The Lockdown Diaries – Day 69 (The Last one): Relationships in quarantine – reimagined, reinvented, reinvested

This article was written for and published in Emotional Alchemy Magazine

During a recent conversation with my boyfriend discussing the lockdown and how people will cope with having to live next to one another 24/7 without a break provided by work and a buzzing social life, my wonderful other half suggested that there will probably be a baby boom starting towards the last quarter of the year. I laughed and replied, my cynical side taking over: “Yes, either that or a hell of a lot of divorces!”

My flippant comment has no intentions of wanting to predict the future, but it got me thinking about relationships and friendships during this peculiar time. Many of us are so used to living busy lives, jetting from one meeting, task, to-do list and duty to the other, that we often lose track and focus of what the other people in our lives are doing. A fleeting kiss – hours after returning home, doing chores whilst the kids are in bed, like passing ships at night, or a quick phone call with the partner who works away: many of us co-exist, muddling our way through frantic lives, barely touching ground to check how we are.  All the reasons for why we first wanted to be together drowned by responsibility, accountability and due diligence that society thrusts upon us every day. The sudden change brought upon by covid-19 turns routines and formed habits upside down as we find ourselves in the company of those we wanted to be with in the first place. Some will embrace this new way of life, enjoy the togetherness and closeness, celebrate partnerships and family time, rediscovering each other and the things that brought them together initially. Others may find it trickier, yearning for the freedom, change of scenery and variety that a busy and varied lifestyle brings. With no place to hide, run to or go to, relationships will be tried and tested, pulled and stretched, some to their limits, others to new and better places.

Closeness is beautiful but it can be tough, it can test us, it can provoke and question. Enforced closeness can be even stronger than that. Maybe you will rediscover what you loved about your partner or spouse in the first place, perhaps you will find the new arrangements limiting and claustrophobic. I read about people who have to live with their ex-partners, because the corona virus did not have the courtesy to check about timings but sprung upon them during their already challenging time of a break-up.  I also heard of separated couples with shared children, having to rethink their dealing with one another.  Some use this pandemic to assert their power over the other, denying the ex-partner access to a child or children.  Some are learning to do things a different way, re-engaging in a more pleasant way as fellow human beings, putting the mental well-being of their offspring first.  My personal belief is that, no matter what the eventual consequence of this current way of life is, that you get through it with love, dignity, tolerance and understanding, remembering that you are in this together, whether you will remain that way or not. Of course, all this is easier said than done and when emotions run high, love and compassion may be the last thing on your mind.  I am no relationship expert and my views are personal, but one thing that works most of the time is communication: open, honest, heartfelt talking about what goes through your mind and how you feel.  None of us are mind readers and last time I checked using crystal balls was frowned upon. Talking is free and the best way to nurture tolerance, understanding and, maybe even acceptance.

Whilst some of us are being talkative and are zooming it across our family and friendship circles, others may go quieter.  I recently saw a post on Twitter that exclaimed that now was the time to see which friends really cared and are there for you.  I was still pondering over this when I scrolled across a reply that scolded the comment for being too self-involved and ignoring the fact that many people stop communicating when they struggle and are less likely to verbalise their anxieties, for a variety of reasons.  I stopped and thought for a moment about my own friendships, near and far.  Communication has stepped up with some and slowed down with others.  I find that I am particularly verbal with my “mum-friends”, vocalising my ups and downs and the new chaos that is home schooling whilst also working full time.  I also chat more to those who I know won’t mind a little rant and won’t judge me because I have had the worst day and am close to a major tantrum, rivalling that of my two-year-old.  I know my friends, and I know to whom I can talk to when and about what.  That doesn’t make those I don’t talk to for a while less important or valuable.  However, I do believe that covid-19 could have the ability to shed light onto our friendships in a different way as the enforced distance bans us from being close to those who form and shape our lives outside of our homes.  Being apart may also highlight that some friendships are not working for us anymore and it may show us, so I believe, who is worthy of our time and headspace. A friend of mine recently wrote an article about how she reconnected with her former best friend. They had been inseparable but fell out a couple of years ago, no longer speaking and losing touch. The virus made both re-think what mattered to them, brought back reasons of why they had loved each other in the first place and subsequently reignited their friendship.

