Mass Observation – A Day in the Life of UK Lockdown

On the 12th of May every year, the Mass Observation Archive asks people to keep a diary for a day in order to capture the everyday lives of people all over the UK. This year, 2020, is the 10th anniversary but we are also living in the midst of a global pandemic, making this year a unique one, to say the least.

I’m a dedicated diary writer and have been for years so this is the ideal project for me. I love the idea of so many people’s experiences in one place, the idea of collecting as many versions of one day as possible and trying to build the fullest picture of it. So I was very excited to take part in this day, even if I’ve recently been floored by one of the most awful periods of depression I’ve ever experienced.

Some important things to know before reading this: I am autistic, struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, and Borderline Personality Disorder. All of the symptoms get worse under stress. I’m halfway through a Masters Degree in Songwriting. I’m really struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly when it comes to my anxiety, with the fear that my loved ones will get sick), self isolating with my Mum, separated from my three other parents, my brother and my friends.


I slept badly, waking up at eight with my alarm. I’ve been trying to keep to my pre-lockdown routines and on a normal day, I would’ve gotten up and got to work on something but I had a throbbing headache, probably due to the restless night. So I buried my head under my duvet and tried to hide from the light coming in through my curtains.

Being a part time Masters student means I have an empty semester from yesterday until the end of September and I had all of these plans: practice the songwriting skills I’ve learned this year, establish a recording space at home, and get back to swimming, to name a few. But then the pandemic happened and we went into lockdown and all of my plans went out the window. I’m terrified all the time. Everything feels pointless. I can’t focus on anything. And my creativity – my ability to write songs – feels completely blocked. I’m stuck in this frozen state and I just feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like screaming and crying and hyperventilating but I feel like if I start, I’ll never stop. But even distracting myself is hard. I just can’t make myself care about a TV show or whatever. It all feels too big, like there isn’t enough space in my brain for anything other than this howling fear. And this has only been made worse by the government’s most recent, incredibly unclear statement about easing the lockdown. The idea that the government think this is acceptable when hundreds of people are still dying every day makes me sick with fear. I didn’t vote for them but I at least thought they cared about the people they were governing.

The only thing that I’ve found actually helpful in distracting myself is reading fanfiction. It’s something I’ve found effective as a relaxation technique over the last year, dealing with my wildly fluctuating mental health, starting my Masters, and this pandemic. It’s easier than reading a book because I’m already familiar with the worlds and the characters, which is a relief when I’m constantly exhausted by all this fear. Escaping into a comforting world is just that… comforting. So I spent several hours doing that, reading through old favourites from my teenage years when I first discovered fanfiction. It just gave me a break from everything. As much as possible, anyway.

Eventually though I got up and went downstairs. I thought that maybe working on one of my anxieties would help my overall level of anxiety so me and Mum went out into the garden to do some filming for a music video. My original idea is now impossible with the lockdown, which has been very upsetting because I was really looking forward to it, so I’m having to come up with something new, something that’s been difficult and frustrating because the original idea felt so perfect. I’m not super happy with the current back up plan but I need something. So me and Mum spent several hours filming [I’m omitting some bits here because I don’t want to give away the video if this is what we end up using]. I have absolutely no energy at the moment so I was completely exhausted by the end of it, even though I don’t feel like I actually did that much. I ended up falling asleep in the comfy chair in the kitchen, sleeping for a couple of hours.

I woke up, stiff and uncomfortable and just as anxious. Apparently trying to work through an anxiety didn’t help. Maybe I didn’t solve that anxiety, maybe all of this is just too big.

I had a shower and then settled on the sofa in the living room. There are so many things that I could be doing with my time but I just don’t have the motivation, the emotional energy. I just can’t see the point – what does any of it matter when hundreds of people are dying everyday, when people are losing loved ones, drowning in unbearable grief? It’s in moments of quiet that these thoughts overwhelm me and I feel my throat start to close up.

I dived back into fanfiction until dinner snuck up on me. Me and Mum ate in front of a Lucifer rewatch – for some reason, it was the only show that didn’t make me want to scream. We watched until we were both falling asleep, until the cats were crawling all over us for their pre-bedtime snack (otherwise they do their level best to wake us up at five in the morning). So we fed them and headed for bed.

It’s hard to admit – maybe because I’m twenty five and feel I should be stronger than this – but I haven’t been able to sleep without my Mum with me for weeks now, possibly longer. All of my mental health stuff is worse at night, particularly my anxiety. It just builds and builds until I’m in a panic attack or worse, a full autistic meltdown. Having my Mum with me, feeling her heartbeat and hearing her breathe, makes things just okay enough to fall asleep, although sometimes it takes a sleeping pill too.


If you’ve been keeping a diary or still want to jot down some thoughts about yesterday, I really encourage you to do so and send it to the archive. The page is here, in case you’d like to submit or learn more about this and their other projects.

Books, Films, and TV of 2018

So the year is drawing to a close and I wanted to do a round up of the media I have consumed and enjoyed. Last year, I wrote a post called 2017 in Songs and I’m working on the 2018 edition but I also wanted to do something more because I read and saw a lot of good stuff this year. So let’s go…

BOOKS

It was one of my new years resolutions to read more books this year and I set a very achievable goal of five. I didn’t want to end up stressing about it and I’ve actually managed to read about double that. So I’m very proud of myself. Most of them I enjoyed but here are the ones that really stood out:

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

The first book I read this year was Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I could write pages and pages about this book (and I did) but I’ll keep it short. It follows sixteen-year-old Aza who struggles with OCD and anxiety as she juggles school and friends and investigating the disappearance of the local billionaire. I fell in love with this book from the first page; I loved the way Aza described her experience and I related to it so strongly. There’s something about the way John Green writes that really speaks to me and the story doesn’t rest on Aza’s mental health for the plot: it’s intertwined with several different storylines. I really liked that; it felt very true to life. Having felt very alienated by the books I had been reading previously, this was the total opposite. One of my favourite books ever.

