I’m not even mad about it anymore (okay I still think badly of them, but if they otherwise isolate properly there should barely be a risk). I just think we’re all hit badly by the crisis in some way (my neighbor lost his job) and we all assess risks differently. And since measures vary so wildly from country to country, I understand if people don’t follow them as strictly as before.

Day 39

More and more people wear masks outside. I hope this habit will stay: wear a washable mask to protect others from diseases that you potentially carry.

My first mask order arrived only last week. The first time I used one while grocery shopping, I had to get used to it. For some reason it felt like I couldn’t speak, so some interactions with other customers were a bit awkward. I have a washable mask and it’s easy to breath through it. The main reason I wear it is this:

Homemade Masks
Homemade Masks by XKCD

The second reason is that I want to show people that I think it’s normal to be careful with viruses.

Day 37

The law for financial support of employers of parents that I mentioned last time doesn’t apply to us. So it looks like the worst part of this crisis will last till August, when the children can go to daycare again.

If we don’t get covid of course. But provided measures like lockdowns are applied in a smart way, that risk is low. In the Netherlands (worse off than Berlin) statistics show that for people under 40, covid increases the chance of dying during a year with just 50%. It still sucks really bad if it makes you ill. But so does getting hit by a car and that doesn’t keep me from walking and cycling.

So my biggest problem is that we have two kids and two jobs and no daycare for three more months. The good thing is that I don’t feel so bad about not being productive anymore. I now see that the guilt I felt was caused by how I imagined society sees me: not as productive as my employment expects from me. But this society created this crisis situation; our legal right to daycare was revoked from one day to the other and I have a legal and moral obligation to care for our children. It also helps that my employer and coworkers have been very supportive.

For the children not having daycare still sucks. They miss their friends and interesting activities. They even miss doing groceries with me. The four-year-old already argued that if he’d put on a mask, he could come with. We’ve ordered some.

In Denmark, Sweden and Iceland daycare never closed, with no measurable effect on contagion. That’s the reason for the Netherlands to gradually open daycare and primary schools again. Since toddlers also barely have any risk getting covid, it’s extra unfair towards them. Well, at least they’re allowed to play with up to three children in the neighborhood again.

Day 35

There’s a law that supports employers for lost productivity of workers due to disasters, but it only pays for up to six weeks of that. Right now, it’s unclear how we can apply for that. But even with that, it feels unfair. Children have a legal right to daycare. It was taken away from them, while they’re the least at risk while it’s not even clear if they play a significant role in spreading the corona virus. As a parent, it’s also unfair. Where those without children basically get a lot of additional free time, the inverse true is for parents. If only I see one more article about taking on side projects, games to play, movies to watch, books to read …

But it’s time I stop complaining about fairness. My situation isn’t bad, I just spend a lot of time with the children and often that’s fun. We have a big enough house with a yard and make bicycle tours through the parks with beautiful spring blossoms. It’s time to just accept the situation and come up with a curriculum for the toddlers. Time to accept that the whole world is working hard on getting rid of the pandemic and its effects and that I’m part of that too. When it comes to fairness, there are a lot of people who get to complain before me.

It’s also time to protest against the daycare closing situation, because waiting till August is just too long. It’s more than a tenth of the age of my daughter. Where in other countries daycare stays open and other measures are made. With distancing, we’re protecting the weakest, oldest people in our society. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of of the weakest, youngest that have no say in this and aren’t even at risk.

Day 34

I’ve been tears-in-my-eyes sad all day. The federal government and the mayor of Berlin have decided: daycare stays closed for children of non-essential workers. Until August!

I’m rather desperate; I dread the idea of continuing this for three more months. Our children sleep later and later, a sign that they’re not challenged enough during the day. They need new impulses, things to learn, playmates. What happens to children age two and four when they can’t interact with their peers? How to give them the necessary support in their development? How am I going to keep them engaged and curious?

