Here we are again… A country-wide lock down enforced across England until the 2nd December. Although, lets be honest, that feels like a slightly plucked-out-of-the-air date at the moment. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it right now; a little overwhelmed if I’m honest: I’m hoping the following paragraphs will give me a chance to pull my thoughts in order…
In truth, I don’t think I’m doing that well at the moment. Dips in both my mental and physical health have me feeling like I’m bouncing off the walls a bit. As such, I’m not even sure I know how much it’s one and how much it’s the other. Since the start of the school term in September, both my wife and son have been in school; while I’m still working from home with no obvious sign of when that’s likely to change. I knew it was likely to be the rest of the year back as early as June/July, but obviously that was before we went back into full lockdown.
I’m very lucky in that I can do the vast majority of my job from anywhere as long as I have a laptop and a good internet connection. What that means is that I’ve been able to keep working, pretty much as usual, throughout lockdown. No lost earnings, no furlough, no twiddling of thumbs. As such, to even think about complaining about how I’ve found this year seems incredibly self-centred and inconsiderate – and for that I can only apologise. I’m very, very aware that there are many, many people who would love to be in my position. If anything, that only makes me feel more guilty about the days when I struggle with it…
Weirdly, the hardest part of lockdown for me were those first few weeks when I was asked to work from home, well before schools had been shut or there was any talk of an enforced lockdown. Being suddenly at home all day on my own – trying to make an office of a bedroom/garden/dining room table – felt incredibly lonely. I was suddenly surrounded by distractions and the panic of a global pandemic seemed too oddly removed from the day-to-day deliverables of a job that is interspersed with deadlines (rather than dictated by them). Once lockdown kicked in properly we were left with lots of problems to solve, most notably the lack of childcare. But it felt like we were all solving them together. Now, however, I’m back to being on my own for whole days at a time. If I’m not careful, I can go entire days without leaving the house. And if I do, it seems like I have to cut into my working hours; struggling to make these up around the time I have to spend (and want to) looking after Piglet.
Add to this, my best friend and former boss left the company that I work for just before lockdown fully kicked in. I hadn’t realised how much I valued bouncing work ideas off him and have struggled with the heightened level of independence that was expected of me after he left. He left as part of a restructuring of our department and so (once again) I am lucky and pleased to have been able to retain my job. On top of that, we have been through yet another restructure since with much more significant cuts. Yet again, I’ve survived (just) and so I’m delighted to still have a job and to be considered key to the company in my role. But it does mean that I’ve had 3 direct bosses during 2020 and most of my team that I’ve worked for and with over the last 6+years will be leaving by the end of the year.
These changes have undoubtably been stressful but I don’t feel obviously ‘stressed’. I’m sure that many ‘stressed’ people have said exactly the same thing and I probably have to admit that I’m not reading myself as well as I could do at the moment. But I’m not stressed like I was when I left my last company: working long hours on top of commuting in and out of London, failing to strike a work-like balance, fighting the political forces of a rapidly changing (and mis-treading) company, being thrown into solidarity with an infamously challenging and difficult manager etc… Those were dark days towards the end of that job and I could feel the pressure then. In fact, my body pretty much gave up when I finally released the pressure valve by leaving the company. I was hospitalised, twice, shortly after leaving due to, what I now believe to be, an allergy to paracetamol – something I have always suspected to be linked to the stress but is obviously impossible to prove… No, the current pressure doesn’t feel anything like this. I have understanding colleagues at work (for now), the support of a family (with the indisputable context provider of a 4-year-old son who helps to focus priorities pretty matter-of-factly), as much professional assurance as I could ask for given the changes at work etc…
Food has never been a major stress for me despite crossing paths with multiple examples of unhealthy relationships with it across my life, particularly in my childhood. I was very pleased to have conscientiously lost a fair bit of weight last year and felt good about self-image and fitness coming into 2020. I kept a lot of the good practices across the year but a combination of reduced exertion and sheer ease of home-snacking has meant that I’ve (understandably, I tell myself) lost some of the gains – or should I say gained some of the losses… That doesn’t bother me too much but I found trying to re-exert some control very frustrating. My self-discipline would disappear at key moments and I found myself starting to yo-yo between a fairly targeted diet and lapsing into moments of excess; something I’ve always been very keen to avoid across my weight-loss plan. In the end, I’ve actually given up tracking what I eat for the moment; fearing that the guilt and increased scrutiny was doing more damage than good. I am absolutely confident that I could return to a plan of sorts once lockdown is over but for now I think I will just try and return to a wide-reaching mantra of being ‘sensible’.
In a completely separate compartment of my life: it feel like our fertility challenges are probably coming down to IVF. We don’t know that for certain yet but the double bouts of surgery that my wife had last year/at the beginning of this year for endometriosis have failed to yield any fertility improvements. There are still a couple of tests to do to try and identify what difference this has made – but I think we’re both quite confident that we know that it’s eventually going to lead to IVF if we want to have another child. It’s weird to write this down as it sounds much more dramatic than it really feels. In particular, because we know (or think we know) that the fertility issues come about as a bi-product of my wife’s endometriosis/PCOS, and because we’ve been lucky enough to have conceived one child naturally – I don’t think of us as infertile. But I guess the truth is that we have pretty much run out of options to conceive again without assistance. Once again (and I’m sure you’re spotting a trend here, I certainly am…), I don’t feel particularly anxious or stressed about this. We have a wonderful, phenomenal little son and we should (in theory, assuming that it’s only the issue we know about that has been a barrier) be able to see success from IVF. So I feel lucky rather than short-changed by the world. But I’d be crazy to not see any emotional impact from this news.