Such outcomes from the virus are heart-warming and reaffirming, showing us what is really important. It can make us reflect on those friendships that make your heart sing and highlight those who you will want to hug first, once lockdown is over.  I spoke to a colleague of mine who felt increasingly agitated that he couldn’t see any of his friends in real person anymore.  “Talking on the phone or via Zoom just doesn’t do it for me.  It lacks warmth.”  He also told me that he jokingly suggested to his wife that they have friends over to sit 3 metres apart in their garden, sipping champagne and catching up.  His wife was not impressed, reacting to his idea as if he had suggested an orgy.  Whilst anecdotes like this keep me amused and uplifted, I realise there may be a very different outcome for some friendships.  I believe that the lockdown may weed out those who have not fulfilled their roles as indispensable humans, who have caused us more disappointment and distress and have left us feeling empty and drained after we have been with them. Distance often makes us discover ourselves and others anew and detachments can provide clarity and the power to make necessary changes.  It will show who gives you that fulfilling, warm feeling after a phone call full of natter, giggles, snippets of their thoughts, an intimate chat, a meaningful conversation, an insight into their life and soul.  You may notice that drama kings and queens, game players and those who always like you to second guess everything have no place in your life. Because life is too short to be wondering if you are worthy of their friendship and time or not.

My thoughts on relationships and friendships during quarantine have been evoked by a new normal that is confining us and makes us think differently, not only about the safety of our loved ones but also about how much we rely on human interaction, especially the kind that we have been used to all our lives.  The invisible force of a virus has turned what we know upside down and revealed new challenges surrounding human closeness and intimacy.

The silver linings of lockdown and isolation may well turn out to be some reformed and reshaped relationships, rediscovered and discarded friendships and within all of it, hopefully a better and more gentle relationship with yourself which, in return is beneficial for those we hold dear and close to our hearts. 

The Lockdown Diaries – Day 57: Screentime overload

How’s your phone doing? Battery life draining faster than the water from your freshly unclogged plug hole? Deleted the screentime monitoring app? Ignoring the fact that every time your phone bleeps you grab it relieved, knowing there is a chance it is a sign of life from the world out there? From another human outside of your household? Sound familiar? Welcome to screentime and social media addiction and overload in lockdown. 

A few weeks before lockdown hit, I had installed a screentime monitoring app on my phone. I wanted to see how often I really picked up my phone, how long I spent staring at my screen. Competitive as I am, I embraced the challenge to prove to myself that I could co-habit with my small device having minimal contact. I did well. Really well. Only twenty minutes on certain days was spent using my phone. I didn’t even have to charge it at night. I was doing just fine.

Fast forward a couple of month and we are in the thick of lockdown. My phone has become my constant companion, I have it with me all the time and I am terrified more than ever to lose it. Gone is the screentime monitor – I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. The first few days, adjusting to our new normal, I turned my phone off a few times or disabled the Internet. I couldn’t bear the influx of grim news on BBC and the increasing aggressiveness and gutter language on Facebook. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone was an expert. And dare someone point out the logic of actually listening to experts. All hell broke loose. After a while though, as the Internet and my head calmed down, I started looking for human connection and lost any shame for drained batteries and being stuck to my phone for a large part of the day. I now speak to my friends regularly, we video call each other, I participate in groups online, watch webinars and send emails to newfound people. I broaden my circle of acquaintances past my immediate circle of friends and listen to new opinions, new ways of doing things, share stories and have small conversations that are no less meaningful that longer heart to hearts. I marvel at our uniqueness and am amazed by how similar we are in many ways. One of my favourite moments so far is, apart from getting to know some fabulous people from all over our planet, when I open up about disliking something I thought was merely one of my oddities. It rang true with so many others and created further dialogues which lit up my days, otherwise filled with selfdoubts and anxious thoughts. I let go of my mobile phone guilt and embraced social media for all its plus points. And for those odd messages that are too intruding, there is always the Block button. 

I don’t know when I will go back to “normal” life and what it will look like. Of course, I am not going to forsake friendships forged face to face for an online only platform of communication. But, once again I am grateful for the positive aspects of the Internet, the elimination of time and space, which allows me to have meaningful conversations with people from all over the world. These connections are important to me; reaching out beyond my own four walls and interacting with others despite being confined to home, learning, wondering, sharing. I certainly will forever be grateful for this. 

The Lockdown Diaries – Day 50: Dreaming of freedom

As the government is laying out plans on how to ease lockdown, I am starting to think about a day in the future when the restrictions will no longer apply to our daily life. At the moment, I personally am in no rush to see things going “back to normal” as I do not believe the UK is out of the thick of it yet. I am also, luckily, not bored, not short of jobs to do, not missing anything apart from my family and friends too much. Boredom was never something I experienced, well, maybe that one unfortunate time I had to endure a dreadful film in a cinema. But in everyday life, I can always find myself something to do and I am grateful for that. Nevertheless, I dip into imagining what I’ll do first, whom I’ll visit first, where I’ll go first when the lockdown curtain falls. I see myself cautiously venture into town, sussing out when the least amount of people will be there, so I don’t have to talk to my social anxiety all the way round that trip. I see myself walking and driving to my closest friends, hugging them so tight and squeezing them, treasuring that immense feeling of human closeness, something we need so desperately in our lives. I am making plans to take my boyfriend to that restaurant that we never got to go to last year. I am excited about those long face to face chats with my close friends, losing track of time and feeling buzzing, happy electricity from connections with others which, to this day, I still find utterly magical. I am looking forward to taking my daughter to ballet classes, writing whilst I wait, listening to the music that plays in the background. I am in excited anticipation about being allowed to travel again, seeing my family who live far away. Finally, I am curious to see who has been changed by lockdown for the better and who has not taken anything from it. My hopes for this planet are huge, but having witnessed so much contempt for lockdown rules and hostility, I am also somewhat cautious and sceptical.

