As if 44,000 deaths wasn’t devastating enough, this week we passed a grim milestone.
A hundred days of lockdown.
A hundred whole days.
A hundred days of, thankfully, still being alive and well.
A hundred days of taking care of ourselves and one another.
A hundred days alone in a room.
A hundred days without a single touch from another human being.
A hundred days of fighting to get up, get washed, get dinner on the table.
A hundred days of feeling mostly horror interspersed with fleeting moments of optimism and joy.
A hundred days of suffering agoraphobia and claustrophobia all at the same time.
A hundred days of wishing it would all go the fuck away.
A hundred nights of broken sleep, of nightmares.
A hundred mornings of waking up and within a second or two that sickly wave of panic rushing through me all over again.
A hundred days of worrying what the next hundred days will bring.
A hundred days of non-stop overthinking.
A hundred days with no outdoor space and of staring out of the window at people going about their business apparently without a care in the world.
The World. A place I used to be part of. A place I used to love exploring.
Ordinarily I’d have been to two or three counties in the past hundred days. Or at least taken two or three trips, even if they didn’t involve hopping on a plane.
In the pandemic-past-hundred-days I can count on the fingers of one hand the places I’ve been to – the market across the road for fruit and vegetables, Sainsburys Local (twice has been two times too many), the Post Office (stressful but I survived – just!), to fill up the car at the petrol station (I got in such a flap that I couldn’t remember my PIN number and ended up locking my credit card) and Asda Click and Collect (I was rewarded for my efforts by somehow bagging a bottle of gin I’d neither ordered nor paid for – result!).
All of these expeditions have not been without trauma. I’ve felt less stressed exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina on my own in years gone by that I have popping out to pick up a pint of milk during the past few weeks.
I fought hard at the beginning of the pandemic. I took part in listening and watch parties, PAYF ballets, Skype suppers with my family, texts and calls with my friends. Bit by bit my resourcefulness and determination have been worn down.
At one point going out walking became a welcome relief. I returned to work at the beginning of June and so my walks became less frequent but longer and I started to explore my locality in greater depth – happing upon woods and water which I didn’t know were on my doorstep. I was starting to feel good; I was in control.
But as the lockdown has been eased my crippling anxiety has not.
Somehow during the past week things have started to slide. My last walk was eight days ago. Since then I’ve been to the market for fruit and veg and driven the car a few miles to stop the battery going flat. I have somehow lost my momentum. I want it back.
I want back the person I used to be. I used to be bold. I used to be spirited. I used to be independent.
I want to be me again.
Trouble is, I don’t know how.
A lot of the so-called survival hints and tips have not been particularly helpful.
Create a spa-room
My bathroom is a misnomer. It’s actually a broom cupboard with a shower in it. Purple tiles. No window. A very noisy extractor fan. It does not lend itself to ‘Zen’ in any way shape or form.
I have no outdoor space. So I tried growing herbs in pots in the flat. Depending on what the weather is doing it is either freezing cold or hotter than the surface of the sun in here. Inevitably the herbs died.
Take up yoga
I have zero balance and no flexibility. The blind in the front window of the flat broke so the people in the building across can see straight in and watch my every move. I can only imagine the laughs they’d have seeing me trying to tie myself up in knots.
Run up and down the stairs
I live in a flat FFS.
I’ve gained 12lb during lockdown. The last thing I need is an entire sourdough loaf slathered in butter. Or jam. Or both.
I’ve no neighbours that I know of. I’ve asked friends if I can help them with domestic stuff yet strangely none of them need their clothes burning with an iron or poisoning with my cooking. I’m not sufficiently immersed in my new hometown to volunteer for any organisations and besides, I don’t think they particularly need a gibbering wreck! I can’t even sew or knit.
