Lockdown has been an inversion of my regular routine. From working at home, alone, I’ve now got a full house. I’m used to staying in all day, barely seeing a soul, exercising for a set period of time, only shopping when necessary. I’ve been in training for this for years.
I’m not used to being surrounded by two primary school children (mine, to be clear) and a wife who’s constantly on conference calls. My space has been invaded; my daytime world has quadrupled in size.
And underneath all of this, two thought patterns that rattle the rusty chains of my depression, threatening an escape for the beast I work unceasingly to contain. First, last week, the sudden and total loss of paid work.
And beyond that, a lengthy, retrospective delay in receiving payment for work I did in February. I’m not confident I’ll
ever get that money. My wife works, so we can cope financially. We’re exceptionally lucky in that respect. But I’ve been slapped in the face with the studded gauntlet of corporate reality.
When cough comes to fever, I’m a disposable freelancer. I knew it, I forgot it, and now I’ve been reminded of it in the starkest possible terms. When this is all over, I don’t think I can work like that again. Like a wronged spouse, my trust has gone and may never come back.
Second, a deeper and darker conviction. In the depths of misery, before all of this, I used to wish down an undefined plague on the planet. I thought, somehow, that out of the shock of a global cataclysm, I would be reborn. At times, it felt like the only way to press reset on a life that had veered so hard off the rails. If everything falls apart, I can start again.
And now we have this virus and I realise the selfishness. How it was never going to work. Of course it wasn’t. But nestled in the recesses of my mind, the thought still echoes. Disaster capitalism for the despairing. And when this notion pops up – if only things could get a little bit worse, I might be a little bit better – a looming wave of guilt smashes it and leaves only the flotsam of the certain knowledge that I’m a terrible person.
Useless and bad. The dream combination to an illness always on the lookout for a comeback. For now, the best defence is my family, my new role as (hopelessly out of my depth) teacher, and a meditation and exercise regime that I can’t afford to let slip, however much I’d rather be drinking wine in bed.
There aren’t any easy answers when life throws these kinds of experiences at you. But the same rules for staying well apply. Hang on to some structure. We have a weekly timetable posted to the fridge. Yoga at 9.15 every morning. This isn’t an attempt to flag up some Instagrammable lockdown life – I need it, even when I hate it.
When the big picture rushes towards me and the future is an angry blur of unemployed failure, I can check the clock and
realise there’s only 26 minutes until the kids get an hour of TV. Get through that, breathing, and allow myself a reward, even if it’s just, “Well done, you made it”.
And inside my head, I try to allow myself to feel things – even if they’re unpleasant, they will pass. Remember, you’re not your thoughts, you’re just an observer of them. And hold tight to love, wherever you can find it – friends, family or community.
Love may not be all you need (apparently everyone needs 38 rolls of toilet paper right now), but in extraordinary times, it’s a pretty good start.