So what are your plans for after lockdown? Have you made a list of things you will do as soon as lockdown is lifted? Do you think your list of priorities will change once life post Covid-19 resumes? And what are you taking away from this unique experience?

The Lockdown Diaries – Day 43: A change of heart?

Lockdown, isolation, quarantine, call it what you want – it has had a profound impact on a lot of us. There have been ups and downs, highs and lows and we all have had our own experience of being confined to home life and not seeing much of anyone but those we share our house with. In a previous blog post I talked about the silver linings of being at home, working from home, being forced to slow down and stay in one space. I have found lots of positives and also discussed that some people (including myself) will find it difficult going back to normal life, whenever thay may be. Having time to think and being part of something so unique and partly absurd can make us reevaluate life, our jobs, our relationships, things and habits we hold dear. The environment has already shown signs of improvement and some people have said that life as we know it may never return again. My question in all this uncertainty is, whether things have changed for me, too. What have I learnt from this pandemic? Is there anything I want to change in my life? Are there things I have been unhappy with and being locked up has magnified the problem? Do I miss some things, events and people more than I expected? I am still waiting for some kind of epiphany, so I do not expect anything groundbreaking to change, but there are signs that life as I know it isn’t fulfilling me in the way I thought it did. I notice getting restless, and that may well be because I can’t go anywhere, but the restlessness can be applied to many parts of my life. Existential questions arise: What am I supposed to be doing with my life, is my job really what I am meant to be doing, who are my people and do I serve them well? Am I serving myself well? What does the universe want from me? You may wonder how one person can juggle so many questions at once around in her brain, and I can tell you, it is quite demanding. However, these questions bother me and no, I am not bordering on a midlife crisis (Christ, I am nowhere near midlife, and anyway, I am going to live forever!). What I am wondering is, am I alone in wanting to make fundamental changes to my life? Am I the only one that feels that this virus has shown me that I want something else from my life? I speak to some of my writer friends and pose them the same questions. I get mixed replies, but none of them seem to be surprised or put off by the way I am currently feeling. One of them is in a similar situation. “I really want to move. I want a place of my own, my own space”, she tells me, evoking my own memories of living with messy house mates when I first moved to England. “And I want a new job, a better job. It may sound strange, but I think I deserve better.” Of course my friend deserves better. I get that, too. I have spent a lot of my career selling myself short and not knowing my own value. I am still cross with myself and am keen to make changes in my professional life, too. Nevertheless, I am not in a position to make any rash decisions. I have two small children and am in the middle of completing a postgraduate degree. The sensible side of my persona is always holding me to account but the rebel inside me, the untamed, raw woman wants something else. So where do we go from there? What do we do with this newfound “wisdom”, intuition and urge to do something else?

I have also talked about change in one of my posts and how important it is to roll with it, embrace it and to make the best out of a new situation to avoid falling behind and keep up with personal growth and development. New opportunities only present themselves when you are not standing still, so I know that change is never a bad thing. I can’t tell you what my life will look like after lockdown. In all honesty, some changes may not come into force until a few months later. What I do believe though is that as the human race, we will have to change. The environment has already shown us that things can’t go on like they were and on some level I think that the virus was a sign of some higher entity to make us stop. STOP. So the planet can breathe. So we can breathe.

Are you changing A.C. (after covid)? Have you already put plans into place? Now is not the time to make rash decisions but now is also the time to reconsider what we could do better in our lives. Covid has held a mirror up and shown us our mortality. We are not invincible. We can be broken and we can be squashed. Our lives are short, they are precious and valuable and not to be wasted or taken for granted. So, tell me again: what will you change A.C.?

The Lockdown diaries – Day 36: performance pressure

With over a month now in quarantine, our lives and minds may or may not be adjusting to this strange part of humanity’s history. People all over the world are making this snippet of their story their own, in whichever shape or form is doable. The media, be it big newspapers, news channels or social media seem to be giving us various choices on how to tackle our newfound existence:

1) The “Chill Out” Option – sit in front of your TV, put your feet up and wait for all of this to blow over.

2) The “Get up and Go” Option – learn something new, do something new, take up a new hobby, do exercise, work out every day, lose weight, tidy up, declutter the house, renovate your home, landscape the garden, read to your children, teach your children, learn from your children, cook, bake, wash, clean, iron, mend, stitch, work, Zoom, write letters, send emails, explore, dress up, yoga here, Pilates there, go, go, go!