Take up a new interest
Recently a friend asked if me if I’d taken up any hobbies. And I was like “?!”. I’m not artistic, active, confident or creative, how on earth was I suddenly going to become a pottery queen or a pilates princess? The only answer I could give my friend was that I’d taken up extreme biscuit eating and had become a dab-hand at wine drinking. These two activities might have something to do with the afore-mentioned weight gain.
Interestingly though, what her question did do was make me think.
I’ve done a great deal more of that today. I decided that I needed to make a list all of the positive things that have happened to me in the past hundred days – no matter how small.
I came up with:
- If it wasn’t obvious, I’ve started writing again. I might not have amazing trips to brag about but I’ve discovered that I can still wail and gnash my teeth just like I used to do.
- I’ve spent time working on foundations for the future. A new home. A new life.
- I’ve done a Digital Marketing course. I aced the exam with a 95% pass mark.
- I updated my CV. I’ve realised that actually I’ve gained a great deal of new work experience in the past 12 months.
- I’ve spent quality time with the cat who loves me no matter what. She doesn’t care that I’ve got a big tummy, bad hair and a spotty chin. She just worships me because I feed her and stroke her and let her sleep on my fluffy dressing gown.
- Although during the first few weeks of lockdown I was too terrified to go, recently I’ve started to make it back to the market for my fruit and vegetables once a week. The market is going from strength to strength now and on my last visit the stallholders all said good morning to me. I don’t know whether they actually recognised me as a ‘regular’ or whether they were just being friendly – but it gave me a really lovely warm feeling inside.
- I’ve made a start on exploring my new hometown and with each new corner I round I feel increasingly at one with it. I like the promise of things that are to come here.
- I’ve discovered that lighting candles at any time of the day can make a gloomy room much more cheerful.
- I’ve learnt more than ever that the ones who matter don’t mind and the ones who mind don’t matter.
- Finally, amazingly, I’ve found a fruit tea that I actually like and don’t just ‘suffer’.
These are all tiny, tiny things. But they go to make up a whole. They’ve made me realise that actually I’m still the resourceful, resilient woman I always was.
I know that I have to find a way through this. Just like I did when I started travelling solo ten years ago. That too came out of a really bad time of my life.
Let’s face it, there’s never a good time for a worldwide pandemic. The lockdown came at a particularly unfortunate juncture in my life.
A perfect storm, that’s what they call it. The good news is I’ve always said that I love a really powerful storm.
I’m a quiet person who likes to find her own way. That’s why I travel solo. So why should lockdown suddenly make me any different? I’d still be struggling right now because of my personal circumstances. Money is tight, confidence in short supply because of the trauma I’ve suffered in the past 12 months. Add these to anxiety about a pandemic and of course I’m going to struggle. It’s natural and normal. I need to stop being so hard on myself. I’ve realised that I’m not a total deadloss. I’m not someone who would normally go to art classes or book clubs or meet-ups, so why would I suddenly have the confidence to take up Zoom Yoga or go out drinking with five friends behind a plastic screen?
I’ve made a promise to myself that this week I will start to try some new small things that might suit me. Perhaps I will go to the haberdashery shop that I can see from my window – if not to buy something then just to have a look around and say hello to the owner. Or maybe I’ll treat myself to a takeaway dinner from the fancy restaurant down the road. Hopefully I’ll finally make that walk with a friend who has invited me more than once but I haven’t felt that I could say yes. What about if I book the hairdo I need, arrange for the car to be serviced, get the cat to the vets for her booster injections? I’ve been putting off so much.
An oft-used travel quote is that a journey begins with a single step. Somehow I need to stop being afraid and take that step. It’s an easy thing to say, a difficult thing to do. What I do know is that staying stuck indoors, a prisoner in a flat, isn’t who I am and isn’t doing me any good.
International Women’s Day on 8th March seems like a very long time ago. However I remember the cute mantra I came up with that day to mark the occasion. It’s been hidden away for the past hundred or so days but I’ve realised that it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still here and it’s still part of who I am, part of who we all are.
Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Beautiful.
Better times will come. Until then take care of yourselves and one another.