I haven’t written much lately. Lots of things are half-written, half-read and half-thought.
The end of 2020 and start of 2021 blurred into one confusing block of time, which has now passed. I had reached the point where anxiety affected me physically. Stomach pain, leg cramps, awake each day at 3am in panic, frantically googling symptoms. Living in a fog of tiredness, yet on high alert. I was convinced it could be any number of illnesses. Whatever the latest diagnosis was, I’d go straight to the worst case scenario. “In rare cases”, “1 in 1,000”- that will be me. Eventually the only thing linking my symptoms was anxiety and stress.
Yet I thought I was coping quite well. In a year which included redundancy and spending 9 months mostly alone in a small flat, I was back at work and studying on the side. I was still in a relationship despite it being very difficult to spend time together, given restrictions. I saw a friend for a walk occasionally. Wasn’t it all going as well as could be expected?
I knew I was better off than many. But that’s just one of the many challenges life throws at us. We can’t benchmark our worries, walk in someone else’s life until we get better at our own. Each lockdown brought fresh stress, impacting on the previous layers. I think most of us agree the winter lockdown is worst. Winter is bleak anyway; short days, dark nights, bitter cold. The last minute Government u-turn / UK variant / Brexit chaos suffocated festive cheer. It was unrelenting and exhausting, though there were a few bright spots in January. An unexpected snow day and waking up to the bright stillness of a white blanket outside was lovely. Making the first snowy footprints on the pavement.
One day I arrived for a blood test at my doctors surgery, masked up and jittery from 20 minutes unable to sit still in the waiting room. The nurse looked into my eyes. ‘Why are you so upset? You’re in good hands here. You are safe.’ She recently had the vaccine and was in high spirits. She told me everyone was dealing with their own worries at the moment, it just wasn’t always evident so I shouldn’t feel alone. I could have hugged her, but obviously I didn’t. Saved once again by the kindness of strangers.
Keeping life simple helps. I avoided the news, tried to stay in the moment and not think too far ahead.
But I do think about the past. Lots of memories flood back from a time several years ago when I got divorced. It all happened around Christmas time. I felt I lost my identity and my future plans disintegrated just as I wanted to hold on to them tightly. I was shellshocked. It reminds me a lot of the pandemic mood. I used to listen to REM singing about the end of the world a lot. I didn’t feel fine. Not for a long time.
I’ve been listening to a podcast called Divorce Club. The presenter Samantha Baines also got divorced in her early 30s and she talks to people who have been through the experience. It reminded me of how intense the emotions are and how getting through feels like a badge of honour. There is a new lease of life afterwards, almost like a rebirth. You rebuild and rethink everything.
Learning to be independent and live alone has been a rollercoaster. I see so many benefits to having the freedom to choose how I spend time and control over decisions. But I’ve also thought a lot about the value of sharing with others, how it illuminates and enriches life.
I used to think it was brave to live fearlessly by oneself and I still do. But I also think it’s brave to decide you want to share your life and look for those opportunities. The last year threw all of this into sharp focus.
It got me imagining a kind of communal living where you have your own space and privacy, but also the ability to cook, eat and work together with kindred spirits. I suppose the closest I got to this was a house share at university. We had our own bedrooms, a small kitchen and living room with one bathroom between 6. I remember it being a great time although no doubt being aged 19 and drinking vast amounts of booze contributed to that! Could a more mature setup work? I don’t know exactly how it looks but I’m open to it in future.
In terms of making new connections, I took part in an interesting event called Project Intimacy. It’s a ‘pervasive experience to combat isolation’. You complete a questionnaire and are matched with someone to talk to via text message for two weeks. Each day you receive prompts for questions to ask and ways to get to know them. Characteristics like gender / age / location are unknown so you have to get away from preconceptions. After the initial strangeness, chatting to a stranger was enjoyable and we seemed to learn a lot. It was a reminder that change is possible and there are ways to break out of the lockdown monotony.
The last week has been very hopeful, from the daffodils in bloom to the virus rollout continuing. It feels like we’re turning some kind of corner.