3) The “Mental Health” Option – take it easy, don’t do anything that would compromise your well-being, gently does it, and breathe!

You’d think we’d all be clever enough to go for Option 3, calmly tuning into ourselves and listening to what we really need (no, not another glass of gin). I personally find myself under immense pressure to be a dance monkey to the tune of Option 2. I had embraced lockdown with all its strains and silver linings, and saw it as a golden opportunity to make use of time I would surely gain, idyllic lunch times with my children and long chats in the evenings with my partner. In between that, I would work, home school, study, write, cook, bake and clean the house. I would also sign up for online courses and classes, because, you know, there has never been a better time to engage with strangers and learn new skills. I’d leave the gardening to my partner because, please don’t judge me, I don’t like it. Naturally, it all went a bit pear-shaped after a couple of weeks. I don’t really have anyone but myself to blame as I am an adult and make my own choices. I didn’t even take it slowly during the Easter holidays. I went for complete and utter stimulation overload, not only planning and structuring each and every day for myself and the children, but also taking over managing my partner’s business, allocating his time, writing his to-do list and facilitating online classes. Busy is good. Busy means growth. Busy means never standing still. You already know this won’t end well.
My self-inflicted activity overload didn’t introduce itself to me until yesterday, when I sat in front of my laptop, talking to my dissertation supervisor and found that I was close to bursting into tears, utterly exhausted from frantically trying to keep up with everything. My supervisor looked at me and told me to rest. Wise words, given I am 6 weeks ahead of my deadline but no one likes to break her own records more than I do. But the knowing smile of my professor, her gentle nudge and the uncomfortable question what I was so worried about did force me into a moment of just thinking and taking stock.
Admitting to myself that I had to give up something in order to preserve what is left of my isolated sanity was a difficult step to take, but I evaluated what I needed least at this moment in time and let it go. Another training course I had organised for next weekend will also be cancelled. I doubt I’ll spend the time relaxing in bed with a book, but I can invest it into something that needs my immediate attention. One of the most positive outcomes I have taken from this is, that I don’t see myself as failure, just because I had to quit one thing. This learning is invaluable and certainly a first for me.

Relief is knowing you made the right decision, but it also means that, when you let go of something, you don’t necessarily admit defeat that you couldn’t stick with it. Letting go of something that does not serve you at this moment in time offers you an opportunity to refocus and take a deep breath. Ironically, I had ordered myself to sit still for 10 minutes each day last week, in a desperate attempt to do exactly that: keep motionless for 600 seconds, focusing on nothing but my heart beat and breath. Unsurprisingly, I have managed to mess up this task royally – doing “nothing” just doesn’t fit into my overkill-schedule. Having given up one of my responsibilities has given me a chance to take back some of my time which, in return, could be used to do lots of other things, like getting ahead with my research and submitting more writing to magazines. However, possibly, the universe may like to hand this time to me in form of rest and recuperation, as ordered by my supervisor. I may be a controlling and obsessive workaholic. But even I have reached a point where something’s gotta give.

The lockdown diaries – Day 30: Juggling home schooling, work and life

Monday after the Easter holidays hit and I felt a little relief. A new school week, tasks set by teachers for my oldest in addition to the piles of worksheets and books I had collated in a panic before lockdown. I was grateful for some structure after two weeks off at home doing not much of everything, keeping everyone entertained within the limits set out by the lockdown. It got me thinking about routine and why we as humans love it so much and, even if we don’t love it, a lot of us very much need some kind of order in our lives. It means certainty, it creates knowing and understanding what happens next and there are less surprises and ambiguities. Generally, if I have my duties, such as work in place, I get more done, I am more likely to stick to a plan I made and I feel in control (an important thing for me). I love weekends and holidays, don’t get me wrong, they are the best reward for working hard, but sometimes I seem to float around on a cloud of wishy-washiness and I feel like I am doing either too many things at once or nothing properly. Lack of routine also never works for my children. Eventually, they just go a bit crazy and feral, and I struggle to identify which of them is the puppy and who are the humans. Order is good, rules are good, right? We are surrounded by them from an early life and most of our existence on earth is based upon restrictions and certain structures which has been constructed by society and history over time. Especially now, rules and regulations have never been more prevalent whilst we are all fighting the virus. And thank goodness for them.