There are days it takes hours before they’ve had breakfast and put their clothes on. We get into this vicious circle, where they don’t want to get going, get bored, want to do even less, get stubborn and don’t want to leave the house. But when I can just get them to go into the backyard, they’re happier and play independently.

To make things worse, I really don’t know how I’m going to stay productive enough when working. Taking care of the kids just takes a big cut out of the week. As I mentioned, they sleep late and half of the evening it’s my turn to stay with them making sure they don’t jump around instead of trying to go to sleep. So just flexibly shifting working hours doesn’t suffice—we have other household stuff to take care of as well.

Day 33

Today we did something illegal. We let our four-year-old play with one of the children in the neighborhood. For both it was the first time in nearly five weeks that they talked and played with a child their age. The plan was that we’d let them ride on their bikes through the neighborhood together, a proper 1,5 meters apart. But of course, play is play, so rocks and flowers had to be collected and thrown around. And they came up with all kinds of other things, but that 1,5 meters was quickly forgotten. It was quite wonderful. Since the neighbors are among the cleanest people I know and are otherwise excellent physical distancers, I believe this was barely irresponsible.

I’m trying to ignore the news until there’s certainty about what the next pandemic measures for Berlin will be. By just focusing on the glorious now—beautiful weather, happy children—things are pretty good.

Day 32

A couple of days ago I thought I was getting used to the isolation. The Easter break that followed was nice and pretty relaxed. But yesterday the worrying started again. There’s this government advice panel, from the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences. They published their recommendation on how to reopen Germany yesterday and it includes a lot of things except daycare. This old school manly committee was like, yeah schools can open, but toddlers stay home until after the summer vacation. Which at least shows they don’t know that daycare doesn’t have summer vacation, but a shorter break that doesn’t necessarily align with school vacation. That last bit is nitpicking, but I’m worried:

  • Our children need other children to play with. At least ours have each other, but what about those without siblings? You can’t just pause social development at the age when children develop the most.
  • How am I supposed to get to my productivity up again? The children and household need a non-negotiable amount of time.

Ugh. I have negative thoughts over and over again, where everything seems connected. There are about as many new daily COVID-19 as on Day 1. Deaths per day are still increasing. The hope was that after 5 weeks of distancing, we’d be better off, but the country really seems to be in a worse state. What started as a unique, long, but also somewhat comfy challenge, is now who-knows-how-long. And I’m complaining here, but I am privileged, being isolated, with my family, not risking my health and still getting a salary paid. I should be ashamed of myself. But that just makes me feel bad and distracts me from work and being nice to my family. We’re not getting this under control as a global, European or even national society. I was a big proponent of severe measures to stop the pandemic, but either it’s not been severe enough or too many people ignore it—where were all those people going in their cars on Friday night? If grownups are not sticking to the rules, it feels unfair that my children should. After all, their freedom has been restricted most (no social contact, no trips, not even coming along to do grocery shopping) while their health is the least at risk. Since I can’t work with the same passion I had before, should I just take a sabbatical till the end of summer? And what if things are just as they’re now in fall again? Can I even afford a sabbatical? Is my career over? Will the world ever return to normal? And do I want that?

Day 28

When the pandemic was coming to Germany, the world already started to feel weird. Things that seemed to be facts of life, like globalization, people going to work, capitalism, vacations turned out to be cancellable. With the root cause not being powerful lobbying or big demonstrations, but because somebody in a far away place I had never heard of before ate a bat (or a civit cat, as we used to believe). I often think of Venkatesh Rao’s Weirding Diary now.