I mentioned physical as well as mental health at the beginning. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure which is which at the moment: In the middle of last week I just ran out of energy and basically went to bed for a couple of days. In truth, it’s the only way I ever seem to get poorly: aches and pains, a mild fever and a complete inability to do anything. I think it gets me about twice a year – and considering I don’t really get ill other than that – it doesn’t really mean I’m out of action that much (the last GP I spoke to about it pretty much said as much). But the nature of it is what makes it so odd. I used to think that my body was so self-preserving that as soon as I got a virus/bug/illness my body would shut down and force me to get better before the actual symptoms of the illness took me out of action. I’ve started to realise that it might be better characterised like an acute bout of depression.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not something that just occurs in my head. I am literally exhausted and even the most simple tasks can make me need to sleep for many hours. My body also seems to seize up so just moving around the house is a challenge. I also tend to get a fever, although this time (noting that high temperatures might be more serious, or at least have a more significant impact on others around me) I didn’t experience much of this – certainly no sky-high temperatures. But those symptoms (of, lets be honest, pathetic-ness) are all I ever have to show. I’m only just now, 5 days later, really able to do anything above and beyond just getting from day to day. Interestingly, the last time I had one of these episodes was around the start of lockdown.
I think I have lived with some level of depression for much of my life. That is not to say that I am necessarily a depressed person. I suspect a lot of people who know me would be surprised to hear me say this. I love to act and, when I get the chance, to hold court and entertain. I’m also not somebody who is regularly low or troubled. But it finds me at points in life; as I have always assumed it gets everyone to some extent.
But there is something about lockdown that I find particularly difficult. The simple truth is that lockdown, on the face of it, doesn’t make a huge difference to my life. As a family, we spend a lot of evenings and weekends together and the constraints of a family (particularly one that doesn’t have grandparents on their doorstep) means that social interactions are niche and often child-focused.
The simple fact of the matter is that I feel lonely and isolated during lockdown; but I actually struggle to think of what it is I would desperately want to do if it wasn’t for lockdown. We have probably kept our friends at too long an arm’s reach since (and probably before) Piglet came along, and I now regret not having more of a network around us. A lot of our social exposure comes in the form a larger group events (play rehearsals/readings, entire groups of friends getting together for an event/reunion, work socials etc..) and as such when it comes down to building those connections of a one-to-one basis. I feel I’ve kind of forgotten how to do it. For example (and I’m sure he’ll kind of feel the same when he reads this), I’ve barely seen by best friend since we stopped working together. He has a family of 5 and his new job is highly time-demanding and so the technical limitations of lockdown, along with our time pressures of life in general, mean that we’ve struggled to find time. Ironically, the last time I saw him we went to the cinema and so although I spent 3+ hours with him – we barely spoke for 2 of them!
Life changes as you get older and I have consciously made sacrifices and taken on responsibilities to make my life the way it is. I’m so proud of my son and so happy to see him growing into a self-confident person, undoubtably supported by doting parents and wider family. But that does mean that you find yourself unloading dishwashers at 11pm at night or hanging out item after item of school uniform at 7am in the morning rather than the more frivolous pursuits of my youth. I don’t think I’d change it for the world but I do believe that you care best for the people that you love by caring for yourself first and foremost. I’m not sure that Piglet really sees me living that mantra in practice.
It’s the little things I miss… Sure, I miss the big things: having groups of friends around or going off to some evening’s entertainment with a friend. But I know they will come back. I’m going to see the band Travis (hopefully) with friends next year and there will be house parties and dinner parties and completely casual catch-ups in the future. For now, what I miss are the impromptu conversations with cashiers or unplanned quips in coffee shops; the sparks of originality when you’re constantly meeting new people, some for just a few seconds never to be seen again, others who become unsuspecting recurring characters in the dramas of our lives. I miss going for lunch at a university cafeteria and dreaming up ludicrous hypotheses around how defensive one member of staff is about the spicy potato wedges, or collectively forgetting someone’s name and trying to subtly eak it out of them. Face-masks, social distancing and video conferencing all limit the potential for these anecdotes. But it is a necessary temporary limit that we need to accept for now. At times like this, I just need to remind myself that these interactions will come back around and focus on keeping the friends I do have close to me to ensure they’re still around to share them with when the world opens back up again.
It’s hard to sum up the key points I’m trying to make here. In truth, much of this blog was a chance for me to pull my thoughts together and step back enough to see my current situation in context. It seems clear, in doing that, that these are challenging times and that I am feeling challenged. For me, some of the difficulty is specific to the things going on in my life at the moment; while other things are challenges widely faced by many of us. Chances are, each of you will have your own separate challenges interweaved with the reality of a second lockdown. What this has made me realise is that I do need to reach out and just make contact with some of the people I would usually expect to see in the course of normal life. People who I would happily talk to but may need to more consciously orchestrate interactions with in the current situation. Some, I’m sure, will be relishing the changes and opportunities that have emerged; while others may be all the more grateful for the contact. Whether you’re one of those flourishing or in need of a little TLC, make sure to touch in with someone – you may never have to know whether it’s for your benefit or theirs. Or if nothing else, I hope it has been helpful to hear how somebody else is dealing (or perhaps not) with it all.