Pandemic Diary: January 26th, 2021

A year ago, on this very blog, I wrote the following:

Sorry, guys, but I am going to be continuing to post about the Wuhan coronavirus situation on this blog. Given my background as a flu prepper, and despite my attempts to inject some laughter into previous potential pandemics, everything I have seen and read so far indicates that this is situation which requires all hands on deck.

Given that this blog gets between 600 and 6,000 views per day, I am hoping that I can use my little soapbox to help bring other people up-to-speed as to what is happening out there in the real world. Yes, we in virtual worlds do tend sometimes to use them to escape aspects of reality that we would rather not have to deal with. I am certainly guilty of this myself, and I suspect some of you, my readers, are as well.

But as a librarian who works at a university science library, I owe it to you to make sure that you are connected to the best, most up-to-date sources of information to make the best decisions. So here goes. Expect a new blogpost with updated information and links every day.

Well, as it turns out, we did, indeed, have a global pandemic on our doorstep. Now, I did not write “a new blogpost with updated information and links every day”, but I did keep up-to-date on the rapidly-evolving situation, and I wrote many blogposts warning people about the danger, and urging them to prepare for it, starting with that very first blogpost on January 25th, 2020, and throughout the next several months.

Here we are, one year later, and I must confess that I am struggling. As I have often written before, anticipating and preparing for a public health emergency is one thing; actually living through it is another. I am feeling emotionally battered, and quite worn down, on Day 317 since I began working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. I wonder how much more of this I can take.

I find that I have to keep reminding myself that these are unprecedented times, that it is okay not to feel okay. Some days I am sorely tempted to take sick time off work, pull the bedcovers over my head, and stay there—but then I tell myself that I would be struggling even more than I am now, if I were to become unmoored from my job as a professional academic librarian. So I force myself to stay the course, and I try to do the best I can every day, even though I know it is not my very best work.

And I find myself clinging to the other avatars I encounter in the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds I write about on this blog, talking their ears off in my fervent desire to have some sort—any sort—of social interaction. I have become a Chatty Cathy! (Not that I wasn’t before, mind you. But I do find myself talking with strangers I meet up with, in my peripatetic metaverse travels, much more frequently than I used to.)

Today has been a difficult day, but I will get through this, in one piece. Whatever it takes, I will do. You are my witness, and you have my word. I will survive!

Pandemic Diary: January 23rd, 2021: Happy Birthday to Me

My brother called me this morning at 9:00 a.m.. I had slept in, and he left a message for me to call him. When I did get up later this morning, I saw that he had called, and since he telephones me so infrequently (we usually text), my first thought is that it was an emergency, and I called him back.

Only to have him wish me a happy birthday! I had completely forgotten that today is my 57th birthday!! I told him on the phone, as we shared a good laugh, that every day is so much like every other day while I have been working from home in self-isolation for my university library system during the pandemic. All my days tend to run together!

As a birthday present, the Manitoba government has slightly lifted a few restrictions in our province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, which has been in place since early November.

Each household can now have a maximum of two external visitors (and no, they can’t be two different people every time; it has to be the same two people). And stores selling non-essential items (books, clothing, consumer electronics, etc.) can now reopen, provided they operate at 25% of their normal store capacity and practice social distancing, face masking, etc.

The timing is perfect, as my trusty iPad 2 has finally bit the dust. I had used it almost every day for the past ten years; the thing was built like a tank! I often would use it to watch Netflix movies or TV, while lying on my sofa in the evenings.

There is a (single) Apple store way up here in the frozen prairie hinterlands of Winnipeg, but I may opt to do my shopping online instead, as I did for my Valve Index. I really don’t feel comfortable walking into any shopping mall right now, even with a face mask and practicing social distancing.

Canada is experiencing delays in vaccine production and delivery, and I am becoming extremely worried about all the new coronavirus variants popping up in the U.K., South Africa, and many other places. It is possible that many vaccines and vaccine candidates will have to be rejigged to handle at least some of these mutations of the virus. The very thought makes me anxious. We are not out of the woods yet! A Manitoba doctor tweeted the following disheartening update yesterday:

Oh, and the Manitoba provincial government also announced that barbers and hair stylists were allowed to reopen, too, provided they adhere to the same restrictions as stores, plus take contact information on all their customers, in case any contact tracing is needed. My mother will be so happy; she has wanted to get her hair cut and styled!

So, next weekend, I will drive across the city to pay a socially-distanced visit to my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo, and we will finally exchange our Christmas presents, a month late! And I will receive my mom’s birthday present; I told her cash would be a perfectly acceptable gift! (I don’t want to set foot in a bank, or touch a germy ATM number pad, if I don’t have to, and having a little spending money in my wallet can come in handy at times.)

I am still struggling with depression and anxiety at times, but I am coping as best as I can. I hope that you are staying safe and healthy!

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, January 18th, 2021

Today is officially Day 309 of my working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system: 309 days, or 7,416 hours, or 444,960 minutes.