It used to be like we play this game with clear rules. The rules could be changed, but there were rules for that too and those were strict. But now it’s like somebody threw some dice with completely unpredictable effects. Well, at least unpredictable to me, like:

  • We have literally thousands of tons of potatoes going to waste, because they’re the type that is used for fries. And fries are mainly sold in snack bars and restaurants and those are closed.
  • Toilet paper is still hard to find, but diapers are no problem.
  • The bakeries never closed here, but all ingredients for baking bread are constantly sold out.
  • In parts of the world, some people (those without kids, not employed with what is now called an ‘essential job’ but one that) get like a super long vacation, but they can’t go anywhere.
  • Others, like myself, find themselves in a situation with extremely little alone time.
  • In very other parts of the world (India, South Africa), people are forced to stay inside their tiny, hot homes that they share with too many people for that being realistic. For health reasons.

The D&D critical miss table me and my teenage friends made back in the day certainly was more credible.

Day 27

A few days into my Easter break and I’m more relaxed now. Which is weird, because I thought the idea of living during a pandemic and the news around it were big stress factors. I guess it was combing work with looking after the kids that was the worst and that I was projecting some of that stress on pandemic info and then start worrying about that and then everything was awful. It’s easy to admit now I have information that wasn’t available a few days ago, but I do think I was overly worried about some situations, like:

  • Touching surfaces that other people have touched (I’m strictly not touching my face as soon as I leave the house and wash my hands thoroughly when I come back in).
  • Being near people outside (Droplets exhaled by runners and cyclists can reach as far as 4, respectively 8 meters behind them, but it’s the bigger droplets with loads of virus that are dangerous. And they don’t reach that far).
  • My own health (there are indications that the COVID-19 mortality rate is lower than the 2–3% that we heard earlier, the vast majority of deaths was at an age much higher than mine, 80% were obese).
  • My spouse and I getting ill at the same time and now knowing how to take care of the children (if one of us gets infected, it’s most likely via the other. Contagiousness is highest after the incubation period. Which, with two weeks is about as long as most people are ill—if they’re part of the unlucky ~15% who are symptomatic).

This is just my journal—I’m not going to include sources and you shouldn’t take medical advice from me etc.

Day 26

It’s been four weeks of working from home now and it does start to feel normal now. We have new routines and my concentration during work is not as bad as in the beginning. I used some tricks for improving my concentration.

The most important thing is that I’ve stopped being sad and angry with myself for not being more productive. At times I didn’t like myself for not getting more done, despite my awesome home office. I now just admit that things are tough for me. Many people have it worse than me, but that doesn’t make my situation better than before and thinking about them only makes me feel sad. Because things are tough, I just can’t do as much as before. Like most people.

In the same vein, I shouldn’t feel bad for getting the same salary as when I was more productive. When I gave up my freelancing for permanent employment, I also gave up a lot of income for the security that comes with it. I didn’t factor in pandemics as a reason for needing income security, but that’s not the point.

There were some small tasks that I found hard to start well with—they seemed so insignificant compared to what’s going on in the world. Then I started with the big tasks, but didn’t have the concentration to get something going. And went back on the small tasks. That way I did get some busy work done. But to get to productive stuff, I had to resort to this mental trick where I defined the smallest possible step forward on the big task, timeslotted it and started straight away. With the promise of not being disappointed with myself taking longer. Bit by bit that got me further.

Corona news distracted me quite a bit. I already implemented a strict no news during work hours policy. Normally I never check the news during an office day, but at the start of this WFH episode, I felt a strong urge to see what was happening during the day. None of that anymore, but all newsletters I get via my work mail are about the pandemic. Then there are several work Slack channels in which the topic comes up frequently. When I use the internet to look up things, seemingly every website has something to say about it (yeah I know, this one too, sorry).

If you find the isolation situation stressful too, maybe you find this New York Times article In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You useful.

Day 25

My emotions are still going back and forth about this pandemic.

My chances of getting terminally ill with COVID-19 soon aren’t high. But it would be pretty disastrous if both my wife would catch it simultaneously—who’d be willing to care for our lovely but likely contagious kids?

Most people contracting the virus don’t even get sick. But I do have relatives who are at a higher risk level.