Back to my home life, my gratitude for the new/ old routine didn’t last long though. Our new normal in the abnormal has us working alongside one another through most of the day. We start our mornings with Joe Wicks. As a child I hated physical exercise because one of my PE teachers compared me to a sack of potatoes (I wasn’t a sack of potatoes, I just took longer to get into a headstand than my best friend who did gymnastics in her free time), so it is so important to me to instil a positive attitude to exercise into my children. The mental exercise thereafter is a little more challenging, at least in the sense of co-ordinating home schooling and working from home at the same time. As a teacher, some may believe that home schooling comes natural to me, seeing it’s what I do for a living anyway. Believe you me, it is not. First of all, I teach teenagers in a speciality subject. Second, teaching your own child is generally more challenging than other peoples’ children. Expectations are higher, emotions run deeper and patience wears thin a lot quicker. Third, having other little people in the house whilst home schooling and working from home resembles a merry-go-round gone rogue. You can’t get off no matter how badly it is spinning out of control. There is screaming, there is squawking, there is yelling and crying, throwing, hitting, biting and falling off chairs, spilling drinks, crunching crisps and spitting out bits of apple. There are constant questions, incessant toilet and snack breaks, puppy-cuddle breaks, stroppy moments and major meltdowns. Take that and combine it with keeping an eye on over 100 other students remotely, whilst planning ahead, answering emails and trying to concentrate on writing two coherent sentences, and you have a cocktail of confusion, exhaustion and exasperation. Regular breaks with hot drinks, leftover Easter chocolate and homemade cakes certainly help but within those breaks the normal work of a household creeps in. Cooking, washing, cleaning, tidying, a quick phone call with a friend or a colleague bring back some sanity at times but often they remind me even more of how much is expected of us at the moment. There are lots of letters from schools and articles telling us that mental health comes first and that learning, education and work in the conservative terms are allowed to take a back seat. I am fully aware that my daughter will not be illiterate later because I didn’t teach her Set 568 of phonics or let her play with dice instead of hiding a frozen pea in jelly (where on earth am I getting jelly from in lockdown, unless I queue up for 3 hours outside a supermarket…). But the pressure is still there. It comes at me from all sides. From the constant “ping” of my emails, from the web portal where I set work for my students, from my personal email, from my social media feed on Facebook (pure evil) and forums of parents who apparently have this lockdown malarkey figured out down to a T. I know I am not alone. The other night I rang one of my friends. We don’t speak often as we both work stupid hours and are, despite challenging jobs, sensitive and overwhelmed by too many outside influences. But when we talk, it’s pure love from a connection that can’t be easily found. She told me how tough she found it to work all day whilst also keeping her two young children entertained. Her husband also works full-time from home, and neither of them get a break. “I can’t do it”, she snaps, not at me, but at life. “We play, we go outside, we learn as we go along. But I can’t sit down and teach them. Not when I am expected to be working at the same time.” Her account rings familiar and I tell her I hear her. Exhausted, tired, overwhelmed and stressed out parents everywhere: I hear you, I feel with you, I stand with you, I sit with you, metaphorically holding your hand and passing you a glass of wine. It’s an emergency. It’s a crisis. The norm doesn’t apply anymore. Normal doesn’t exist. It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. And you know what I realise whilst writing? I am done with trying to do it all. Because I can’t. I am pretty super but superwoman, I am not, neither have I got any ambitions to be her. I am human, I am anxious and I am doing the best I can. My children are loved, are safe and will learn as and when. My students know how much I care and I am always there to listen and help them. But even with them, my main concern is their mental health and well-being, so why am I giving myself such a hard time? What is it with us trying to be everything to everyone and striving for sheer work-overload?

I am turning my emails off. I am muting Facebook. I am ignoring the unhelpful and patronising email I received earlier from someone without children, trying to tell me how to do my job. I am leaving my desk to go outside to help my boy put on his shoes and my daughter to find magic shapes and creatures in the garden. Normal doesn’t exist. Neither does perfect. Go and have a rest. Get off the merry-go-round. It’ll keep spinning without you, too.

The lockdown diaries – Day 27: Fear of Going Out

In my last blog post I talked about life after lockdown and how I am enjoying the absence of FOMO. Feedback from loyal readers was confirming that I was not the only one feeling relief that I did not have to keep up with the Jones’s anymore or feel bouts of inadequacy because my social life sucks and I can’t be bothered to hit the nightlife because a) I am so tired ALL THE TIME and want to be in bed well before midnight; b) I can’t drink anymore since having kids, and a sniff of half a glass of wine sends me to sleep (cheap date) and c) I feel highly anxious and apprehensive in large crowds and gatherings, which is not a reason to be explored in today’s post, but nevertheless a valid reason. I am OK with being at home, obeying the rules and working hard to make the best out of this abysmal situation, some days better than others. I exercise daily, I make sure we live in the garden if it’s nice and I put so much veg in our dinners that I am sure we may be sprouting some bell peppers and broccoli out of our ears any time soon. Leaving the house may no longer be a spontaneous event, but it is a right I have not passed on once since lockdown started. I do raise an eyebrow when I see people making up their own rules as they go along, loosely interpreting social distancing with “it’s in the open air, it won’t hurt” whilst standing far too close. But I am not terrified, I am not scared, I don’t feel anxious about leaving the house. I am a teacher and before lockdown I was surrounded by hundreds of students every day – in minuscule classrooms, where even the students at one stage pointed out that the 2-metre rule was a joke when they sat no further than 15cm apart from one another (no kidding). I saw a minimum of a third of students in all my classes go off sick or self-isolate and I watched one of my colleagues frantically disinfecting our staff room after another colleague coughed when making her coffee (said colleague was ill the next day). Despite this, I came out seemingly unscathed. No symptoms, although I am fully aware that I could have been a carrier. But – the Corona Virus didn’t make me ill whilst working in a relatively risky environment although I feel a lot calmer since the school shut down. Don’t misquote or misunderstand me please: I don’t feel invincible or superhuman. I know the dangers and have made sure I did not go anywhere apart from a walk or run for the first two weeks in lockdown, making sure I wouldn’t pass on anything I had picked up at school. What I am saying is that I am not scared to leave the house. I am fine with it. And, until I spoke to two of my peers, I thought most people would be “just fine” with leaving the house, too.

