Living in Lockdown

When I’m not spiralling into an anxiety-induced meltdown over the pandemic, the resulting quarantine, and (particularly) the thought of a loved one getting sick, I can look at living in lockdown in a somewhat detached, practical sense (something that has taken over a month to be able to do). Intellectually speaking, we’re living in unprecedented times, experiencing something that our parents are experiencing with us for the first time – something that very rarely occurs. There are very few people alive who have witnessed the last pandemic of this scale: the Spanish Influenza in 1918. So this is a big deal, one that will be written about in history books and studied in the future – from political, sociological, and psychological points of view to name just a few. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently and I can’t help thinking how often history is told from the point of view of the powerful and how terribly, appallingly wrong that is, especially given the number of mistakes being made by the people in power during this period (I’m speaking from the UK but I think we’re all aware of the mistakes being made by other governments, especially that of the US). So, if we want that to change, we have to write it ourselves, write our own experiences of living in lockdown, both for the history books but also for our own sake, so that we don’t forget what this experience has been like and how our lives have been changed by it. And as true as it is that we’re all in the same position – all in lockdown with limited access to our families and friends, the world outside, and our ‘normal lives’ – each of us will be experiencing this differently so I think the more experiences written about the better. So here I am, writing about mine, both for the reasons I’ve already listed but also to keep from drowning in it all, in the anxiety and the fear and the attempt to keep going as if this isn’t a traumatic experience.

I was aware of the Coronavirus before it even moved out of China but it felt like such a horror movie scenario and caused me such anxiety that I worked really hard not to think about it too much. It seemed unlikely that it would get all the way to the UK so I focussed on the anxieties in front of me and got on with my life. Besides, surely the government would be prepared should it reach us, given how much warning they had. I didn’t vote for this government nor do I trust them but I assumed that their egocentric motivations would have them preparing the country as best they could, for themselves if not for their people.

But then the virus started to move from country to country and more and more people in the UK began to take the idea that it might reach us seriously. I battled with my anxiety around it, trying to act responsibly without thinking so hard about it that it sent me into anxiety induced meltdowns. To an extent, I felt fairly unafraid of getting the virus as a young, physically healthy person but having said that, I was very aware that I was in regular contact with immunocompromised people and I was terrified of getting it and passing it on to them. So I was careful to wash my hands, use hand sanitiser, and avoid busy areas and travel times where possible. My anxiety had already been high before the virus made the news so it was a daily battle, as it often is.

Then everything seemed to happen at once. One day I was making plans with a friend for later in the week and the next she was on a plane back to her home country because of the travel ban. I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye (that’s my little bit of self-pity done because I know, without a doubt, that she made the right choice and I absolutely support her decision). Before that week of classes began, our course came together (electronically) and decided that we didn’t feel it was safe for us or others if we were travelling to and from uni, etc, so suddenly my weekly routine was gone, my education disrupted, and my friends were all going home, again without any of us actually getting to say goodbye to each other. I know we can all talk via social media and video calls and that this isn’t forever but depending how long this goes on, we may never come together as a course again and that is an idea I find really difficult to get my head around emotionally.

I think it was the next week that we went into official lockdown. My university pulled out all the stops to support us and within days, our classes had been moved online but prerecorded lectures and a forum aren’t the easiest ways to have discussions and a sudden lack of access to the library and facilities wasn’t an easy adjustment. I found the online classes difficult. Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate how hard they worked to keep our education up to date and as normal as possible – but it’s not the way I learn best. It’s just a personal thing. It also made working on the assessment essay much more challenging. Fortunately, I had a tutor who was incredibly supportive and with his help (and my Mum’s), I managed to get it in with good time, despite the added stress and the impact that had.

The essay, despite the anxiety it caused me, was actually a good distraction. As soon as it was done and submitted, I really started to feel the effects of being in lockdown. After all, up until then, I was pretty much doing what I would’ve been doing anyway: spending all my time on my assignment. But with that done, it all started to sink in.