The measures seem to work; it looks like we’re flattening the curve in Germany. But we’re in a much worse state than on Day 1 with around 200 people dying now each day.

There’s this quote going around on Twitter: “You are not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” But I still don’t like myself for being less productive, especially with my amazing coworkers doing all kinds of quick COVID-19-response stuff.

Being a fan of stoicism, I know: when you can’t change a situation, it doesn’t make sense to worry about it. But I still worry daily about what the disease and what it does to society.

We should be careful and stay at least 1,5 m away from other people. But the weather was super nice and there just happened to be so many people who decided to use the same cycling paths that we took. And isn’t the chance that even among hundreds of them, the chance of someone being contagious is still small and the chance of this person infecting us outside minimal?

Wearing a face masks in public is not part of the German policy and described as unnecessary. But in Asia and the United States it’s considered helpful to reduce spread. I’ll just do what’s in between: I ordered some washable cotton masks (not to add to the scarcity that hospitals face) and they should still capture a large portion of particles.

I’m listening to this You Are Not So Smart episode. It describes several psychological phenomena and biases that make epidemics possible. And based on what I heard so far, my internal division is apparently not uncommon.

Day 23

Every Zoom meeting

Waiting for the organizer to show up and not having a chat with the person next to you, silently looking at everybody’s faces in the grid view while they’re on mute instead.

While speaking: simulating making eye contact by trying to look at the camera instead of other people’s faces.

Wondering if people are looking at the presenter’s video or just doing other work.

That person with the mesmerizing video background.

—Does anyone have any questions? [super long pause] Okay I’ll continue.
—Sorry yes I have a question but I was on mute.

—Have a nice day!
—Yes you too!
[smiles]
[awkward pause while everybody’s scrambling for the buttons to hang up]
Call is over.

Day 22

Are working hours real?

I’ve worked part time for a couple of years now: 28 hours a week. In most situations, I felt being more productive than that number because I was more relaxed and had more time to mentally process things. Although I’ve always made sure to put in at least my weekly hours, my employer never really cared about presence just for the sake of it. When not staffed on a project, we’re allowed to stay at home and work on whatever we like—or nothing at all. My coworkers and I show up when we need to and for most people (including myself) that’s more than the hours that we’re officially employed for. Much of that is for the love of what we do, or some personal mission that we have. But there’s some peer pressure too. I certainly often felt I should stay long after 18:00 even if I was done with what I wanted to accomplish that day.

But with no one around to see me being so motivated, time spent on work becomes irrelevant to others. It’s about (perceived) work results, meeting deadlines and availability for calls.

Of course there’s a correlation between time spent on a task and the quality of the result. But in my experience, from long before the isolation, a little bit of time spent over multiple days is more effective than that same amount on a single day. When it comes to creative tasks, that is. I think this has something to do with my brain continuing to process things while doing sports, household chores and perhaps sleeping.

Now that being at a location is no longer relevant for office workers, will companies rethink what it actually means to be employed?

Day 21

Empty supermarket shelves
Still no toilet paper in our supermarket.

Day 20

When we went into isolation, I was taking the virus very seriously. But now I start to forget why I was so scared of it. I think it’s just my brain being like ‘see nothing’s going on’. There are so many different views on how bad the virus is, even from experts. One virologist said that it’s only dangerous to fragile old people who are likely to do die soon from something else anyway. The statistics show that there’s still a non-zero chance of dying at pretty much all ages.

But then again, I’ve heard the first two stories about people I know who believe they’ve had COVID-19. They can’t know, because one is in The Netherlands and the other in New York. There’s not enough capacity to test all suspected cases in those places. The symptoms these people had weren’t spectacular and they weren’t even ill for very long.

Of course I’m still washing my hands a lot, keeping distance and being cautious around people outside. But I don’t sense the danger that I used to sense. It’s becoming an abstract idea. Perhaps that’s just a good, rational way of dealing with it. And I guess I’m very fortunate that for me COVID-19 is still so abstract.

