I haven’t posted on here in a while… I think it’s fair to say that, back in the now very innocent seeming days of mid-2019, I did not expect my next post to be written from a country in full lockdown, forbidden from leaving our homes except for a few very specific reasons. I don’t think anyone else saw it coming either.
As I write this, we’ve been in lockdown for just over a week, and I personally have been working from home for just over two weeks. I should acknowledge right from the start that I’m in a pretty fortunate position compared to a lot of people: no-one close to me seems to have got the virus yet, I have a pleasant and secure place to spend lockdown with people I love, and I’m relatively safe from the financial effects of all this as well. I fully support the lockdown and I know that people suffering from the virus and those on the front line of treating it are much worse off than I am.
That said, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that this is an unprecedented upheaval for almost all of us, and that it’s clearly going to affect everyone one way or another. So I think it’s completely legitimate to talk about how it might affect our mental health and what might be good coping strategies, even for those of us not on the front line.
Speaking for myself, a few weeks ago when it started to become clear what was about to happen, I was utterly dreading it. Probably not an uncommon reaction, but I had particular reason to be worried. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve spent a lot of my life (almost the whole of the first 15 years of adulthood, in fact) living with clinical depression and anxiety. Eventually I managed to get this mostly under control, but the only way I ever found to keep the depression at bay was to keep doing lots of exciting things to keep my mood up: folk dancing, solo foreign travel, urban exploration, taking part in the Beltane Fire Festival, and so on.
I’ve pretty much spent the last several years making sure I always had a few of those things lined up to look forward to within the next few months, and it has made a massive difference: to put it bluntly, the difference between life feeling worth living, and… well… not worth living. So hearing the news that none of these activities were going to be possible for several months, quite likely not for the whole of this year, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt as if, after years of thinking I’d never be able to walk again, I’d finally learned to hobble around with the aid of crutches, only to now be told I wasn’t allowed to use the crutches for the next several months. And I really, REALLY didn’t want to go back to the way I used to live my life before I found the crutches.
After that initial panic was over with, though, I feel like I’ve settled into a new routine a bit better than expected. It actually reminds me a bit of two previous periods of my life, in some ways at least. One is the time 18 months ago when my son had just been born and I was off work on paternity leave. All the usual rules and day-to-day routine just went out the window and suddenly there was only one objective: to survive each new day as it came. I don’t mind admitting that I had some pretty dark thoughts at times during those early weeks, wondering whether I’d ever get a decent (or even adequate) night’s sleep again, wondering whether I’d ever get my life back, whether I’d ever be able to do the adult things I’d once so enjoyed again or whether I was destined to sacrifice everything for this tiny little new person for evermore. (In the end it was nowhere near as bad as I feared and, while some stuff obviously has changed, I was back to sleeping OK and back to doing most of my activities within a few months).
The other period this reminds me of is when I was a child myself, in the sense that my horizons seem to have suddenly and drastically shrunk back to nearly where they were back then. As a child, almost my whole life revolved around my home, my school a short walk away, and nearby places like the shops and the green spaces where we would walk our dog. Going anywhere further afield, like to visit extended family, go on holiday, go for a walk in the countryside or even go into the city centre felt like a rare special treat in comparison. As for going abroad, I’d never been at all.
After I became an adult, the world seemed to open up: the city centre became somewhere I would go every day for work and often for multiple nights out per week; I would go for frequent weekends away, sometimes as many as two or three in the same month; everywhere within an hour or two’s drive could be visited on a whim just by jumping in the car on a day off; and I would go abroad, either for work or pleasure, anything up to four or five times a year. That became the new normal for me. Now it’s abruptly reversed and I’m suddenly back in that closed, parochial world of childhood again, only even more so this time.
Whilst neither of those past experiences were quite like what’s happening now, I feel I did learn some stuff from them that might help in the present. I’m trying to view the current situation very much like I viewed the early days of fatherhood: focussing on surviving one day at a time, not worrying about anything bar the essentials, and trying to keep the faith that things will go back to normal eventually. I’m also trying to remember the habits that got me through spending so much time in or near the house back in my teens: enjoying music, TV, movies and video games, being creative, and looking forward to the fun stuff I can do in future when the opportunities arise. I’ll probably write some more entries about specific things I’m doing (I’ve already got a few ideas) over the coming days and weeks.
Of course, it’s a bit hard to look forward to fun stuff in the future when we have absolutely no idea how long this is all going to go on for. I find myself really hoping that the government are going to follow the “hammer and dance” strategy set out in this very informative article, because that would mean only a few weeks of strict lockdown, followed by relaxing some restrictions and applying some more targetted and intelligent measures instead. But it’s hard to tell from the briefings whether this is their intention, and I’m not qualified to judge whether it’s even a viable plan at all. So I’m trying to prepare myself for the possibility that we might be locked in for much longer than that.