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 months.


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!

UPDATED: Beating the January Bleahs (and Responding to My Anonymous Commenter)

Bleah.

I have entered the new year under a black cloud, partly due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and partly due to following the U.S. political news a little too obsessively this past week. Since I have little control over the former and zero control over the latter, I have decided that it’s time for me to take a break from the news media and social media once again. It’s making me depressed.

I also have quite a few tasks associated with my return to work at the University of Manitoba Libraries, which will probably require that I take a break from blogging. So I am going to give myself a holiday from the blog for a little while, to focus on my full-time paying job and a few other things that need doing around the apartment. It’s time.

I’ll be back just as soon as I find the time and that elusive creative spark!

UPDATE 11:41 p.m. An anonymous commenter left the following comment on this blogpost:

You should just give up your blog altogether, it’s pretty crappy and a waste of time for the readers. you keep saying your “taking a break” this month, no, this month, no, this month ……………. no-one will care if you just go away.

I beg to differ, but obviously somebody is sufficiently irritated to respond in this way. Last year I learned a hard but very valuable lesson: that the negative comments you receive are just as important as the positive ones. If nobody cares, then why bother commenting at all? Hmmmm. There’s a saying: throw a stone into a pack of dogs, and the one that yelps loudest is the one you hit.

I hate to break it to you, princess, but I am not going anywhere.

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!

Pandemic Diary: December 22nd, 2020

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, was vaccinated on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020, during a live broadcast at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland (source: New York Times)

Today is officially Day 282 since I began working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. We here in Manitoba are expecting a snowstorm which is slowly working its way east from the Rocky Mountains, bringing with it strong winds and blowing snow. I remain hunkered down in my apartment, well stocked with food and my prescription medications. It can snow all it wants; I’m not going anywhere.

Like so many other people around the world who are under a pandemic lockdown, this will be the first Christmas ever that I will spend completely alone. Manitoba is still under a code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown, and visits from people outside one’s immediate household are forbidden.

But I don’t mind. I have gotten so used to being alone by now, it will not seem so strange. The rest of my family and I have already agreed not to exchange gifts this Christmas; in the case of my mother and stepfather who live in a seniors lifelease condo on the other side of the city, we’ll exchange presents when it is safe to actually meet in person.

And frankly, Christmas has never had the allure it did when I was a child, especially now that I do not attend real-world church services anymore. I will probably hang out with SL friends in my Second Life community of choice, Bray’s Place. I may decide to throw an open house at my new home at Bray’s Place sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, but we’ll see. I want to stay flexible with my plans this holiday season.

My new home at Bray’s Place, all decorated for Christmas

My decision to write up a daily blogpost covering that day’s Advent calendar gifts has kept me pretty busy most mornings. I am now on three weeks of Christmas holidays from my full-time paying job as a librarian, so I have time to devote to the task. (I also have a pile of dirty dishes that I need to put through my dishwasher, and some vacuuming to do, but that’s not nearly as much fun as hunting down fabulous freebies in Second Life! December is truly freebie season!)

And I have been following the news media and social media regarding the global COVID-19 vaccination campaign, as the first vaccines roll out. Here are a few statistics dashboards that you can check to follow the progress of this endeavour:

The statistics dashboard from Our World in Data’s Coronavirus Vaccinations page

Stay safe and stay healthy!