Day 19

This whole staying home all day is less fun than I thought it would be.

Good things:

  • We’re together with the family and most of the time that’s good. I really pity people who are all on their own at home. Especially extraverts. I can really understand if some can’t bear it and go outside and chat to a random person. I’ve been that random person a few times already.
  • The children are speaking more and more Dutch instead of German.
  • I’m becoming more creative in negotiating with the children.

Bad things:

  • I forget what day it is.
  • Not working out makes me feel on edge and somehow I can’t find the time to do workouts. In the morning it’s hard to get everyone out of their pajamas and at the breakfast table at a normal time. In the evenings we’re working longer.
  • Despite reduced news consumption, I can start to worry about all kinds of pandemic-related possibilities.
  • We’ve only passed half of the 5 weeks and it already feels like for ever.
  • I don’t see a strong effect in the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. If it continues like this, we’re much worse off than at the start of this near-lockdown. I don’t see why measures would be softened.
  • The children are also getting better at negotiating and are now revolting and ignoring all my requests.

Day 18

April 1st and I haven’t seen a single April fools joke online that wasn’t marked as such.

Day 16

Today I got an urgent task at work. For the complexity and size of the task, I felt disproportionately stressed about it.

Until today, when I got to work, I liked it. I did have concentration problems because of the sudden change to the new setup and my mind being too much in the corona situation. But work was a bit of an escape from the here and now: I was able to do the things I normally do.

But the idea of people depending on my work today somehow was something I found hard to handle. Anyway, after some corrections I made in the evening, the task was finished in time and people were satisfied. That felt good.

Day 16

The really scary thing we’re facing still is climate change. The things happening around this pandemic is just a taste of things to come. Diseases will spread in unprecedented ways—but probably worse—our societies will be tested under pressure of reduced food and water availability, mass migration and, in some areas, unbearable temperatures.

Considering how most of us are still doing pretty well, I wonder if the net effect of the pandemic could be a positive for humanity. Obviously not for the people suffering from the disease, or the people working hard in hospitals. But death rates actually went down significantly in areas in lockdown. We consume fewer resources and emit fewer greenhouse gasses and keeping that low is definitely something we should have started doing decades earlier. But also, we collectively experience that being economically productive all the time is not a necessity for a good life. We learn again how to value what’s really important. In my case: food, healthcare, family, friends and some time alone to think, learn and create. Not necessarily in that order.

Day 15

The supermarket where we do our groceries still doesn’t have toilet paper. Ever since the isolation started, seemingly random products are no longer available. Milk and yoghurt are back though. When I asked about ginger, they told me it’s gone and won’t come back for a while. Same for yeast. Glad I didn’t buy a bread baking machine. I guess a lot of people decided they’d bake their own bread. You have to be lucky to even get flour at all, whereas our bakery has never been out of products.

This evening some friends and I had a Zoom call to catch up. We hadn’t been together with the group for over one and a half year. We mainly talked about how living in isolation is going.

Day 14

I should really try to not read news even more than every other day. Every time I check my feeds, there’s something about how incompetently some countries’ governments are handling the pandemic. Or how we’re never going back to normal life—by the time there’s a vaccine, our emergency measures will have changed our economic systems, wats of working, etc. The charts with confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are frightening. Even when one day the growth rate is declining, it can be back up the next.

Besides checking the news less often, there are some other things I learned that help me feel good:

  • Doing a proper workout in the morning
  • Putting my camera off during work presentations on Zoom and doing body weight exercises while listening
  • Because of the kids now being at home, I can’t work normal working hours. For the evenings I’ve now set fixed slots for work in my calendar. Outside those, I try not going to feel bad about not being more available.

Day 13

I guess we’re used to being in isolation. My spouse and I have optimized our work/children schedule. I’m no longer feeling guilty about my reduced productivity all the time. Many evenings—those that I don’t bring the kids to bed—I work an hour or so, but then I get so tired too tired for anything that requires proper thinking.

