Yesterday was Day 60 in our lock-down limbo house. Probably about a week longer than most who hung on to their fast fading normality until the official statements were beamed through our screens declaring that we should all stay at home. Of course by saying 'all,' that excludes those who had an essential job to do and were suddenly, by no desire on their part, the focus of attention and gratitude from the rest of us. Our reasons for pulling up the drawbridge early were many but included a perceived vulnerability of our household members and an acceptance that grew with that of inevitability.
Looking back, there seemed to be more ups than downs at the start. I guess it was a novelty and personally, although worried at the prospect of what was to come, I felt more able to focus upon making the best of things. I cleaned out kitchen cupboards, tried out recipes I had never done before and worked hard to make a special day out of what we had available to celebrate my son's birthday. In the past, during the normal of the 'before time' we would have planned a meal out, bought a cake and various gifts and he would no doubt have finished off his evening drinking with his friends. All of that would have taken very little planning or thought really.
Instead now, I had planned a scavenger hunt around the house to find his gifts and decorated the house from odd bits I found tucked away here and there. I had put aside egg rations, received a donation of self-raising flour from one friend and followed advice and a recipe from another in order to make a birthday cake. Then I searched the corners of that jumbled kitchen drawer that I am sure many have to locate a few candles, before working out how to get family members on a video call to sing him a version of Happy Birthday which for once did not involve hand washing!
I suppose all of this serves to illustrate how I have been thinking about what has been lost during this strange time and spontaneity is definitely one of the items on my list. But what else has been lost over the past 60 days?
It might be obvious to say but I have predominantly felt that I have lost control over what is happening to me, my family and my friends and that we have all lost our freedom in many ways. Whilst the necessity for these things is fully understood, the emotional trade off tips the balance with increasing regularity as time goes on. Of course we are all missing the everyday social interactions that we took for granted and cannot experience now and we are all trying to find ways to compensate for this, communicating in a virtual substitute of a world.
Beyond such occasions though, I am aware of a pervading sense of struggling. Most mornings I struggle to find the motivation to get up in the mornings. With the loss of our routines I struggle to ignore the little voice inside my head that is saying "What does it matter if you stay in your PJ's all day and eat handfuls of chocolate?" Related to that, I struggle to limit the number of snacks I graze upon each day and have been unable to follow YouTube exercises or join a Zoom dance workshop. I struggle to present myself to the world as I venture outside to walk the dog or agree to a video coffee call with a friend, knowing that my hair has long since lost any style or attempt at disguising the grey of my age and I'm now down to wearing the few clothes left that feel comfortable over my expanding middle.
Mostly though, I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have no answers. I cannot answer my children's questions or reassure them about the future. That's mainly because despite my best efforts, I do not feel reassured myself. Last week, I added a further item to the list of losses over lock-down. With the continued uncertainties ahead, we have had to accept that our drama group will not be able to meet up for the rest of this year and probably beyond. Although this is a minor concern in the grand scheme of things within this awful pandemic, the loss of my hobby and all the social interaction and creative opportunities bound up within that, did hit me hard - quite apart from all the hard work that had already gone into the writing and planning for the two shows that had been scheduled for the year.
Today, I am left wondering what else is left that I can hold on to, what other losses will there be, but also what might be lost that have been plus points emerging from lock-down? Listening to a psychologist being interviewed on television early in this process, I was struck by the point made that we will find changes difficult but that then we will adapt and whatever our routine becomes that will then be our new normal. For sure, the evidence appears to be telling us that we are not going back to the 'before times.'
So, as I said about my struggle with having no answers, I feel a growing unease at the prospect of impending change, coming slowly out of this lock-down. For as much as I feel I do not have any answers, I keep telling myself that actually, in reality, nobody else does right now. Even those who should be leading us out of this seem to struggle to convey consistent messages to us and at a time when there is a collective anxiety, that is far from helpful. All of this creates an unsettling feeling and unsurprisingly there have been tears, difficulties sleeping and a decrease in my self-confidence, especially in the last week or so.
In the absence of a manual to follow, I am just going to have to keep making it up as I go along. We took the decision yesterday to admit defeat and cancel our Cornish holiday. Even though theoretically we may be allowed to travel by July, a long car journey seems unwise and then so many of the activities that we would usually participate in would not be available. Considering that I haven't been into a shop since the second week of March, the thought of having the confidence to manage a holiday seems too much anyway. Baby steps are needed first - buying a bag of shopping or taking a walk beyond a few local streets and our daily dog circuit of the park will take time, some deep breaths and the need to feel that it is safe to be doing so.
For now, I have to just focus on the aspects that I can control, even though they may be small. I keep aiming to be moving forward but accept that some days I have to say I am not okay, though that is a difficult thing to do in reality. How many times when you are asked how you are do you simply reply "fine?" Fine is never really so. I'm not fine but I'm still trying to be.There may be a lot that we have lost forever but I am hoping that some aspects have just been misplaced, a bit like those birthday candles at the back of my kitchen drawer. If I move enough of the other crap out of the way, hopefully I shall find what I am looking for.