The most obvious struggle is that I miss and worry about my family. I have four parents, only one of which I’m living with, and the others are all on their own; my brother is living by himself in London; my Mum’s Mum is also living by herself, a significant distance from any of us, even if we were allowed to visit each other (I’m thinking more in the case of an emergency where we would obviously keep our distance from each other and be very careful); and I have multiple family members categorised as vulnerable. So I have a lot of people to worry about and worry about them I do. The constant anxiety is exhausting. And as grateful as I am for video calls, it’s just not the same. I miss BEING with them. I desperately miss HUGGING them. I try not to dwell on it – or stress about how much longer we’ll be separated – because that is only more damaging to my mental health but it’s hard. It’s really hard.

On a similar note, I also really miss my friends. We have video calls, regular calls, texting, social media, movie dates on platforms like Netflix Party, and so on but again, it’s not the same. It’s not the same as hanging out with them, or hugging them, or going on coffee dates, or having writing sessions. As I’ve already said, I’m trying not to think about how long it could be before I see them again. We’ll manage, thanks to the technology we have,  but it will be really wonderful to see them again.

The other thing that I’m really struggling with right now is my mental health.  For those of you who know me or have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that, amongst other things, I struggle daily with anxiety and depression. These are the particular problems that have only gotten worse since the appearance of Covid-19 and the lockdown.

  • Anxiety is my constant companion, although fortunately I have my ’emergency’ medication (to be taken as needed) for when it gets really bad, like I-can’t-breathe bad. My anxiety rises to that level at some point most days and the medication has kept it about as manageable as I think I’m going to get in the current circumstances. But my anxiety isn’t constantly that overwhelming (at least not anymore) and I’m wary of going through the medication too fast so most of the time, I’m just left with this relentless pulsing under my skin that leaves me restless and unable to think as clearly as usual.
  • My depression has been really bad too. Some days are a complete write off from the beginning, where all I can do is stare at the TV. Most of the time though, my mood is better but more precarious. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope: one little knock and I’m going to plunge straight into the darkness. It feels like I have to constantly watch my step, be hyper aware of any possible threat to my mental health, otherwise I’ll fall and who knows how long it would take to build myself back up again, given the uncertain, scary times we’re living in. Maintaining my mental health in this period is like trying to build a house of cards of shifting sands. It’s practically impossible.
  • Since the lockdown started, I’ve had serious difficulty concentrating. On anything. Getting my university assignment done took more force of will than I knew I had and while I knew that I’d need some recovery time after that and after finishing an intense semester, weeks later my ability to focus hasn’t returned. I’ve had phases where I’ve struggled to focus (likely caused by my fluctuating mental health and trying different medications) but it’s never been this bad. I can’t read a book, I can’t watch anything, I can’t do anything without my concentration drifting. Everything takes ten times longer to finish and ten times as much energy, if not more.
  • Most distressingly for me is that my creative brain is completely dead. Out of power. It just feels empty and I have no ideas. I’ve suffered extended periods of writer’s block before and usually experience it to a degree along with the exhaustion of finishing a difficult semester and stressful assessment period but it’s scary to feel that it’s still not working, even after several weeks have passed. I’ve tried all my strategies for writing and all my strategies for writer’s block but nothing is working. It feels like my brain is broken and that’s really, really upsetting.

I’ve still been having therapy, but via Zoom instead of in person. In theory, it shouldn’t be that different but somehow it is. I’d never really considered how important it is to have a space to work through all the hard stuff and then be able to walk away from it, which you just can’t do when you’re having therapy in your living room. Plus, Zoom calls are exhausting – here’s a good article about that – which only adds to how exhausting therapy can be. Then, when it comes to the content of a session, it all feels a bit frozen: it’s hard to tackle difficult emotions when we’re in the middle of different difficult emotions. And when I’m just about coping, feeling so fragile, I don’t want to trigger something and make life even more emotionally difficult for myself than it is already. So the whole thing is really tricky and confusing. Having sessions is definitely better than not having them but it’s not straightforward. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be when we made the plan just before lockdown.