Before the isolation, I worked a lot of my free time on the ForTomorrow website. That is almost grinding to a halt.

Day 12

All my grandma’s activities and thus sport appointments are cancelled. Without people taking her out for a walk, she’d only stay at home all day playing the balloon shooting web game, says my mother. She and some of her siblings made a schedule to visit Oma every day. Now not all my aunts and uncles agreed on this being a good idea. Because Oma doesn’t just stay at home all day; she forgets about the pandemic and insists on getting her own groceries. And we can’t expect her to remember to wash her hands thoroughly afterward.

Oma is a fit 90 year old, but I expect her health to deteriorate quickly when she stops exercising. We can’t change how grandma forgets about the pandemic. Drastically reducing her quality of live at her age would be cruel, especially considering how likely it is she’ll get infected with her behavior anyway.

I’m more worried about my own mother’s health. She has a pre-existing condition making the virus more dangerous for her.

Day 11

No media outlet—or actually, no company of any type—ignores the pandemic. Every company’s newsletter mentions how they’re dealing with or at least mention it in a we-know-our-news-is-trivial-compared-to-the-real-news way.

As a result, no 5 minutes pass without me thinking about the virus. It’s stressing me out. This morning I was able to accept that this is the new normal. But then I read something about how the police in Belgium is totally unprepared to deal with contagious trouble makers and are scared to go on patrol. I don’t see why that would be different in most countries. According to the news I get, people world wide are meek and cooperative in the situation. That’s consistent with what I see here in Berlin. But I can’t help but expect some countries to fall apart, when police and eventually military people refuse to confront scared and angry crowds.

We haven’t reached the new normal yet and I expect it will takes us at least two years to get there.

Day 10

In the Long Earth fantasy/sci-fi books, a big, disruptive change happens to the world. It affects everyone and leaves the world rather empty of people. Today we have the first day of real lockdown; you now have to have an excuse to be outside and you can’t chat with other people anymore. So far, the change is barely noticeable outside, but knowing that it happened and why, makes it feel surreal. Like we’re in fiction, but it doesn’t have the fun bits.

For some people this may all be like having a forced vacation. But for us, combining work with taking care of children and the household, it’s just a big nuisance.

Apart from that being better than getting terminally ill, I really shouldn’t complain. Thanks to my freelancing days, I have a pretty good home office setup with a height-adjustable desk and a decent chair. I have a view on our backyard and the wonderful pink and white blossoming trees in the gardens behind ours. It’s now blocked by the giant display that my employer sent me per courier. We’re lucky to have a proper, decently sized study, so both my spouse and I have our own desks and enough space not to get in each other’s ways. Most people are worse off, here in Berlin and—my goodness— those people in refugee camps.

Day 9

Where normally people sort of ignore me when passing me on the sidewalk, now most people make eye contact while making sure we keep a proper distance. We exchange awkward glances and perhaps nod—to avoid accidentally projecting droplets while speaking. But then I also met some older men who greet in an exaggerated manner as if they’re trying to show off how fearless they are.

In the supermarket, most people are okay keeping distance. But then there are people like this older lady who approached me at hugging distance and was like hey you must have good eyes (no, I’m wearing glasses ffs), what’s the expiration date of this? We can’t know, but I think the vast majority of the population is not infected. But those people who ignore all the recommendations? Seems like they’re more likely to be infected already.

I really need to learn to be quicker in saying that people should keep a distance.

Day 8

My new bicycle arrived. After almost 6 months of waiting, of course it was delivered to the shop now I really don’t want to take transit anymore. Being in transit felt very irresponsible and viscerally dangerous. Which surprised me as it’s irrational. Only few people were on the bus and the train and they all kept a distance. I think avoiding all people except those in my home for over a week is making me overly cautious.