As it turns out, not everyone is. FOGO, or fear of going out is real and it is all-encompassing and exhausting. One of my readers opened my eyes to something I had not experienced. She revealed that going out made her fear awkward social situations when the path wasn’t wide enough to stay the prescribed 2 metres apart or feeling that she was in someone’s way. She also noticed that, although lots of people are being friendly and greeting each other, there is a more serious side to interacting with strangers – a stare rather than a smile or a stern look whilst passing. “I guess it’s people’s fear coming out.”, she opines. I recall my own experience from a few days ago when I went shopping and some customers walked past me no further than 50cm away because they couldn’t wait a few seconds behind me. I remember briefly feeling panicked because I thought: ‘That’s breaking the rules!’ (I am German. I love rules).  Then, slightly bemused yet also slightly bewildered I muttered under my breath how great it was that Covid-19 only attacks from front and back – don’t worry about breathing on me from the left or right, its inbuild virus navigation system won’t know how to attack me from the side – I considered briefly to start wearing a scarf round my face, to protect myself from such idiocy (if anything, I don’t have to witness it…). My friend, however, can’t find any bemusement in such careless behaviour.  Trips to the supermarket these days are a systematic cleaning operation thereafter, with everything, from shopping bags being disinfected, to clothes washed, to her partner being ordered to shower, to any possible surface being scrubbed within an inch of its life. To many of us the virus is invisible and therefore we may even forget about it.  To my friend, it is everywhere, lingering in the air she breathes, in the should-be-safe-comfort of her home, on her food, the floor in her home, on herself. 

For another reader FOGO takes on a different perspective, that of coping with past traumas of infections during pregnancy and having to go through the hell of watching her newborn getting infected. I get choked up when she tells me her story and gives me an insight into what life with an all-surrounding fear of infection feels like during Covid-19. Whilst she is not always terrified of going out and sometimes wants nothing more than to leave the house, her fears are more complex than that: “The silly part is that if you ask me whether or not I’m worried that the girls will catch Corona Virus or if it’ll make them really poorly then I’d say I’m not worried really, because it isn’t tending to harm children, but it’s having the idea rammed down our throat that we constantly need to clean everything. I know that’s perfectly reasonable and for a good reason at the minute, but it’s terrifying when your mind already works that way. Plus there’s all this talk of statistics and which surfaces germs can live on and how long for etc., etc., which plays right into my anxieties.” To cope with this, my reader relies on keeping herself busy, and, BC (before Covid), was glad to go out as much as possible.  Now she can’t. “In short”, she tells me, “the Corona Virus has done two things: Validated my crippling fear of germs, contamination and the need to clean everything and it also made me feel that I am very much trapped inside four walls with my own horrific thoughts. So there is [the fear of not having] the option [to go] out for any length of time to distract myself and [also] FOGO because of all the ‘what ifs’”. 

Opening conversations with two fellow women has underlined what I already anticipated: Life in lockdown may, on the surface, be the same for us all.  The same rules apply to all of us and none of us will be going anywhere anytime soon.  However, this exceptional new way of life is also highlighting that we are all so different.  This experience forms and shapes all of us individually – none of us can have the same experience.  Our past is unique, our fears, or mental health all vary and so what feels good for one is the worst possibility for another.  Therefore, so I believe, the most important lesson we can learn from this is to be kind to ourselves.  Whichever way we get through this day by day is up to you, not prescribed by your mate who posts 500 activities on social media (that is no criticism, but comparison is also highly dangerous at this stage).  Kindness and understanding of others’ fears and ways to cope is also a must. Don’t try and fix.  Just listen and accept.  No one is crazy.  We are different. All our feelings matter.  The aim is to get through this in one piece.  Mentally, physically and spiritually.  Whatever gets you through, whatever you have to do. Do it. And don’t forget to breathe.

