17 May 2020

Sense and flexibility

The holy lockdown symbol, praise be to the banana bread

Every morning my neighbours, in their 70s, run up and down their (very big) garden. Every single morning. In their running gear. Early. They've taken to self-isolation like ducks to water, which is impressive considering they were truly living their best retired life by going on 2,837 cruises a year and were rarely to be seen at home.

Watching them from my bedroom window (creepy) has become a staple of lockdown life. I love watching them run, do the gardening, walk up one side of their garden together with their hands behind their backs to inspect their carefully kept plants, take tea and a plate of biscuits to the bottom of the garden in the afternoon, and hearing the bell that she rings for him to come inside for dinner. It's all oddly idyllic, considering.

I think I find the neighbours comforting because they're a constant. And finding any sort of constant right now is like gold dust. I'm clinging on to it. Other constants I'm clinging on to: Battenberg (obsessed - I had three boxes of the little ones, one massive one, and one I attempted to make on the go at one point...), cheesestrings, Richard Osman's House of Games, the gin that dad gives me every Friday at 4:30, Strava art, Words With Friends. My most intense coping mechanism is appointing myself 'The Organising Great Birthday Gifts for Colleagues Fairy (TOGBGFCF)'. It's keeping me very busy and it's a wonder I haven't created a spreadsheet.

It's a decent attempt at a Battenberg, to be fair

I'm finding lockdown ok now. And I'm really sorry about that because for most it's hell. I have to recognise my privilege (living at home with my Very Good parents, in a house, with a garden, still working with 100% pay doing a job I adore... I hate myself too, don't worry) and I know if I was still living in my tiny flat in London, I'd have Not Coped At All. Despite everything, I'm extremely lucky and grateful, and really feel for those in much, much tougher situations. 

When lockdown began, I'd been living back at home for about a fortnight. I was gagging for a new routine, to make all the plans, and to continue the great processing work I'd been doing with my therapist about the shitstorm that landed on my lap at the beginning of the year (absolutely not ready to write about that yet - hey look, boundaries). So when we were hit with a global pandemic, I panicked. I was so mad, it wasn't fair. This was meant to be my time! I desperately tried to come up with a new plan, any silver linings, and ways I could still be productive... but ended up just irritable. It felt like my brain had been hit by a lorry and was surrounded in airbags. It wasn't until my manager told me that the most productive thing I could do right now is do nothing that I stopped. I stopped trying to worm a routine into this weird new life, I stopped trying to plan and mourn that I couldn't, and stopped tying to make sense of anything. Then my nan died suddenly, which made the least sense in the world, and I did just... stop.

Trying to make sense of life at the moment is practically impossible, and if you have other traumas on top of this global pandemic (hi) then you'd better prepare for some delayed processing. You got 99 problems but this bitch can be the only one. Pop the others on a shelf for later and hope they don't pass their best before date.

Humans like reasons. We're obsessed with trying to make sense of things, to make them fit, to make them understandable so we can deal with and process them. But this? It's new, none of us have been through it before. Even those at the top have no fucking idea what they're doing. Nobody has the answers. There are no rules ('stay alert' is not a rule, it's vague, instils fear and not boundaries), so we're all a bit lost and just making it up.

Which is why, I think, there's baffling anxiety around doing things wrong, feeling useless and helpless, and not 'using the time wisely'. In a culture of 'always on', always trying to be more and be better, we're stumped. We're stuck between instinct and survival, and complex humanity. We're looking for ways to cope and fit in with this new society, it's what we do. We're blindly following each other's lead. We're obsessively Googling sourdough starter recipes, we're baking banana bread, we're all runners now. We're upcycling, doing so many quizzes, and spending ridiculous money on jigsaws/Bloom & Wild flowers/Doughnut Time kits/delete as appropriate. We're feeling bad that we haven't started writing that novel, learnt a new language, or been as creative as we feel we should have been. Well, I am, anyway.

But it's a global pandemic. Our brains are exhausted. We're just trying to stay alive.

My 457th order from Bloom & Wild...

I've felt bad that I haven't checked in on every single friend every single day. I've felt bad that I haven't been having regular Zoom catch-ups (I'm just mightily sick of seeing my own face at this point). But like everything else, social routine has gone out the window. Instead of having set times of socialising, dictated by work and family and sleep, we can socialise all the time. And all excuses have gone out the window. You're at home, you're not busy. But socialising constantly is not normal, and socialising purely over technology Is Not Normal. It's exhausting, it's a totally different kind of communication with different cues and contexts and interpretations. You do have an excuse and it's: I'm tired, technology-fatigued, and have nothing to bloody update you on anyway. I keep sending gifts to pals instead. 'Hey, talking is tough but here's something to keep you busy, I love you, I'm thinking of you, and you're doing really well.' It's ridiculous to judge each other and our friendships at this point. We're all just doing our best.

I'm used to spending time by myself now. I don't have the routine (I thought) I craved, but I've found the things I really do like doing. I've named all my plants and I love checking in on them (I can replant Joan the Tomato Plant soon!!) I can't stop repainting my nails and doing facepacks (is this what they call self-care??). My uncle, who has learning difficulties, is struggling with lockdown and my nan's death, so I had a great time making him some wordsearches full of his favourite things. I bake every weekend (cake, not bread, I don't want to bake bread and that is ok!) I'm running a lot. Like, a lot. Decently too and my blistered feet can tell. I watch a bit of telly, I read a bit. I'm buckled right back in on the Words With Friends bandwagon. I'm working flexibly and not struck with fear anymore that I don't have a solid work routine or that I'm not being as productive or creative as I could be. I'm still doing a good job (and I'm so proud of all the incredible work we're doing at Anthony Nolan right now). We're not all just working from home, we're trying to fit some work in while trying to stay sane and alive.

I'm balancing dong nice things with doing nothing with a little productivity. If I do one productive thing a day, whether that's clearing out a drawer, having my turn to cook dinner, or even just showering, that will do. But if I spend all day in bed, that will do too. I've even treated myself, multiple times! As someone who is notoriously bad at spending time and money on herself, this is true revelation of lockdown. I bought myself a shiny new laptop (my version of the NHS rainbows is the constant rainbow pinwheel of doom, it was time), I bought myself some peonies, and I did a full face of make-up the other day and curled my hair. I looked great and really, truly loved myself more than I have done in a very long time, which I suspect is not just an effect of lockdown, but that's for another time...

See! I look good! This never happens!

In all honesty, I'm super anxious about life after lockdown and after lots of hushed conversations, I know I'm not the only one. I'm used to this now. The thought of commuting and being surrounded by people every day, having plans, having goals, and going back into the rat race of life is actually quite terrifying. We were burning out! Who knew!! 

But that's a future that's out of reach. We'll get there and it'll be different and we'll appreciate what we loved and missed, and remove as much as we can of what we realised we didn't. Hopefully? We're fickle. For now, I'm happy taking a leaf from next door and living my best adapted retired life.

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