I’d like to start this post with the oft-made observation that there’s no doubt that the pandemic has irreversibly changed all of our lives.
But what happens when you get to the point that you have no clear-cut rational clue of how it’s actually truly affected you?
As a solo traveller and self-confessed introvert it goes without saying that I don’t mind spending time as a onesie. I’ll even admit that I actually quite like my own company. I relish the downtime away from having to make smalltalk and adhere to social norms. I know I can rely on myself. For the most part, at least.
So you would think I would be well equipped to survive the storm as well as, if not better than, most people.
To a large degree that’s true. As a resourceful and resilient woman I’ve overcome massive hurdles in the past nine months. It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve found a way around most of the practical arrangements and for entertainment I’ve walked a lot, exploring my new home town, and made up my own fun – from sitting up at the window pretending I’m in a garden to mad dancing at livestream gigs to creating a Living Advent Calendar trying to spread joy via social media.
For the first six months of the pandemic and lockdown I was stuck in a town centre flat with no outdoor space. That was incredibly difficult but I hung on in there hoping for better domestic circumstances.
And so it came to pass. In September I relocated to my new home, a lovely little house with its own front door and a cute little courtyard. I love the feeling of no longer being stuck on the first floor, of not having to worry about bumping in to anyone on the stairs and of having the freedom of being able to set foot outside without stepping straight in to anyone’s space on the street.
And it’s a truly lovely home. It feels like the most ‘me’ place I’ve ever lived. I’m accepting of its rough edges and I appreciate its quirky corners, original features and history. I also love that it’s now got a different name to how it started out. A lot like me.
But with moving to a seemingly dreamy place comes a pressure of its own. Now I’m meant to be ‘normal’. I’m meant to be ‘happy’. I have no excuses for feeling down or lost of afraid or confused or worried. Now I’m meant to be able to cope.
For the most part I’m doing a reasonable job at it. I think. For the rest of the time I talk a good talk. In my mind at least. That, I suppose, is the trouble. It’s all in my head.
When it comes to saying stuff out loud, forming words and spitting them out, the things that are going on my brain tend to get all mushed up in to something unrecognisable then jumbled about a bit more and finally when they are all stuck back together they manifest themselves as something different entirely.
Yes, the fact is that what comes out of my mouth rarely matches what’s going on in my head.
It’s a problem I’ve had my entire life but since the pandemic and lockdown (the bit in between One and Two really looked no different to me – when we had the hiatus in the summer I didn’t go to Cornwall or the pub or join a bubble – so in effect I’ve had one long nine-month lockdown) it has got an awful lot worse.
Perhaps, then, that’s why I get so much out of writing – latterly, even more so.
I’ve recently read a wonderfully-entertaining book. Hungry by Grace Dent.
Much of what she says I can really relate to. Its stand-out line, however, for me is:
“When something you write strikes a chord and ends up being widely read, it feels a bit, in your brain at least, like being loved.”
Grace is not wrong.
Okay I haven’t written a hugely enjoyable and entertaining book like she, has but when it comes to blogging, the likes and the comments do make me feel incredibly warm and fuzzy. But, as I’ve said before, recording what I think and feel and experience is not really about recognition. The process of being able to piece together what’s going on in my brain and vocalise it is the part of writing which gives me the biggest buzz.
Here in my safe space I can talk uninterrupted. I can say the words that won’t come out of my mouth. Or won’t come out correctly, at least. When I’m writing I have a second, third, twenty-fourth chance to get things in the right order, to say what I mean and mean what I say. And when I say what I say I don’t get judged or berated or shouted out or disagreed with. The worst that can happen is that whoever is reading decides to stop doing so – and, should that be the case, I’m none-the-wiser.
When I was a child I was shy and awkward. I wasn’t a ‘nice’ child. Overall I prefer to try not to remember my childhood because the only things it makes me feel are sad and cringesome.
To be fair to my mother, she started out on the right path.
Over the years she became very good at cooking and cleaning and washing and ironing. What she became less good at was being a warm, loving and supportive person. She never let me forget everything she’d done for me and she wasn’t very nice to me; I was punished a lot. Often she laughed at me. Not in a good way.
Mum was also never proud of me that I recall. She never encouraged me and she never supported me in my career choice. Her opinion was that a dull office job was good enough for her so it would be good enough for me too.
After a year training as a journalist I wanted to go on to do an English degree. She said no and that I had to go out to work to bring some money home. She’d spent 18 years bringing me up. Now it was my turn to repay her.