To protect the drivers, the front doors busses remained closed. There was a piece of barricade tape to avoid passengers coming from the back getting to close to the front.

At the door of the bicycle shop a sign said only two customers at a time were allowed inside. It was not a small shop, so I felt it was okay when they gestured I could come in while to others were looking at products. The two shop assistants were totally ignoring the keep at least 1,5 m distance thing, so I guess they didn’t put up the sign.

Anyway, the bike is really nice. It was a proper highlight after so many days that were nearly the same, but also wildly different when it came to the news and the rules for being in this place. What made me about as happy was that I bought a pack of 8 toilet paper rolls. The last pack except for two tiny 2 packs. It’s scented and has ugly prints but after checking the shops so many times before I felt victorious.

Day 7

There’s a pandemic, but only old people die from the disease. To make it a bit more plausible, younger people also can get really ill, but that just rarely happens.

It sounds like a badly thought through dystopian story. A game-like setup, to divide the world’s population in two, based on visible properties. Already I see the common them versus us in various media. Old people complaining about young people partying and spreading the virus. Young people complaining about old people not taking it serious and meeting in groups, while they themselves are trying to make their 40 hour work week from home with their kids in the house. And finally children who, even if they understand the gravity of the situation, really aren’t scared, because it’s not them who’s going to get sick and die. Well except for the ones who’ve been locked inside; but you don’t get to see them anymore.

According to scientific models, it’s unlikely that this virus will be gone after a couple of weeks of self-imposed semi-quarantine. If things go according to the plans of most European countries, we close off old people from the rest of society, while younger people get infected at a rate slow enough for hospitals to take care of the illest ones. Something which can take years, until there’s a vaccine. They expect virus infections to go down in summer, but getting worse than now in fall again.

(sidenote: For better organized thoughts: Mass surveillance won’t stop corona. What can tech do though?. ) I’ve been eagerly accepting the restrictions from the German government, as I found them too late. But what if the restrictions become stricter and stricter? What if these restrictions are applied every other month? What if that’s the new normal? What if it becomes acceptable and even desirable by myself to enforce that, for instance through automated mass surveillance?

I’m more sympathetic to China and it’s ‘draconic’ measures than ever. Without their lockdown of Wuhan, experts say, the whole world would have been much worse off. They’re now sending aid to Italy and America, because they allegedly have the virus spread under control. And one of their crazy big corporations put 30 000 people to work to build up their own breathing mask production line. In one week time they developed a new type of machine and now they’re responsible for 25% of China’s breathing mask production already.

I got to go for a run now, because in one hour I have to watch the kids again and I need more exercise. Like never before I enjoy running. Every time I think of how it may be the last time that it’s still allowed.

Day 6

We used to take our children with us, going grocery shopping. Although sometimes a bit stressful, it’s a good activity, as it involves going to the store (physical exercise), eating a bun from the bakery (makes them happy) and searching products (keeps them occupied). Obvs we no longer do that; they stay in the house while one of us goes to the store.

But yesterday they were yearning for a Chocobrötchen and I figured as long as they don’t go inside the bakery and don’t touch anything like the door or the benches outside, it should be fine. So we park the bikes in front of the shop. A man and his daughter on a tricycle walk past. My son has a nice Wooom kid’s bike. It’s a high quality product, but expensive. So just like I asked other parents before we bought it, the man asks me about how we like it. He comes much closer to me than 1,5 meters.

Then he tells me how it’s supposedly super light and—gasp—lifts the bike up with his unwashed hands. While I try to be overly polite, mumbling something about social distancing, he also grabs his daughter from the tricycle and—WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE—puts her on the saddle.

Luckily they only touched one handle bar grip and the saddle. Before cycling back home, I wrapped the empty bread bag over the potentially virus-infected grip. At home I thoroughly cleaned all our bikes’ grips and saddles.

