Working from home has become the new norm. Tens of millions of people had suddenly been converted from office workers to digital home-mads when the shutdowns began. We left our one on one relationships at work and shifted to virtual co-workers, no longer sharing a workspace and the casual conversations at the water cooler. The business trips stopped. The cold coffees in the break rooms ceased to exist. And the things that connected us and gave us variance in our lives came to a halt. For so many, these disconnects made us feel lonely.
I remember when the pandemic started many of my colleagues and friends in the voiceover business joked about their many years of experience working from home. Like them, I had been working from home for many years. As a full-timer in the voiceover industry, you work in a booth, or a closet, or any enclosed space that will help reduce reflective noises. And for most, they come out of those spaces after a full (or partial) day’s work to interact with their families and friends and enjoy activities.
My life and experience working from home have always been different. Before becoming a voiceover talent, I worked in the school system as a substitute and afterschool teacher. As you could imagine, I was never alone. I was always busy, with tens and sometimes hundreds of kids around me. There were parents to talk to and co-workers to congregate with and share outrageous and unbelievable stories about the kids. After school, I hung out with my co-working friends.
But in 2006, after 2 years of part-time voice acting, I made a commitment to being a full-time voiceover talent (after I was fired from substitute teaching). No more hanging with co-workers or seeing the kids. Or conferencing in person with parents to discuss why their kid’s behavior at school was markedly different than it was at home. No mas! And as a result, I became far less relevant to the people I worked with. To make up for this, I involved myself in activities.
What’s So Different About Me?
When I left my job, or rather, when my job left me, I had to find different things to involve myself in. Unlike so many of my friends and former co-workers, I don’t have a family. Over the many years, I have had many girlfriends but I don’t have any children. I don’t even have a dog. For much of those years as well, I lived alone. While I saw even my youngest brother get married and have beautiful daughters, I decided that a life of travel was the path for me.
I am also an introvert who has always forced himself to be social, and it’s worked for me. I have found friends in new countries while traveling. I’ve encountered new buddies while working out in the gym. I have new friends from attending various Spanish meet-up groups. And even found some guys who gladly and repeatedly dropped me on my head doing judo (lol). I have made friends based on the activities that we have in common which has warded off loneliness. But generally, when those activities were over, I was back to the voiceover booth and back to being alone.
So Why Do I Feel Lonely Now?
The pandemic really highlighted how fragile my associations were. It shone a spotlight on how I had medicated myself with travel and meet-ups. It was initially tough and made me feel lonely. Unlike my co-workers who had their children, spouses, and dog to huddle around the barrage of news coming in about the virus, I did not have that. I was actually working doing radio imaging (alone in the booth) to inform and encourage people to stay home. All the meanwhile spending no time producing nightclub commercials, because they were locked down. I was also suffering from health issues that started before covid.
All of the things that I had occupied my time and mind with were crumbling around me. My social interactions have been reduced to social media and a sharp increase in on-screen time. My time in the gym halted and my only exercise was a brisk walk from the studio couch to the bathroom before my bladder gave way. There was no more swimming. There was no martial arts training. Instead, there were short drone flights around the neighborhood with my DJI Mavic; at least until that fateful day when I flew it into some electrical wires (RIP Mav).
Suddenly I was doing nothing but scrolling. My health and good sense dictated that I follow the CDC guidelines. It wasn’t long before I saw posts from here in Georgia and other red states where everyone was back out and about. Heck, at that point the pandemic had just started a month prior and some clubs were back open. Everyone was having fun. They were in the bars, hanging out in Miami, going out to restaurants and I was still sheltering. The gym re-opened in June 2020. Some of my gym buddies went back to working out immediately. Some were decidedly cautious. But regardless, I allowed my membership to lapse and have still not renewed.
What Now? Do I Go Back To Normal Now That I’m Vaccinated?
No! The pandemic isn’t over. 94% doesn’t mean 100% effective and there are still breakthrough infections. The number of people getting vaccinated with both shots is waning. And the anti-vaxers are getting louder. All of this means, that as the summer progresses, I take caution in finding things to do outside with my girlfriend. We still plan to do activities but in a controlled manner. I’ll get back to medicating myself with travel. I have already started flying again, but I take extra precautions. But in all of that, I’ll still be working from home.
The Covid pandemic has taught me a few lessons. It has taught me that people need people and to strengthen the connections that I have with others. It’s taught me that working from home isn’t for everyone. Being a loner is ok. But I don’t have to feel lonely. It’s important to discover commonalities with people and to keep up with them. The pandemic taught me that we are all mentally vulnerable and the necessity to continually evaluate one’s psychological health. I am still learning the value of random calls with the thousands of unused names and numbers in my contacts list. Because when dealing with the stress of toilet paper and gas shortages, we need others to relate to who are dealing with the same crap.