And just to add to that, I’ve been struggling with sleepiness as a side effect of my medication for months but that’s gotten a lot worse since self isolating (perhaps from the increased anxiety – I don’t know). I’m exhausted by the smallest things and I seem to need so much more sleep. And that hasn’t been helped by a sudden, intense bout of hay fever, which has bestowed upon me the additional symptoms of an itchy, blocked nose and sore, itchy eyes. It’s been so bad that even having the windows open makes it dramatically worse so going outside definitely hasn’t been an option (I can’t take antihistamines because of my other medication). So I can’t even go in the garden, making me feel all the more trapped. Inhaling steam helps but only for short periods of time. The recent rain has been a blessing, giving me several days of relief. I’m cautiously hopeful that it’s started to settle – I’ve managed a couple of trips into the garden without incident – but I don’t want to speak too soon.

And lastly, for now at least, I’m really struggling with how uncertain everything is, uncertainty having always been something that causes me anxiety. We don’t know when the lockdown will end, we don’t know when we’ll be safe again, we don’t know when we’re going to see our friends and family again. I don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of my university course. And so on and so on and so on. So on top of the ongoing fear, there’s nothing solid to hold onto. Many of my summer plans have become impossible or at least difficult, while some have been cancelled outright, which has obviously been very upsetting and left me without anything to look forward to or anchor me. I feel very lost. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people at the moment. I try to focus on each day as it comes but it’s hard. We’re all so used to looking and planning ahead.

One more thing… I found this on Twitter the other day and wanted to share it:

I found it really helpful to have various explanations as to why I’m struggling, to know that my brain isn’t actually broken. Of course, knowing this stuff doesn’t actually fix the problems but being able to take a breath and reassure myself that there is a reason and that it won’t last forever has been helpful.

I hope you’re all safe and coping the best you can. And if you’re in the UK and they do loosen the lockdown this coming week, please continue to be careful. I hate being in lockdown but I’m absolutely terrified of what will happen if the government relax the rules, of how many more people will get sick and die. I’m scared out of my mind that someone I love will catch it. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure I’m not the only one with such fears. So please, please be careful. For all of us.

Two Years In

As of today, we have been living in the ‘new house’ for two years. So it’s not exactly new. But after living somewhere for fifteen years, two years feels like nothing. In fifteen years, I became a person, my own person. Then I blinked and two years went by. It’s not even comparable.

There were so, so many good memories in the ‘old’ house: the late night games me and my brother would play where we made nests out of our bedding, bringing Lucky home at eight weeks old, listening to the same Annie Lennox CD every year as we decorated the Christmas tree, evenings watching TV as a family, my Dad telling us made up Harry Potter stories until we fell asleep, waking up to Snubby curled up on the pillow next to me even if it meant a mouthful of fur, big dinners with family and friends, bringing Lucy home, things as simple as coming home to the living room windows open and Wimbledon on the television. There are more good memories than I can count.

There were also bad memories, like my Mum crying after her Dad died, coming home after being bullied at school, watching my brother come home after being bullied at school, the early meltdowns, Lucky getting sick, having my heart broken for the first time, being told my cat was terminally ill, taking her to the vet that last time and coming home without her… finding out that my Dad had died. They aren’t memories I want to spend time with but they are moments that made me who I am and so I need them safe. And those walls kept them safe for years. But memories aren’t like possessions. You can’t pack them into a box when you leave a place. So what if you reach your new house and they haven’t travelled with you? At least not with the same clarity, in the same condition, that they were in where you previously lived? What if small details have been left behind?

“So what is it that makes us mourn the loss of a structure? It’s not the great architecture, or the way the light pours in through the windows in the morning. It’s the loss of the vessel that held our memories. It’s almost as if leaving a home rich in such a lived-in history causes our memories to spill out everywhere, and we feel like we’ve spun out of orbit, scrambling to collect them… But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them.” – Kelli Kehler on Design Sponge (x)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been walking around, looking at the house and trying to figure out how I feel about it, how I feel about the fact that it’s been two years since we left the place that I’d always considered home. I’d never thought far enough ahead to consider anywhere else home. This is where I live now – I know that – but when I think of home, it’s the old house. But that’s not home anymore either because it’s got other people in it who will have changed things – who will be filling it with their own memories – so I’m not sure where ‘home’ is. In a way, I feel kind of homeless. It doesn’t help that even though we’ve been here two years, we haven’t had much time to do anything to make it ours. Not really.