The lockdown diaries – Day 24: A tough day

As the government has (quite rightly) extended the lockdown by at least another 3 weeks, I wonder whether this is the perfect ending to a day I’d rather forget. To be brutally honest, it was a shite day. On the surface it was lovely: sunshine, a walk, a socially distant conversation with a friend we met in the park, time in the garden, meals together, family time. Bliss. Only it wasn’t. In my head, it was hell. Doubts about myself and others, returning to normal life, staying locked up, it was all a big, scary, chaotic and scrambled mess. The familiar lump in my chest and stomach resurfaces, it spreads its claws comfortably around my organs and renders me unable to think straight or to see sense. I try to work out if this is related to lockdown, or if there are other demons at work. I think it is both. The fears and doubts have been there a long time, but now are magnified by a world that projects fear and cannot be a safe place for us right now. I try and rationalise my thoughts and talk myself through what I can and can’t influence. I listen to the conversations in my head and weigh them up. I counsel myself and know that the shrink in me is right and wants to kick me off the imagined couch, but I am not ready to leave, not prepared to say: Yeah, I am fine now, thanks for the session. My thoughts are as stubborn as the monster inside my body. Normally I would schedule a meet up with one of my closest and most trusted friends. Such things have to be talked about in person. But I can’t do that. I would probably also start doing lots of things to distract myself. But today I can’t do that either. All the dinner is cooked, there is no more food to cook because the fridge is empty, I had my daily exercise and colouring pictures with my daughter gives me more time to think than I can handle. I tentatively tell one of my friends via text and it helps, she is understanding and downright fabulous. She doesn’t try to fix things for me. She is just there. I can breathe more easily. And then I just do something I read the other day by Glennon Doyle: Sit with it. Sit through it. Experience it. And let it pass over. It’s a bit of a challenge to sit in peace when you have two kids crawling and climbing over you and a puppy chewing on your clothes. But I sit, and I allow myself to feel crap and I endure those feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and anxiousness. And I survive. I still don’t feel great and am far from being a bundle of positivity, but those inner restraints have loosened a little. I am aware that lots of people will be feeling up and down during this time, and many are feeling like this all the time. I also know that everyone’s experience is unique and personal and definitely valid. My feelings may seem ridiculous to some but they are real for me and I have the right to those experiences. That doesn’t make me weak, stupid or unloved. I am strong – I will get through this day and others; I am knowledgeable – I am aware of my mind and I know that not all feelings are real but they can seem so; and, most importantly, I am loved – not by everyone and that is ok, but I am no less worthy than the next person. This has been a deeply personal account of what is going on inside me, and I know that I have made myself more vulnerable with this than ever before. I am never dishonest in my blog posts, but there are many things I do not share as freely as others. Whilst I am always scared of repercussions, I am not afraid anymore of revealing a bit more. We are locked up, but we are not silenced. And I have been silent for too long.

For those of you who read my blog for some light entertainment and are put off by this change of scenery, I can assure you that this is not the new tone of the blog. We all have good and bad days. But from now on I will be more willing to openly share the good and the bad, without holding too much back, in the hope it will speak to people and know they are not alone.

The lockdown diaries – Day 22: The Afterlife

As we are entering week 4 of the UK’s lockdown, articles of some countries loosening measures whilst debating if those plans are sensible at this point surface and, so I imagine, invoke hope and visions of life after lockdown in many people. Questions of how I will react to being allowed out again and what I will do first have entered my mind, too, but there are also other things that I ponder over, especially since a recent conversation I had with a very dear friend. We spoke about the fact that her and her partner were not going anywhere, had food delivered by their daughter and vouched to stay home until all this had blown over. We said how strange it still felt and how life had changed so much so quickly. I mentioned that I had seen some people either struggling with the new guidelines or openly disregarding them – I recounted the last Friday before lockdown, when social distancing measures had already been enforced but the local pubs had been heaving with people, spilling out onto the streets, squeezing next to one another on the pavement, clutching their drinks, laughing, seemingly without a care in the world. Part of me got it – a cool drink on a mild night in a local pub is lovely – when there isn’t a virus around, mind you! The other part was baffled. Was this disregard for social distancing really worth the risk? Will people change after lockdown? Will they understand? Will they have learnt something? Or will they jump into their newfound freedom and get up to some questionable things? I told my friend, laughing, that the reasons for not significantly missing evenings out and having lots of trips and events in my diary are that there aren’t really ever that many in my life anyway. The days of partying and spending three evenings in a row in a pub have long gone since being pregnant with my first child, and the urge for having to constantly go somewhere and to be seen and heard has also calmed down. My friend agreed. “I really think I won’t want to go out anymore after this”, she opined, and I noticed that I completely got it. Part of me, probably the part that feels FOMO (fear of missing out) every time a friend posts a glitzy picture on the Gram or Facebook from a night out or a lush evening in a restaurant, can’t wait to put my best skimpy dress and a pair of heels on and meet my lovely friends at a bar. However, the other part of me, the one that yearns for a weekend alone at a Spa, surrounded by nothing but quiet, some books and a notepad with a pen, feels secretly very content with the lockdown. I don’t have to go anywhere, and no one else is either. I am not expected to have a buzzing social life, I can stay at home, read, write, cook, bake and indulge in quality time with my family. I feel a little apprehensive of everything going back to normal and I am not sure if I will be embracing large crowds and the hustle and bustle straight away. I also don’t think I will be alone in feeling like this. Some of us are more comfortable with solitude and calm than others. I believe that I and some others will have to adjust to business as usual, the same way we had to get used to lockdown and social distancing. And I think that is OK. We are all different and need different things to make life work for us. There is no right or wrong. Whatever works for you. Take it easy if you are overwhelmed by too much noise. Go for it if you need a lively and busy surrounding to make you feel good. And if lockdown has changed you then be gentle and accept it. As long as your mind, soul and body are feeling it, too, then roll with it. Who is the judge of “normal” and how you are supposed to be feeling? Exactly. Do it your way.

