LOCKDOWN 2: WHEN THE NOVELTY WORE OFF
Lockdown 2 has been hard. There’s no denying it. It’s affected everyone in some shape or form. We’ve all had to adapt; we’ve all had to cope; we’ve all had to deal with the frustration of being locked in our homes for an unforeseeable amount of time.
I live on my own and am very independent. I’m used to solitude, in many ways I thrive on it, but even I was struggling during January and February in England when it was cold and wet and dark by 3.30 pm.
The first lockdown in March 2020 was a bit of a novelty. I remember my phone pinging endlessly within that first month. Friends and family sending messages, memes and jokes. Part was shock that something seemingly insignificant as a virus ‑ so small we couldn’t even see it with our naked eyes ‑ was now taking over and controlling us. Some of it was worry too about jobs, livelihoods, businesses and the economy. Then there was the boredom: “I’ve cleaned the house twice over and now don’t know what to do,” my cousin wrote on my family’s WhatsApp group on several separate occasions.
For many out there though there was the silent anguish that no one spoke of: the arguments with family, the screaming kids, the frustrated parents, the domestic violence, the loneliness. There was the vulnerable too, told to stay indoors as they were in the high-risk categories and could die from contracting the virus, all the while the nation watching the death toll rising as health professionals and scientists battled to find a cure.
My cat got so bored with my ramblings, he threatened to move out
The January 2021 lockdown ‑ although not as stringent as the first lockdown ‑ was in many ways much harder for me. Ordinarily, as a travel writer, I like to take an extended trip somewhere in December and January. This year I was toying with Sri Lanka, parts of the Philippines, and the Indonesian archipelagos east of Bali. Instead of travelling through lush, everchanging landscapes, bantering with locals, sampling culinary delights and travelling around (as I always do) using the local transport, I found myself lying in bed, depressed, with little motivation to do anything. My four white bedroom walls were my landscape for the next three and a half months. My cat got so bored with my ramblings, he threatened to move out. I’ve always loved to be spontaneous but life became a routine: porridge with fruit for breakfast; a pathetic looking sandwich for lunch; what leftovers I could find in the fridge for dinner. My car slowly rotted on the road outside whilst I had to force myself out of bed and take a walk – to the end of the road and back. Rather than feeling a hot sun beating down on the back of my neck, the winter cold ate my face and tried to gauge out my eyes.
Creatively, I was stuck too. I felt like I was in some muddy trench and I couldn’t move my feet. I often sit on my sofa in my living room and write, but the room seemed to take on the same depressed state I was experiencing. It felt soulless and empty. Even the colours seemed dull and uninviting.
I was supposed to be writing a proposal for a new travel memoir. I had spoken to my agent in mid-February about it. I was tired. He was tired. I was frustrated with the slow progress of my first memoir. I lied when he asked how I was. I said I was good and did my best to sound like I was, but I really wanted to cry and say I was fucked off with the world. I was lonely, angry. Angry at him; angry at life. I became more agitated towards the end of the call. I could sense the anger in my voice when he couldn’t give me answers I was desperate to hear.
I just had to pick myself up
The anger and frustration I felt didn’t abate for some months. In March, I threw crumpled bits of paper at the television screen when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle discussed their personal woes with Oprah Winfrey from the opulent settings of a Californian mansion. In April, I preoccupied myself with a business venture whilst the rains fell as heavy as any Indian monsoon. In May, despite coming runner up in an international memoir competition and having other writer friends sing my praises, I procrastinated and wept. It was then I knew I just had to pick myself up, if not I would sink faster into this muddy gunk until only my head was sticking out gasping for air.
And pick myself up I did. I had to ease into it like you do when you put on a tight-fitting pair of boots. I was still delicate. If I attempted to do it too fast, it would hurt like hell and I’d end up as a weeping mess on the floor once more.
I’m trying now to catch up on my reading and research, and not feel guilty for all those months doing little other than feeling angry and empty. I still can’t face writing the proposal, partially because I feel overwhelmed, and partially because I’m still not sure what direction I should be taking it in. But I am writing, and that’s good. I’m bashing out this blog to put up on the new website I recently created. I’ve been entering some short story competitions; I’ve rejigged my biography; I’m pitching to magazines. The novelty of lockdowns may be over, but the novelty of finding those first few words of an opening piece will never wear off.