It’s been a while since I’ve had the time and energy to write here, but writing alas is in my nature so now I feel ready to catch you all up on what’s been happening since March 2020.
These are some of my experiences.
Like the rest of the world facing unprecedented times, I have been trying to continue living as normally as I can through the waves and trials of COVID-19.
I am fortunate – I want to say this now, very fortunate – I have managed to keep employment, a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs during this crisis, others I know have suffered not only physical difficulties but also incredible mental anguish and uncertainty as the weeks have rolled on. I have watched the news reports, seen online posts and had phone calls from family and friends who have all had questions and worries about furlough and even job losses happening as the quarantine took effect.
I want to acknowledge that all of us are trying to get by whilst this is going on, but especially to key workers – you really are amazing. Thank you – You will never be thanked enough.
Personally, whilst my job and housing are secure for now, it’s still had a large impact across my family and friends, my closest network – I know small business owners who’ve had their income wiped out overnight, people with medical conditions scared, feeling too vulnerable to go out and worries of passing the virus on to other loved ones that they also care for – people who are close to me. It’s been hard to process mentally all the changes going on around us.
Whilst not my initial plan at the start of 2020, I have moved home and picked up another part-time job during this time and whilst that has been incredibly stressful it has meant that I’m fortunate enough to be in a comfortable place of financial and physical safety. I’ve worked from home remotely since March and have now just started to physically return to my workplace one day a week. It’s completely different.
At the start of the quarantine, I had taken the responsibility of my household to do the once-a-week food shop. My partner has a history of asthma, skin sensitivities and suffered a pretty bad spontaneous pneumothorax in 2018, he also has Costochondritis which is an inflammatory issue. We were at the time of quarantine starting also living with my father-in-law who was caring for his elderly mother after his business was halted, she had her own medical issues and worsening dementia just as COVID-19 hit. I was the safest option to go to minimise our risk.
I couldn’t get deliveries or click and collect in the first month so I drove to the supermarket once a week with my mask that my mother-in-law had made me (her way of helping out, she’s made hundreds of masks and tons of scrubs for people). I was also armed with my hand gel at the ready, using the same trolley token, coat, jeans and shoes to ensure when I got home I could separate the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ germs as I was calling it. I had my own little decontamination routine. It was my only method to control what was going on around me.
At the very beginning, back in March, I heard a woman in the store comment “that’s a bit over the top” as I walked by because I was wearing my face mask and had my little hand gel on a lanyard around my neck. I didn’t feel that way at all. I cried in my car the first time I pulled up to the supermarket and saw the new barriers and queues outside. I’ve written before about my anxiety issues and this was a full slap in the face with a lot of my fears. I just thought about my family – one of my brothers who had his little girl, 5 months old to think about, my mom had my other brother who’s autistic and my nan diagnosed with dementia to think about, my dad living on his own with his COPD. How would they cope and stay happy during these times? I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerless knowing that I had to stay away from them to keep them safe. I just wanted to throw hugs around them all – and we’re not particularly a huggy family, that’s how I knew I was worried and that this was all so alien, but whenever we called or talked to each other we just kept reassuring one another that we’re okay.
My partner’s aunty then got COVID-19. She works in the NHS and so she isolated and luckily she’s okay – but the details of how poorly she was going through it made this virus too close to home. It’s not just the flu. I was a bit in shock – I felt angry.
Obviously, as the quarantine continued, more information became available, we got more ‘guidance’ and masks became a bit more common to ultimately mandatory in some settings. I felt relieved that I was no longer “over-the-top”, I didn’t stand out for trying to keep my family safe – but that first supermarket shop with everyone wearing face masks was still a culture shock, I still took a moment at the top of the travelator to steel myself.
I was trying to work from home as I’d not been furloughed, so setting up Microsoft Teams, Zoom calls, phone calls, emails and screen sharing and so on. My focus had become survivalist: working from home, cleaning, cooking and food shopping. I had my routine and I had to stick to it. My postgraduate work had pretty much gone out of the window – who cares about creative writing theory and trying to rhyme words together when all this was happening? I just did the basics.
“Did you see the updates on the news?” became a regular conversation starter and I began starting my day by checking the news websites and social media pages in the morning – checking on those around me and the country as a whole. I had to limit it to once a day because it was becoming obsessive and distracting.
Two to three weeks in my partner and I decided we had to do something fun just for fun’s sake, this same daily routine was killing our mental health, all of our household cooped up trying to work at the same time we started feeling cabin fever. So we did what a lot of people did, indoor picnics, movie nights, little DIY projects – anything to feel like this time we were in could have some happy parts to it, happier moments to look back on. It worked to kind of balance out our gloom.
Time started rolling into one giant month, March, April, May and now suddenly we’re in August. I know we had a June & July but it’s all sort of amalgamated into one in my brain – I keep checking the time and date more frequently because it’s slipping from my mind more quickly as the quarantine extends.
I saw a lot of people doing amazing things online to try and placate the situation, we’re all feeling irritated that our plans have essentially been chucked out of the window.
Writing in particular, I saw a lot of online festivals, competitions and rallies of support coming through, people coming together to help where they could. One of the open mic poetry nights that I went to moved online – I lurk around it glad that it’s helping some but every time I tried to write something I lost interest. My words only came out angry and sad – I wanted to contribute something creative but also something positive during this time I didn’t want other people to read my work and feel as down as I did – I wanted to make people feel better and that’s when I realised that I couldn’t do that until I’d gotten out my own emotions, faced them – so I wrote anyway. I wasn’t writing here, I wasn’t writing for my postgraduate work or for the open mic, nobody would read these. I wrote for myself. It was like a journal of fear that spilt out from my fingertips – I voiced my anxiety through writing. It’s probably been the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health.
I’m not going to lie, some things have had to take a back seat, I’m not doing as many things as I was before and in some ways, I’ve taken on a lot more responsibility. I have another part-time job, I’ve not touched my novel in months, my postgrad project has suffered and my creativity has only just started to be flexed again, but I’m not sorry. Times like these remind you of your priorities in life and the health and safety of myself, my family and friends will always come out on top – now I’m finding time, through writing, to allow myself time for creativity and allow positive thoughts and goals once again.
Opportunities may change, come and go this year and maybe this landscape will be different for many years to come but I know I’m doing what I can for now and that is enough for now.