Day 5

Today my spouse said out of the blue that she wondered if there’d be more divorces now.

The weather is super nice—spring has come and it’s warm, trees are starting to bloom. When we go through parks, there are more people than on summer Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen pictures of people flocking together in city parks and particularly a lot of old people are doing walks in tight groups of three or four—I hope the moment they realize this was hubris will never come. I also noticed a new phenomenon. There’s this big field at the city border. Normally people walk around it, but today it was used as a park, but with pairs of people safely spaced tens of meters apart.

Field outside Berlin with people relaxing with distance between them
Physical distancing

I took the children past the field, to a place in the woods. On Monday, we only met a few other people there. This time we had to search for a hut building spot not too close to other people.

Day 4

I wrote my neighbours on Facebook.

Ich fand es sehr schön zu sehen, wie unsere Kinder alle in der Frühlingssonne draußen spielten. Aber die Bundeskanzlerin sagte das gleiche, was ich gedacht habe: dass es nichts bringt die Schule zu zu machen, wenn Kinder Corona einfach auf dem Spielplatz weiter verbreiten.

Die nächste Maßnahme ist jetzt also, dass die Spielplätze zu gehen. Ich hoffe, dass wir es zusammen hinkriegen, unsere Nachbarschaft komplett Corona-frei zu behalten!

I read somewhere that it’s best not to check the news more than 3 times a day, to reduce anxiety for yourself and others in your home. I should listen to that, because after a year of more or less ignoring Twitter, I’m a total Twitter addict again. And I can’t stop checking those infection rate graphs.

What’s normal or even mandatory one day, is verboten the next. First the office closed, then daycare. I don’t know what’s next and when, but I’d rather have a quick and clear total shelter in place policy than this only partly effective uncertain situation.

Day 3

It’s the third day of social distancing. I think I’m made for this stuff, I actually kinda like the idea of having everything you need at home. And that we get first signs of the environment thriving with reduced traffic and people outside (at least on the videos I saw on Twitter).

Day 2

A relative called. He is not-angry-but-worried because I made my parents reconsider going to a party at his home, with 40 people invited. They’d be looking forward to that, but my parents decided not to go and now he thinks I’m overly worried about the corona virus. I hope he’s right.

Day 1

Daycare will be closing starting Tuesday, indefinitely. Although me and my spouse saw it coming—we think it’s about time!—we are a bit stunned about it too. How are we going to entertain our two children for days on end? On Monday daycare is still open (because the city is “gradually” closing schools and daycare centers). My spouse initial reaction to the shutdown was adamant: our son and daughter are going to daycare, so we can work from home without distraction for at least one more day. But there’s an indefinite number of weeks without daycare ahead of us and we don’t have to risk the kids catching the virus during their seven hours in daycare on Monday. So it was quickly decided: I’m keeping them at home on Monday.

Today was the first day working from home. The last day without children at home. This isn’t so bad! The vibe in video meetings is more one of excitement than of calamity.

Because I always cycle to work, I made a bike ride before going to my desk at home. I realized there was no real difference between that ride and the one to the office—I both do them for workout and fun. Still it felt much more relaxed, even if I rarely have meetings starting at 9:00 sharp. That said, I could take a scenic route without cars, so that definitely was different.

Later on in the day WFH felt strange. Although I’ve worked from home as a freelancer, I found it more difficult than I expected. All communication going through Zoom and Slack felt off—there were the same meetings as usual, but now being in the meetings felt less urgent or relevant. Maybe there’s something about being in a room that makes it feel important.

Day 0

Until a few weeks ago, the corona virus outbreak was something far away in China. Then it came to Italy and then we realized any of us can get infected at any time. Ever since, you could talk with anyone from anywhere about this one topic. The only thing that I know coming close to that, are events like the Olympics, but even there there were people who didn’t care for it. Including myself.

This is day 0 of this journal. Starting at day 1, I’ll be working from home. And I don’t know until when.