“In some ways, pain is the opposite of language… And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify.”

What We Buried by Caitlyn Siehl

I read several poetry books this year but this was easily my favourite. I loved it from the first poem. I love the way she writes – the language she uses and the way she punctuates the words – and the empowered feeling you get from reading the poems. I highlight my favourite passages in books and this one has a lot of highlighting!

“This is where we heal. This is where we hide. This is where we are found.”

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

I’ve really struggled to read fiction this year (Turtles All The Way Down was the exception) so I delved into the world of non-fiction and ended up reading and loving this book. Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon and the book is a collection of his patients and his experiences. He has a very gentle way of writing that I loved and when I finished it, I had this odd feeling that I understood my own brain a little bit better.

“…More than that, the operation involved the brain, the mysterious substrate of all thought and feeling, of all that was important in human life – a mystery, it seemed to me, as great as the stars at night and the universe around us. The operation was elegant, delicate, dangerous and full of profound meaning. What could be finer, I thought? I had the strange feeling that this was what I had wanted to do all my life, even though it was only now that I had realised it. It was love at first sight.”

FILM

I’m not much of a film watcher – for some reason, watching a film feels like more of a commitment than starting a TV show. But I made an effort this year to watch more films and watch more than just the things that I naturally gravitate towards. Having said that, my favourite films of the year are all pretty representative of my taste in films…

Wonder Woman

I grew up watching Justice League on television with my Dad and with my brother so those superhero stories are very important to me. I wasn’t ready to watch it right away but when I did, I loved it. And I feel like my Dad would’ve loved it as well. It looked beautiful and the acting was beautiful and I loved every second of it.

Edge of Tomorrow

In a dystopian future, humans are fighting an alien race called Mimics. When one man starts to experience the same day over and over again, it gives him an unforeseen advantage in battle. I am a sucker for this kind of film (and a strong female character!) and I’ve watched it multiple times since my first viewing.

Love, Simon

I read the book that this film was based on (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) and loved it so I was really looking forward to the film. It follows Simon Spier, who is keeping a secret from everyone he knows: he’s gay. But when a classmate threatens to out him, everything changes and he is forced to choose between his friends and the anonymous classmate he’s fallen in love with over email.

TV

It’s one of my favourite things to curl up with a good TV show and binge watch the whole thing in one day.

Queer Eye

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Queer Eye? It wasn’t something I expected to love but the overflowing positivity just captured my heart. While the physical makeovers in these men might be the most obvious changes made, the emotional one is the most powerful. There is little (if any) media that encourages men to take care of themselves and be kind to themselves and so this show is a big deal. I have to admit that I haven’t finished it yet but that’s only because I don’t want to have no new episodes to watch.

Frequency

If you love sci fi and police dramas (like me), then this is the show for you. After a freak lightning storm, police detective Raimy Sullivan is able to communicate with her father in the past via an old radio. An attempt to save his life causes devastating changes in the present and between them, they have to try and fix the timeline. It’s addictive and intense and I loved every second of it.

Episodes

During some downtime (and some much needed rest time) in Nashville, my friend Richard introduced me to this show and I am so, so grateful. It’s a comedy about two English television writers – a married couple – going to the US to recreate their hit show. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Because of the blend of British humour and American humour, I feel like there’s something for everyone: it’s dry, it’s direct, it’s subtle, it’s not subtle, all at the same time. I love it so much that I’m in the process of watching again, with multiple different people because I know they’ll love it too.

Burden of Truth

So I watched all ten episodes in one day because it’s that good. A successful lawyer returns to her hometown to uncover the truth behind a group of teenage girls getting sick. It’s full of twists and turns, family secrets, and some great LGBT representation. I’d write more but I don’t want to give anything away!

The Split

Another legal drama, this one about a family firm that begins when the eldest daughter, Hannah, leaves to work for a rival firm. The six part series follows their cases and their relationships and the return of the father who has been absent for thirty years. It stars Nicola Walker who I have loved ever since I first saw her in Spooks (as Ruth Evershed) as well as Stephen Mangan, who stars in Episodes.

Unforgotten

More Nicola Walker! I loved the first two series of Unforgotten so I was very excited to see the third and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. Each series features a handful of different characters and their lives are weaved together until we understand a historic crime and despite this format, each series has been different and surprising and heart wrenching. Nicola Walker in particular was fantastic and I really, really loved that they explored the toll that such a difficult job can take.

Agents of Shield Season 5

I have mentioned my love of Agents of Shield before and that was only strengthened by this latest season. Daisy Johnson is my hero and it was awesome to see her be even more interesting and amazing in this season. And it’s been renewed for a sixth and seventh season!

Lucifer

Another awesome recommendation from Richard. The devil decides to take a holiday from hell and takes over a nightclub in LA (and it turns out he’s hilarious). He teams up with a police detective and shenanigans ensue. I love it. It’s funny and smart and thought provoking: there are some great questions about god and religion and faith in there. All of the characters are interesting and complex and I don’t want to get to the end. Fortunately there’s a new season on the way.

So there you go. My books, films, and TV of 2018. Hopefully there’s something in here that appeals. What have you been reading and watching this year?