Exit plans. A hot topic right now, as some countries implement them, others fight in the streets about them. Some say that there definitely is a plan, but revealing it would ruin the current containment.

I appreciate the political and scientific challenge.

You can’t be sure how long things will need to stay in place, so you don’t want to generate false expectations. But timings are not the same as a plan. The clear existence of a plan points to a light at the end of this tunnel.

What would be relaxed first? Do schools go back before businesses reopen? Will we ever be allowed to the pub again?

This lack of a fixed plan is inducing a serious dose of anxiety in me. I’m a completionist. It makes me good at work but bad at life. I love a to-do list – the satisfying tick of a task completed. Life in its entirety, of course, doesn’t work this way.

There’s no point at which you can sit back, hands behind head, and say, “Well done, you completed life, have a cupcake.” Unless you count death, which I think it’s best not to. I long for a day when all my living tasks are done, knowing full well this is unachievable nonsense. Life as a series of tests is my curse and salvation. Knowing what to do gives me focus; realising the list never ends opens me up to despair. 

So not knowing how or when this current situation is likely to end plays on my worst fears. I have no target to aim for. Nothing to reach; to allow myself a brief breath of relief at having achieved the possible.

Lockdown is life in intensified microcosm – rolling, boring, sometimes shocking. Too fast and too slow, but never satisfactorily finished. Everything is compressed. Instead of coping with the next forty years or so, I’m dealing with an uncertain three-week cycle.

At least I know my real life will end at some point. With lockdown, there are whispered dates, loose tests open to wide interpretation, but nothing concrete. I can set myself mini goals, but without certainty, they seem meaningless. I hate the intense vagueness of it. If I knew I had three weeks to get through, I could scratch the days on the fridge door, crossing the fives like an incarcerated innocent.

When there’s no obvious end and no picture of what that end is, how can I ever escape? I “trust the science”, I just don’t trust myself.

Of course this state of affairs will end, or at least morph into something else. Perhaps in a month or so (is that too optimistic? I’m running extremely low on home school energy). Then what? Poking my head above the parapet for a moment to gaze into our hazy future is risking a bullet to the brain.

The landscape of the longer term just won’t be navigable in the way it was before. I won’t be able to rely on my old checklist. The small piece of work here (tick), the gym visit there (tick). It scares the hell out of me.

The tiny certainties I use to cling on to life’s cliff face have crumbled. In the moment and beyond, I need to find new anchors. Lockdown is uncertain but perhaps post-lockdown will be worse.

I’m anxious that it won’t end and anxious that it will. 

So what to do? I know the answer. It lies in the old prayer – “Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to recognise the one from the other”.

A great deal has changed, a great deal more is about to. What’s the point of setting tests for yourself when you don’t know what success looks like? Perhaps this is an opportunity to embrace the mindful tricks I try to play on myself.

We have this moment.

The future is more unsure than ever and very little of it is in our control. Except for how we choose to respond to it. Perhaps it’s time to stop the tests. True, you can’t pass a test that doesn’t exist, but you can’t fail it either.

My personal exit plan might be a kind of herd immunity – more exposure to the world, with all its uncertainties. It feels risky, but then so does everything else. 

 

Greg Lovell