The lockdown diaries – Day 19: Let’s talk about change

I recently read the book “Who moved my cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. It had been a present by one of my former bosses, who gave it to me on my last day working for the company. I hadn’t looked at it in years, I am unsure why I never picked it up and read it. At the beginning of this year, in a moment of severe sleep deprivation and feelings of anxiety and dread of what the future might hold, I grabbed the slim paperback and started reading. “Who moved my cheese?” is a short read; I finished it in under an hour, and it really resonated with and encouraged me. Whilst I would highly recommend the book to anyone, for those of you who don’t want to read it, here is a short summary: In a fictional or some may also call it a metaphorical maze, there are stations of cheese (also metaphorical) where someone places cheese to be enjoyed every day (we don’t know who puts it there, it is irrelevant to the story). Also in the maze are two mice, Sniff and Scurry, as well as two people, called the Littlepeople, individually named “Hem” and “Haw”, all of who are running to the cheese station each morning to eat cheese. One day, there is no more cheese at the station they had been going to. The mice scurry out into the maze in search for more cheese, disregarding their former, now empty cheese station. The Littlepeople, scared what lies in the maze, keep returning to this empty station every day, waiting and hoping that, at some point, more cheese will appear. When it doesn’t, Haw takes a leap of faith and runs into the maze, searching for more cheese. He doesn’t find any at first but he carries on regardless, feeling empowered through the process and taking action. Hem remains where he is, miserable and grumpy. In the end, Haw finds more cheese he could ever have wished for. He also finds the two mice again (who found the same cheese station, a lot earlier, obviously). Nevertheless, Haw doesn’t grow complacent this time. He enjoys the cheese but ensures he regularly “sniffs” it to ensure that it is not going off and he isn’t faced with a sudden cheese-less situation again. He is ready for the cheese to be moved, and it doesn’t scare him anymore.

The story is obviously about change and how we can all fall into the category of one of the four characters, or, maybe, find we are a combination of two or more of them. I certainly recognise Hem in myself when faced with change, however, I have never been Hem, as I adapt and move on more or less quickly, whether I like it or not. Sniff and Scurry adapt to change most naturally, as if instinctively – not a quality I would attribute to myself. I probably see myself most in “Haw”, initially sceptical but quickly realising that the only way to move forward is to move with the change unless you want to remain rigid and stuck, avoiding growth and new experiences.
I have come across situations of change often, be it within organisations I worked for or in my personal life. I don’t know which is more stressful; I guess it depends on the kind of change. One of the biggest changes for the whole world has certainly been Covid-19, turning all our lives upside down. We all have had to adapt, rework and rethink, some of us quicker and better than others, and some may still be working out how to best cope with this as yet indefinitely continuing situation. I know of people who have jumped at new opportunities, thought outside the box and found a way to make life in isolation work for themselves. I see them as the mice in the maze. They instinctively know what to do and go for it. I have also heard of and seen people who just carry on as normal. They are the Hems of the story. Reluctant to adapt, carrying on stubbornly. Either ignoring warnings and new measures or just in denial of the severity of the virus. Whichever social scenario you want to apply Dr Johnson’s story, I believe that there is truth in it may fit all of us. My personal view on the matter is, as a result of experience and having lived through so much change myself, that it’s advisable to embrace the change and move with it, or jump into action and change your own behaviour and that of those around you.

Change can be an unwelcome aspect of our lives, but if we learn to accept it as a natural process that can also open doors for us or show us different paths to navigate on, then it is something to be embraced and cherished, as well as a possibility for personal growth and maybe even new ventures and success. I am not suggesting lockdown and isolation are easy. Far from it. But we can change how we view it and accept the challenge to live through this experience and make the most of it. What would Haw and the mice do?