It’s a grieving process. And it’s one that hasn’t been properly dealt with because there’s been so much going on: medication changes, going back to university, challenges with my mental health. To say it’s been hard is a pretty huge understatement. It’s been one of the hardest things to happen in my life.

But I guess there’s a reason we call it a grieving process. Because it is a process. Our feelings change day to day. We move forward, we move back. Our emotions heighten, they settle, and then they heighten again. It’s ever changing. So rather than sum up the last two years, I’m trying just to think about now and when I think about now, this is what comes to mind: most days, it’s okay or it’s at least not something I think about. But there are still days where I hate it, where it feels like I’m walking around wearing someone else’s skin.

I’ve read various articles about moving out of your childhood home and adjusting to a new house and something that came up a lot was finding things you like about your new surroundings and where you find things you don’t like, try to figure out why and what you can do about it.

So here are some examples…

What do I love about it?

  • The living room feels like a safe bubble, where I can shut out the world when I need to. I especially like it since we hung fairy lights around the room. Plus it’s where the cats spend most of their time.
  • I like the white curtains in my room and the living room. I’d only ever had dark coloured curtains so I thought I’d hate them when we moved in but I actually really like them. As a person who’s sensitive to light, it’s really nice to be able to block out the bright light but still have natural light in the room.
  • I love the fireplace. It’s beautiful and fires in the winter is something that me and my Mum look forward to all year.
  • I love the big, glass double doors that lead out into the garden, which has a deck, a eucalyptus tree, and yellow roses. It’s the perfect garden.

What don’t I love and how can I change those things?

  • I don’t love my room. It’s not MY room; it’s just a room I sleep in. I don’t hate it – I like the colour and the curtains and the bed – but I don’t love it. I want to go through my clothes and get rid of things that don’t feel like me, put some pictures up, and generally just make the space ‘feel’ right. But, to a degree, I think that’s something I’ll only know when I feel it.
  • I want a space to make music – even if it’s tiny – where I can put my laptop, microphone, MIDI keyboard, and so on. I just want my own little space, not something I have to reassemble every time I want to record something.
  • Both me and Mum really dislike the bathroom. We don’t dwell on it but not a week goes by that one of us doesn’t curse one element of it or another. The floorboards are super squeaky, the flooring is ugly, it’s cramped, and it’s just impractically planned out. It’s the only room we’ve always wanted to completely re-do. We’d started the planning process but obviously that’s on hold while we’re in lockdown.
  • The house is still a bit bare, a bit impersonal. It still doesn’t quite feel like ours. I couldn’t figure out why until recently, when I looked around and realised that we still haven’t put up more than a couple of pictures. So me and Mum have pledged to put more personal touches around the house, as well as put up more pictures and photos. Given the lockdown, this is one of the few ‘decorating’ things we can do without leaving the house.

Me and Mum have been talking about this, about this feeling, for quite a while. But with my Masters, I haven’t had the time or the energy to do much about it. And Mum’s been working and helping me manage everything. But my second semester is ending and we’re stuck in lockdown so we’re planning to carve out some time to get more comfortable here – or get me more comfortable, at least, as the one more sensitive to this issue. We won’t be going out to get paint or new tiles or anything like that given the current situation but since we’re both stuck in the house with some extra free time, we thought we’d start with the things we can do while in lockdown, like putting up pictures. We also have a scale drawing of my room and cut outs of my furniture and have been moving them around to try and create a set up that is both practical and feels right to me, enough at least to try out.

So we’ll see how it goes. Nothing’s going to change overnight, but then what does? One step at a time, hopefully this house will feel more like home.

Tips for moving out of your childhood home. (x)

Feeling Good About Feeling Bad

This video has some really good thoughts on how to process negative emotions, one that isn’t forced positivity and doesn’t end with you accidentally dwelling in the negative. The method may be a little cheesy but it’s good advice and let’s face it, we could all do with some self directed gentleness and goofiness.

“Literally every emotion you feel is trying to do something for you.”