Lockdown part one took us all by surprise (remember people stockpiling loo roll and flour?) but for one woman it led to a potent cocktail involving family issues, a toxic work situation, bad health choices and a serious mental health incident. Heading into a second lockdown this week, she tells us what she is planning to do differently this time.
In March, which feels like 750 years ago now, I went home to Ireland for a week’s holiday. I was due to start a fancy new job so wanted to take a little breather and spend time with my family by the sea in Kerry.
That little breather turned into over 16 of the most challenging weeks of my life (which to be fair, has not been without incident). In a nutshell, I found myself at home with my two at-risk parents for the first time since I was a teenager, then my father became ill. On top of that I had a very bad feeling about the new job, which turned out to be 100% correct; and there was all the usual stress that came with the spread of Covid-19. I don’t think I handled it well, I started feeling less and less like myself, detached, scared, oversleeping but also sleeping too little if that’s possible, eating too much, drinking far too much and before long, how can I put this? Well, the cheese slipped off the cracker and I ended up having to see the GP who took one look at me and wrote a prescription for antidepressants that made me feel even worse. Fun times!
So, back in my tiny flat in London, where I live alone, I was struck with a little lightening bolt of panic when I heard about Lockdown Part Deux. But I have a secret weapon this time, I know what’s coming so Covid no longer has the element of surprise. This time I’m determined to learn from what went wrong last time and make a better hand of lockdown the sequel.
Here’s my plan…
Friends and family
At the beginning of lockdown, my father was what he’d call “in flying form”. For him, this time alone with his wife, dog and daughter (listed in order of importance) was wonderful. For me, it was a little more loaded. I was stressed about being in a small space with my parents, being third wheel, and never ever getting my hands on the remote control. It was a bit like being back home for Christmas – at times I found my inner entitled ungrateful teenager coming out, and I hated myself for it.
I believe there comes a time when no adult should be under their parents roof for more than a week, but Covid-19 cares not a jot for such things. In the end we found a happy way to co-exist (I’d love to say the key is some deep psychological understanding I gleaned but a happy house really just comes down to biting your tongue 90% of the time).
When my parents did eventually leave me in the house alone I admit it, I missed their endless chatter and the 40 minute song and dance to get out the door, every time. Being in such close quarters did make me think about boundaries, theirs and mine and how no matter how urgent your issue (can’t find the cheese in the fridge) sometimes you have to give people space; in exchange, you are entitled to yours. Ask for it concisely and courteously (“I’m sorry I’m just not up for that today, I need some time to myself”) and you shall receive.
And remember, you do not need to reply to every Whatsapp message within seconds, nor should you feel under duress to join any zoom call you are not in the mood for. Call, text, email or talk when you are in a good mood and don’t feel one bit guilty when you are not.
Sex and dating
This is tricky, I like dating and sex. A lot. But lockdown puts a dampener (more like a tsunami) on romance. I did have a very drunken illegal kiss with a man in West Kerry last time around which I will happily accept my punishment for if Dominic Cummings and Margaret Ferrier join me.
While sexually frustrating for sure, the time and distance from the distraction of late night “where u?” texts was liberating and made me realise what I do need from men (kisses, fun, regular texts) and do not need (criticism about my life/body or helpful suggestions on how to change). I enter this lockdown with a sustained crush on a new man, but if he’s worth having he’ll still be there in a month.
For me, another chink of lockdown light (miles away from everyone on the wild Atlantic coast) was the total freedom from obligation (there should be none anyway) to get highlights (snore), my nails done (agonisingly boring) or my eyebrows threaded (actual torture). I saw a tweet from a clever woman who said she discovered during lockdown that she “wore perfume for other people, but shaved her legs for herself.” I do it all as a courtesy for other people, so when no one is looking I’m taking the next four weeks as a personal challenge to see if I can morph into Tom Hanks in Castaway.
Exercise and health
Even though I was in what I think is the most beautiful part of the world, most days in July and August (when things started going bad) I did not feel excited to exercise, ever. Nor did I enjoy the relentless reminders from colleagues and friends about their 60 minute Barry’s Bootcamp sessions.
I tend to be an bit exercise shy anyway, because I hate London gyms with exposed brick where I’m the only one not wearing £75 sports bra (with very elaborate straps) and I don’t enjoy a protein shake on legs screaming at me to work harder when I’m clearly trying my best. But, if you put all that nonsense aside, exercise is for everyone, and it’s free.
I found a kid’s mini trampoline in the garage (left by previous owners) and dragged it into the garden one day and well, started jumping up and down on it like a right twit. But I loved it and so I did it more and more. Moving my body, in a way I enjoy, is something I will definitely try to keep up in the month ahead. I will not however, ever check my Fitbit to see how many steps or how many hours I have slept and will endeavour instead to tune into the infinitely more advanced Fitbit in my head – my brain.
Swimming in the sea has always been my favourite thing. Last time ‘round I forced myself into the sea in the rain, even when I could see jellyfish and was in a lousy mood. It never ever failed to make me feel calm, happy and glad to be alive. It’s November now and the Atlantic is colder than a witches’ tit, but I’m still getting in at every opportunity.
One of the biggest mistakes I made last time was in regard to work. I love my job and I let it define me. I often joke it’s the only thing I could have ever done because I’m crap at everything else. So I pour myself into it, sometimes too much. Last time, starting a stressful new job, remotely, in a pandemic, I let it take over. I started early, took no breaks and then dreamt about what I missed at night. It was all for nothing, I was made redundant due to Covid after three months. No one thanks you or respects you for doing long hours, and no one ever will. Work can be fulfilling, fun and enriching, but for most of us it pays the council tax and electricity bill and hopefully leaves a little to play with. So keep that in mind this time, I know I will.
I read something incredibly poignant in a newspaper many years ago. The article surveyed people in a palliative care home, and asked the dying what their biggest regrets in life were. Some said they wished they had repaired issues with family, or kept in better touch with friends, lots said they wish they have more sex, but NONE said they wished they’d stayed later in work. Let that sink in.
Mental health (yours and others)
There’s no point beating around the bush here, I experienced something close to a breakdown in August due to several converging factors. I didn’t want to speak, or leave my room. There were days when I didn’t brush my teeth. It was dark – the darkest part was my brain dimmed then switched off, so I didn’t feel any of the things that make me me. The annoying dialogue in my head which I share with anyone kind enough to humour me, my love of listening (to music, people, podcasts) it all died.
I won’t lie, drinking heavily did not do me any favours and it’s something I’ll watch like a hawk this time. When I was made redundant I walked right out the door at noon, bought a bottle of red wine and drank it all alone. Then I called everyone I know. It made me feel numb for a few hours, but worse the next morning when I was puke-crying into the loo.
Looking back I wish I had done something about how I was feeling sooner. I looked at the plight of others and told myself I had nothing to be down about. After all I had food, a home and a job – so why did I feel so bad? Calling the GP and bawling my eyes out in his surgery was not pleasant but it was the start of the road to getting better, and I did. I’m happy to report I am back to be incredibly annoying old self.
If it ever happens again though, I’ll act much sooner.
And as preventative measure, I will be sticking to the things that make me feel good (including short mediation sessions), and I have a therapist on call for an emergency session when I need and can afford it.