Looking back I should have gone and done it regardless. I could have supported myself through it quite easily; I’d had next to no backing from my parents anyway when I was studying Journalism and, if nothing else in my life, I’ve always had an excellent work ethic. I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty to provide for myself. But I listened to her. I took a crap job in an office in order to repay my so-called debt to her and my father. Most young people would have been much more determined to do what they wanted to. I just never had the confidence to really go for something, to reach out and grab it, to achieve it. I remember a comment from a teacher on my school report saying “Shauna’s motto should be ‘per ardua ad astra’”.
I often think I never even aimed for the middle shelf, let alone the stars.
I was recently asked to write down a list of 30 things I’m good at. It looked like this:
After that I ran out of ideas and started to cry.
Number three should have been Worrying.
I’m absolutely bloody brilliant at worrying. These days I would even go so far as to say that I excel at it in every possible part of my life that I can.
I worry about now. Obviously.
And despite being told that I should be ‘in the moment’ blah, blah, blah, I worry about the future.
I worry about travel.
What will happen when we are finally able to travel safely again? Will I still want to go? Or will that chapter of my life finally be closed? I was already starting to get the feeling that solo travel was not for fast-approaching fifty-year-old women with big arses and tits hung round their waists puffing and panting up hills and being shoved out of the way by bright, attractive, young couples who, for the most part, see straight through you, only suddenly spying you when they want their photo taking together in front of this monument or that. Will I feel safe getting on a plane by myself? Will I be able to book tickets, turn up on time, read a map, walk confidently in a strange place at night? Will I even know how to pack a bag or which queue to join at customs? Most importantly of all, will I remember how to sparkle if I decide to go back to doing something which was once as instinctive to me as breathing?
I worry about whether I will ever again enjoy the other things I used to love doing.
Getting ready to go out: dress, heels, clutch bag, pouting and posing in front of the mirror. Going for drinks or dinner or to the cinema or the theatre. Walking in to a bar head held high, ordering exactly what I wanted off the menu for dins, finding my seat in an unfamiliar theatre, buying ice cream at the interval. Things I used to like sharing with others but also absolutely adored as a onesie.
Most of all I worry about the state of my relationships.
My family. My friends.
How I am with them.
How to be close again.
Whether I will still know how to hug them.
Whether they will still love me.
Going back to the talking thing, I’m struggling. What was once sometimes a challenge is now, some days, becoming close to terrifying. I’m worried that I’m not reacting well to, or interacting properly with, the ones whom I love.
I saw two friends yesterday which is two more than I’ve seen in quite a while, certainly all in one day!
One friend I haven’t seen in 18 months and I’d forgotten what absolutely lovely company she is and how connected to her I feel. But after we parted the inevitable questions started circling in my head. I had had a great walk. Had she had a great walk too? Did I walk in front of her too much? Did she enjoy seeing me as much as I enjoyed seeing her? Was she just being polite when she said it was good to catch up? Did I ask the right questions? Was I too wrapped up in trying to communicate my own problems, thoughts and feelings? As an introvert who lives alone I am naturally a little self-centred but with the pandemic and spending month after month largely alone has this turned me in to someone whose personality is bordering narcissistic? Am I now so far up my own arse that once all this is over no one will want to spend time with me?
The other friend dropped in on spec and caught me completely off guard. I had my head completely immersed in my words and so when I heard the doorbell two floors down I wasn’t even sure whether it was mine since the house behind me has the same chime and when I’m upstairs in the loft and my head is lost in another world entirely they sound exactly the same. A dash downstairs and a peek out of my bedroom window confirmed that there was indeed someone standing on my doorstep. My sister-in-law.
I ran down another flight of stairs, perplexed as to what she was doing turning up unannounced, a thousand things rushing through my head at once. Was everything okay? Had something happened to my brother? Why wasn’t my niece with her?
I opened the door.
It wasn’t my sister-in-law.
It was one of my dearest friends.
I was utterly confused.
My brain was still in the loft with all the words I was writing. But my body was on the doorstep with a person that wasn’t who I thought she was.
Awash with a thousand crazy thoughts, my head couldn’t jump in to gear and get a single one of them out of my mouth and in to anything that sounded at all rational. I turned in to a bumbling idiot.
My friend had brought me a Christmas present but the ones I’d bought for her kids were two floors up so I then had to wedge open the front door while she stood in the yard and I ran up and down 56 stairs to collect the gifts to give her.
