Friday, 24 September 2021

What has lockdown ever done for me? Surprisingly, some good.

Waking up and smelling the tea.

I resist the idea that any good at all has come from such a destructive thing as a lockdown. It is well known that I do not agree with it and that I believe it has caused incalulable damage and trouble for everyone.  Whatever I feel about lockdowns as a policy, they were used, will be used and are here to stay. And so, it's best I find a way to get on with life.  This is something I have done, and somehow I am still alive, so are you, and the world has not ended. It may have tilted on its axis, but it did not end.  I look out of my window and the honeysuckle in my garden did not give lockdowns a second thought.  The sea at the end of my road went in, and out, and ignored all the madness of mankind.  Walking on the Downs as I do showed me the beauty of nature was immune to all of this stuff, and gave me and all the other walkers there some hope, some joy, some perspective.

I am lucky.  I live alone, I have a garden, I don't have to look after anyone and I can work from home.  There are shops nearby to buy food and I have internet access to go online and I have a phone to call people.  No one depends on me.  I do not have to keep a shop open, find a way to make a business work, lose sleep over losing money with a lack of customers.  Antonia Rolls is one lucky bunny rabbit.  

All that aside, lockdown gave me panic, loneliness, fear, isolation, helplessness.  Same as most of us.  Lockdown shut down my great year, the one I had worked so hard to create, and my busy world came to a screeching halt.  And, on top of that, nothing worked any more, all the support structures that I had unthinkingly depended on crashed.  No one could mend my oven.  No doctor appointments. No hugs from my grandchildren. No nothing from anyone.  I was an island in my own lovely home, cast adrift forever under house arrest in a pretty prison in Bognor Regis. But I could still get takeaways delivered, that worked.  And Amazon parcels were safe.  And I could wave at people from my window, that was nice. Here in Bognor no one monitored how many times I went to Sainsbury's in a day so I was never arrested for forgetting the milk and having to pop back for it. 

Waving to the Amazon delivery man who is like me still alive.

But.  Here I am a year and a half later, in my Bognor home, alive and well and somehow changed for the better. I have benefitted from lockdown as well as suffered.  And actually, all things taken into account, I have barely suffered. Not like those who have no money, no choices, no space, no help, no hope have suffered.  I was angry and sad like most of us were, but my suffering was not helpless and distressing as those who were ill and isolated were, those with children and no options or resources in confined spaces were, those who were too terrified to go to their front doors were, those locked behind protocols over which they were powerless were.  No, I had a great deal going for me in that I had space and agency and autonomy.  I cannot say I suffered compared to those who actually did.

What changed?  I was removed from the bustle and chaos of being permanently busy.  I was forced to stop.  I did not like nor appreciate it, there was a terrible realisation that all I had worked for was being dismantled without a backwards glance.  I had a new exhibition on addiction as part of the Brighton Fringe all set up and ready to go in a venue of my choice.  I had the A Graceful Death exhibition showing at a Dead Good Day Festival in Southampton, and a one woman show at that same festival.  I had a marathon walk for Macmillan, fundraising for cancer help, and in my mind the gateway to international stardom was to be opened.  It was all coming together.  And I was fitting my book into this sparkling schedule.  Of course I was distressed to find that it was all cancelled and all that beckoned was another morning in my sitting room in Bognor Regis.

Thrown back onto myself, like many of us, to actually do nothing was impossible at first.  I planned all the jobs I had put off and did them.  I was still feeling busy and purposeful.  Everything wooden in my garden got painted blue.   Furniture I had wanted to upcycle got upcycled. I discovered gardening, I experienced zoom, I tidied my studio and hoovered the floor. I planned my meals, and eating became my highlight of the day and still the lockdown continued.  My father still languished in his care home with his dementia and Alzheimers, now hidden from all of us and left to sink into depression and nothingness on his own.  He could not know why none of us visited any more, and once when I tried to zoom call him as he lay in his bed, with the help of one of the carers who were so wonderful, he tried to find the phone where my voice was, and flailed his arms around making small frightened sounds.  I did not do that again, it made me cry and it showed in my voice.  In the end, he simply stopped living and I made a video about his dying and death. My brothers and I made it to his bedside in time but it should never have been this way, and you can see the video here  Dying Not Quite Alone In Lockdown 2020

During this enforced time of absolute leisure, I began to question myself, what I believed in, and how I was living.  It was a painful process.  For one thing, I saw just how much I had taken for granted.  It never really occurred to me just how hard doctors, shop workers, all those businesses out there who's main job was to make my life easy, work.  Now that they were all gone, I saw just how much I relied on them.  Another home truth I did not want to acknowledge was that if I was all over the place, which I was most of the time, did it mean I could be a little superficial? I did not like that.  It became clear that the more I was doing the less I got done. Now, when the country and world had closed and I was alone against my will in my house, unless I planned my days one after the other so that I could keep busy, there was free time.  Free time was scary. I began to sit down more often and think.  And then I found I would day dream.  And then I found I enjoyed it and soon, I would spend whole afternoons on my sofa doing nothing.  Perhaps I would read, perhaps I would stare out of the window, perhaps I would make lists.  But I discovered that time passing was not my enemy and that there was a much quieter, less anxious person inside me.  I began to enjoy and accept the passing of time and I began to notice the play of light across the days in the rooms of my house.

Another thing happened.  I began to question the news.  I had wholeheartedly accepted everything I heard and read until the first lockdown, and now I began to ask questions.  Things did not match up and now that I had time, I could see that what I was seeing, living and experiencing was not what I was being told I was seeing, living and experiencing. This too was uncomfortable.  I was being challenged to think for myself.  Many things that I held dear because they were so easy to believe turned out to be more complex.  Much more complex.  All my easy certainties needed some careful unpicking and now that I had time to do it, now that I was not distracting myself by being so busy that I could not think, I found I had to rethink many of my beliefs.  I stopped listening to and watching the news. 

My spiritual life changed. With this new time on my hands I began to ask myself what do I actually believe in? This went hand in hand with looking at what I thought I knew and questioning how authentic I thought I was, and asking myself what I was afraid of.  Why do I keep busy?  Why does it matter if I succeed?  What do I mean by succeed? What and who are my priorities?  And how much time do I give to looking after myself? Does any of it matter?  Not in the sense of hopelessness, but in the scheme of things how important are any of these fears? 

A wise person once said that nothing is all just one thing, it is made up of balances. So lockdown has forced me to wake up in a way that nothing else has and not for the reasons I would have imagined.  I still got Covid, and obviously, recovered. But being in lockdown took me off the hamster wheel and made me take a look at my life.  It has forced stillness on me and made me see that constant movement is not necessary.  Quietness, contemplation, simple things are just as necessary as movement.  It has put my feet on the ground and given me space.  It has also made me more aware of the world around me and given me focus.  I did not know I lacked focus until recently. 

I have, in effect, woken up and smelt the coffee. (Except it is also well known that I drink tea, but waking up and smelling the tea does not have the same punch.)

Post script - it is also well known that I am in no way an evolved human being, yet, and that though I am grateful against my will for having been shaken up by something I do not agree with, nevertheless it has started something good.  All I have written about here is true, but knowing things are true and living them are very different things.  All I wish to say is do not be fooled into thinking I have the answer to the universe now.  I do not, not yet, and when I do, I will of course let you all know.

Not yet perfect.  Unfortunately.


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