Have you got annual leave booked during the coronavirus pandemic? One writer argues that it could actually be the best holiday you ever take.
Work has been the thing that’s navigated me through this pandemic since day one. It gives me a sense of normality, purpose, productivity. I’m a digital journalist, so I feel connected to the world and well informed on everything I need to know about coronavirus while working a shift. And, because I am well aware that working from home is a total privilege right now, I feel a need to grasp onto my job with both hands and continue to give it everything I’ve got. I have to prove to the world how grateful I am to be in this position.
So when I remembered I had ten days of annual leave booked over Easter, I freaked out.
Like many of you reading this, I’d booked a holiday abroad and was meant to join my family in Yorkshire afterwards for the long Easter weekend. But then coronavirus happened. Most of us are locked indoors, hundreds of people continue to die everyday, key workers are out on the front line and it feels shameful to even think about missing holidays right now.
Companies across the UK are asking employees not to cancel any booked annual leave over the coming months. In theory, this will stop everybody taking days off at the same time when things start to feel a little more normal again. However – logistical reasons aside – I did wonder if there are actually mental and physical health benefits to taking time off during the pandemic.
I felt pretty anxious about what I’d do on my own for a week in the confines of my small rented flat, especially as I’d been finding the weekends quite lonely and difficult. Then there’s the wincing guilt. Who the hell am I to take ten paid days off work when doctors, bus drivers and supermarket workers continue to put on their uniforms and risk their lives every day? Why do I get to sit around the flat knowing I’ll get paid at the end of the month when so many others have lost their jobs and incomes?
But, ultimately, I felt tired and sad and ready to unplug, so I set my out-of-office on, fully ready for the guilt to overshadow me.
Reader, I have never appreciated a “holiday” so much in my life. My crumbling flat, which had mushrooms growing in the carpet at one point, suddenly became an urban sanctuary.
Sure, the rollercoaster of fear, avoidance, laughter, contentment, despair, grief, guilt, helplessness, loneliness, hope, gratitude and frustration continued as it had been while I’d been working. This is one ride none of us are getting off until it stops, after all. But rather than distract myself with deadlines and research, I had time to process and act on these emotions.
Sometimes, I started the day with a Joe Wicks workout (give that man an OBE, please), without worrying about being ready for the daily work conference call. Other days, I stayed in my dressing gown and wallowed in self pity, again without worrying about looking presentable on any calls.
I slept when I felt tired and took bubble baths during the day, because worrying about a pandemic is exhausting. I went for long bike rides if and when I felt sporadic bursts of energy, knowing to ride the high wave as it hits hard and passes fast.
I stopped watching the live pandemic press conferences everyday, but let myself stare into space for an hour after hearing or reading the daily death tolls. That, in itself, being a privilege.
I spent an hour putting makeup on just to take selfies and remember that I’m a woman with a face and hair. I got tipsy (read: pretty pissed) on gin on my book club’s first Zoom meeting without worrying about the next morning’s sore head.
I cried more than I’ve cried since this whole crisis began, allowing myself to sob cathartic tears at any time. I set up my volunteer profile, made donations, clapped on my balcony and reminded myself daily that this is literally the best I can do to help in my situation.
I actually wanted to take more video calls with family and friends because I wasn’t too fed up of looking at my screen. I managed to find my reading groove again and put a camping bed on my tiny balcony so that I could feel the sun and listen to the birds.
I framed things to hang on my wall. I lied in bed while listening to my favourite album from start to finish at full volume. I watched sporadic episodes of The OC and felt very seen when Marissa screamed in Julie’s face before throwing sun loungers in the swimming pool.
Of course, I never fully switched off – that’s impossible to do. But I was thankful to be able to do every damn little thing and enjoyed the small pleasures more than ever before. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t enjoy my mum’s Easter roast, or drink Aperol Spritzes in a beer garden with pals. Despite barely leaving the flat, I’ve returned to work feeling genuinely refreshed and ready to go (metaphorically, obviously).
So why do I still feel so guilty about admitting I had a nice break?
Because here’s the thing: it’s OK to feel a bit sorry for yourself even if you’re in a more privileged position than others during this. If you have time booked off work and you want to take it – go for it. You have earned that break and it’s OK to enjoy it. You’re only human. You cannot sustain worry, fear and guilt at all times. This is going to be a long slog for all of us, so you need to look after yourself and ride the highs when offered to you.
Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to work from home. But the best way to show gratitude for this is to make the most out of it. I never thought I’d say this but: that was one holiday I won’t ever forget.