Me out of puff and her, I think a more than a little bewilde as to what she’d interrupted, exchanged some random rambling about swimming lessons and a Christmas hamper – I really couldn’t tell you the exact details of our conversation because of the maelstrom going on in my head – and then she was gone again.
And now, crazily, I’ve spent almost 24 hours worrying about that.
I even worry about the basics.
Will I ever feel comfortable and capable going in to the office again for work? Or taking a bus in to town to go to the shops? What about going swimming? To the library? To a gallery? Will I be able to take a coat for dry cleaning without blinking or buy bread from the bakers without it feeling utterly terrifying?
This all sounds rather prufrockesque but so much has been taken away from me this year, coinciding with grieving about the loss of someone I loved dearly, and also dealing with going through that middle-aged lady M word that I don’t really like to say out loud. It’s an awful lot to deal with all at the same time and I can’t help but wonder how things will look once this surreal nightmare is finally over. If, indeed, it ever is.
Yet I still have my writing. The only true constant in my life.
I don’t care to delude myself that I’m good at it. Let’s face it, if I was that gifted I would do it for a job or have had a series of best-selling novels. But the most wonderful thing about writing for the sake of it is that doesn’t matter. I can write and write and write some more. More will never be enough. And no one can ever take it away from me.
When I’m writing I go to a place and there’s no way back until I’m done. I know exactly when I need to offload and I clear the decks at home so that I have the time and space to be able to spend time saying what I need to.
Yesterday I started shoving down words any old how. Random phrases. Feelings. Ideas. I slept fitfully; my brain was writing even as my big, fat, ugly face snored itself off.
Today I got up at 6:30am to begin to put it all together. I didn’t even get dressed today, slobbing out in unflattering size 16 loungewear. My head has been stuck in *that zone* and when it’s there everything else takes a backseat. I haven’t cooked, I haven’t cleaned the bathroom and I haven’t sanded and painted the walls like I promised myself I would this weekend. Instead I am sitting at my desk in my loft and writing, writing and writing some more until everything I need to say is well and truly out of my system. Next I’ll go over and over it again and again, take out the more controversial and painful stuff that I know I don’t really want to share and move paragraphs hither and thither until finally it reads smoothly and makes some modicum of sense. To me at least.
If all this sounds obsessive or addictive then yes, you’re probably right. I get in a place that’s almost hypnotic when the words are tumbling out and out and over and out again. It feels good. Like taking drugs. Or getting drunk. Or having dirty sex. A reminder of the days a long, long time ago that I used to do those things.
This year, on my solo travel blog, I’ve uploaded 22 posts about not travelling at all.
At an average of 1,500 words per post that’s about a third of a normal-sized book I’ve written about absolutely nothing of any consequence other than what’s been going on inside my poor little peabrain.
I remarked yesterday to my friend that one of the worst things about this whole lockdown thing has been that it, like much of life these days, has been a competition.
I’m honestly wholeheartedly sick of hearing about people’s heroic achievements. Is that really terrible? I guess it is.
This year I’ve simply done the best I could when I could.
Some days I’ve really struggled and my greatest achievements have been to get up, washed and dressed.
At better times I’ve sent cards to friends and I’ve posted joyous, motivational shit on social media. I’ve worked really hard to be supportive and communicative at work. And I’ve tried my best to help those who’ve really needed it via charity or pay-as-you-feel initiatives.
I haven’t run up 50 hills or learnt how to crochet or done anything amazing or outstanding at all in the face of adversity.
That said, I’ve written. Long, rambling nonsensical posts which you’ve had the misfortune to be subjected to.
You might scoff but what you have to understand is that in an uncertain world where I’m desperately looking for something concrete which will always be there for me and never let me down, no matter what happens in the future, then here it is.
Writing is my salvation.
Always has been.
Always will be.
And for that I’m grateful. More grateful and happy and joyous than you could ever possibly imagine.
The original version of this post went on to say a whole heap more which, on balance, I have decided not to continue with at this time.
So I just want to say that I hope all is well in your world and that you’ve been also been able to work out what your constant is, what will be there for you through thick and thin, light and dark. For you it’s probably a person. For me it’s pen and paper. Or fingers and keyboard.
So there we go – a big fat, So Long blog post about nothing in particular. Just a load of nonsense tumbling out of my mind.
Until next time, much love to you all