I have not left my home in the past month, except to drop my trash bags into the nearest dumpster, and to start the engine on my car in the parking lot and let it run for 10-15 minutes, to make sure that my car battery doesn’t lose its charge during our bitterly cold Winnipeg winter. (As a matter of fact, I am typing the first part of this blogpost out on my WordPress app on my iPhone, sitting behind the steering wheel of my car in my apartment’s outdoor parking lot, while my car is warming up.)

I’ve actually completely lost track of how long it’s been since I’ve been in the vicinity of another human being! The province of Manitoba is still under a code-red pandemic lockdown, and I don’t expect that any of the social distancing and other restrictions will be relaxed or lifted anytime soon. Vaccination is still mostly limited to front-line healthcare workers, and it is happening here at a frustratingly slow pace, with announcements of vaccine delivery delays by Pfizer over the next few weeks to add to the delays.


My car battery recharged, I come inside from the -18°C/-1°F cold, shed my parka, gloves, and face mask, and thoroughly wash my hands, singing Happy Birthday to myself twice under my breath.*

I have been going through a rough patch these past few weeks, which started as I concluded my Christmas holidays and returned to my full-time paying job with the University of Manitoba Libraries. I know that many people are in much worse circumstances than I am during this pandemic, and I know that I am lucky to be able to work from home. But I do not feel very lucky at the moment. All of the classic symptoms of depression are present: low mood, lack of motivation, insomnia.

My brand new Valve Index VR headset and my fancy Knuckles hand controllers sit on my desktop, infrequently used since I installed them in early January.

The Valve Index VR Headset

I do believe that using my then-new Oculus Rift headset four years ago was instrumental to my recovery from my last bout of serious clinical depression, as I wrote on my blog back in May 2018:

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Now, I am not feeling as depressed as I did four years ago, but I can already see the warning signs. Therefore, I intend to slip on my Valve Index and explore as many social VR platforms, games, and creative apps as I can over the next few long, cold months, as a sort of preventative inoculation against isolation, depression and acedia. And, of course, blogging about them here.

Stay tuned for reports from my virtual excursions and adventures!


*No, today is not my birthday; I only sang Happy Birthday twice because that is how long you are supposed to wash your hands for. My actual birthday is on January 23rd (hint, hint, hint).

UPDATE January 20th, 2021: Wow! Somebody sent me a $50 Amazon gift card! Thank you!! The gift is much appreciated, and will definitely be put to good use. 🙂

Pandemic Diary, December 27, 2020: Spaghetti for Christmas

Today is officially Day 287 since I started working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. I am currently starting my second week of three weeks of vacation, not returning to my full-time paying job as a librarian until January 11th, 2021, and so far I have enjoyed a relaxing, quiet holiday.

If you haven’t seen the Christmas card I sent out this year to everybody, here it is. This wonderful animated card by Jacquie Lawson is set to the traditional German Christmas carol O Tannenbaum.

A screen capture from my animated Christmas card this year

Today is the day after Boxing Day here in Canada. Boxing Day is traditionally the day where Canadians go out to the Boxing Day sales, but this year the crowds of shoppers were mostly staying home (although quite a few shopped online and arranged curbside pickup of their consumer electronics and other bargains).

By and large, the majority of Manitoba have listened to the doctors and scientific experts, and followed the masking and social distancing requirements imposed by our code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown. I know of very few Manitobans who shared their Christmas celebrations with people who were not members of their immediate household. Many instead dropped food and presents off at the doors of friends and family.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day, my extended family (including my sister-in-law’s family, who have kind of adopted me along with my brother) had a very chatty one-and-a-half hour meeting in Zoom, which lifted the time restrictions on its free version for the holidays:

And on Boxing Day, the members of my arts and entertainment group held a meetup in Zoom as well! Obviously, we have not been going out much to arts, cultural and entertainment events since the pandemic hit, but we still do keep in touch.

(Disclaimer: No, I do not have a house that looks like a Better Homes and Gardens spread, with all my books artfully arranged by colour! This was a Zoom background I downloaded this spring, to hide my messy man cave from Zoom meetings for work! I did fool a couple of people with it, though.)

I did not bother to fuss with a turkey for my Christmas dinner, which in a normal year I would have spent with my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo across town. Instead, I made a large pot of spaghetti and a tossed salad, which I quite enjoyed as I spent my first-ever Christmas dinner alone in my apartment.

Spaghetti for Christmas (photo by Carolina Cossío on Unsplash)

Truth be told, after 287 days, I am now so used to being alone that spending a Christmas in self-isolation in my apartment did not feel weird at all. Instead of real-world socializing, I have spent quite a bit of time socializing with people in various social VR platforms and virtual worlds this past month, including Sinespace, Sansar, Somnium Space, and Second Life!

I do not expect my situation to change significantly until enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have already been approved by Health Canada, and the Pfizer vaccine has already found it way into the arms of 2,177 Manitoba healthcare workers at critical care, acute care, and long-term care facilities, plus COVID-19 immunization clinics and testing sites.

Map from the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website

Have a healthy and happy holiday season!