As usual, I’m a little late to the party. We passed a year since the first UK lockdown was called on 23 March and I didn’t do anything to mark the occasion. I’ve already written about a year of working from home, what I’d got out of 2020 and even the lessons I learned in the first lockdown period. Over the last year my blog, like my work and life generally, has been dominated by coronavirus and I wasn’t sure how much more I had to say or how much more people wanted to see on the subject. However, I’ve had a bit more time to reflect recently and before I knew it another post had started to take shape. I can’t promise how different this will be to anything else you may have seen, but once again it’s a cathartic process to get some words on a page rather than buzzing around my head. Having spent approximately half of the last twelve months living in lockdown conditions, with certain areas of the country restricted for much longer, it has been a very unusual time.
There have been a lot of contradictions over the last year, and I’m not just talking about the government’s communication. It has felt as though we’re constantly weighing up opposing sides, and at a time where in reality there should have been fewer decisions to make, everything has become a decision. If something is following the rules, does it still mean that it’s right? Unsurprisingly, having fewer people to talk to and less happening in my life, I’ve spent a lot of the last year inside my own head. This can be really helpful, particularly as I’m naturally reflective, but it can also be incredibly unhelpful, especially where there are few other places to escape to. For some of us, introverts especially, it’s likely that the last year has exacerbated some of our personality traits in a way that we might not even realise until things return to normal (whatever that is). So, what are some of the conclusions I’ve drawn?
Distance doesn’t matter, until distance really matters
The beauty of modern technology means that we can stay connected pretty much wherever we are. As my best friend lives on another continent in a different time zone, I’ve become pretty used to relying on video calls and instant messages to stay connected to someone. It’s certainly not the same as being to see someone in-person multiple times a week, month or even year, but friendships can still survive and thrive in these circumstances. There were multiple times over the last year where someone on a call would wonder aloud why we hadn’t done this sooner. School friends or old housemates who are now scattered across the globe could all come together in one place which would have been so much more difficult in real life than it is virtually. I’ve had zoom dinner dates with parents and friends, attended virtual hen parties and possibly managed to ‘see’ more friends than it would usually be possible to over a year. Distance doesn’t matter and technology is king.
That is, until there’s a rule change which means that you can see groups of people but only if they are in your local area. Suddenly you are inundated with stories of people excitedly seeing their family and re-uniting, which makes you all the more aware that your own family are hundreds of miles away and you’ll have to wait even longer to see them because it’s not possible without an overnight stay. Suddenly a zoom dinner or phone call doesn’t quite cut it because you want to sit in their back garden and have a barbecue like everyone else. You become more aware of the fact that most of your close friends don’t actually live particularly close. The friends abroad who you’ve done an excellent job of keeping in touch with, you might have to wait another year to see. Suddenly distance matters more than anything.
Work is a distraction, until you’re too distracted to work
When we first went into lockdown in 2020, work was an excellent distraction to everything else that was going on. It was busy and stressful, but provided routine and meant I didn’t have to wonder about how I would fill my days at home. I felt really sorry for anyone who was furloughed, who wouldn’t have that sense of routine or anything to distract them from everything that was going on. I could see how easily the days were blurring into one for those who were retired or no longer able to work, and I felt relieved that I still had so much going on.
Fast forward to lockdown at the start of 2021 and it’s a very different picture. Those who have been working hard throughout are feeling burnt out. Lack of motivation, lack of creativity, feeling distracted, not seeing the point in what they were doing – these were all things countless colleagues and friends have mentioned over the last few months. Work is no longer a distraction from what is going on around us, but an additional burden on top of everything else we’re trying to come to terms with. I think a lot of us have had a delayed reaction to everything that’s happened over the last year, which has left us feeling more distracted now.
Home is a sanctuary, until you feel trapped
I love where I live, and I’ve grown to appreciate it an incredible amount over the last year in particular. The luxury of having a spare room means we don’t have to take work calls in the same space, we can choose to sit and read in a different location and don’t have to worry about drying underwear being in the background of important meetings. The joy of having a huge green space on our doorstep meant we had somewhere we could walk or run around when we were only allowed outside for an hour a day – we didn’t need to worry about reaching anywhere first. The convenience of living in walking distance from shops meant that when the car stopped working and we couldn’t get online delivery slots, we could still walk to pick up food. Whilst not the same as having a garden, being able to look out onto green spaces whilst the sun shone through the open windows still gave a sense of being outdoors after we’d had our daily walk.
But after twelve months, it all starts to feel the same. The green space you know so well starts to get a bit boring. At the end of an outdoor excursion, you find yourself reluctant to return home where it starts to feel as if the same four walls are pressing in on you. You are resentful at the sight of a laptop or your desk, because that now symbolises work which is encroaching on your living space.
You need a lot less than you think
There will be lots of people over the last year who have taken delight in online shopping and ordered things to help break up the monotony of staying at home. But there will be others, like me, who’ve discovered we have a lot of things that we don’t actually need. I have a bookcase full of some of my favourite book series that I’ve intended to re-read for quite some time. As the first lockdown was called I realised that this was my opportunity – I’d have additional time for reading and libraries were closed so what I had access to was limited. I’ve had good intentions of re-reading those books all through the last year, and yet only yesterday started following through on those intentions. So how many of those books do I actually need? I have clothes I haven’t even looked at it in the last year and a pile of shoes which seem redundant when I’ve lived in a combination of slippers, trainers, wellies and hiking boots over the last twelve months. When life returns to ‘normal’ I’m sure some of my dresses will be seen again, and I’ll likely put on some heels, but how much do I actually need to have at home. Just as living out of a backpack for three months was an eye-opener in what we actually needed to get by, so has being at home for a year and not touching half of what we own.
Lack of plans can be a blessing and a curse
In the first UK lockdown it was actually a bit of a relief to have some of our regular plans cancelled. We were no longer rushing around like headless chickens and had a bit of time to ourselves. I didn’t feel guilty about watching TV, because there was nowhere else to be. I could spend time doing jigsaws, or cooking more complicated recipes because the time they took didn’t matter anymore. However, after a time that lack of plans can lead to boredom or frustration at how to fill the time you have.
One thing I’ve really noticed about lockdown in 2021 is how bored everyone seems to be. Back at work on a Monday nobody would have a positive word to say about their weekend, and everyone seemed low. We managed to combat that to an extent, simply by having a plan. One weekend we camped in our living room, and it felt very different to sleep in a tent rather than in our bed. Other weekends we’ve planned a specific recipe to try, a particular film we’re going to watch, or board game to play. It didn’t have to be much, but it made us feel as if we had something to look forward to throughout the week, and then had achieved something at the weekend. The one weekend we didn’t have any ‘plans’ we found ourselves at a loss of what to do (the poor weather probably didn’t help matters) and we understood how all our colleagues had been feeling. Which leads me to my next point…
Even when it feels like we no longer have control over our lives, we do
Partly it’s a mindset thing, and it’s very dependent on circumstances, but although we’ve all been following a new set of rules and new way of living, we’ve still had some element of control. I’ve heard a lot of people use the word ‘can’t’ over the last year and that’s become a limiting factor, rather than getting creative. We can’t go anywhere. No, we haven’t been able to, but I certainly know my local area an awful lot better than I would have done otherwise. I’ve found delight in following public footpaths that I’m not entirely sure where they lead and it’s helped me build up a much better mental map of our direct locality – and that’s living in a city. We can’t go out. No, we haven’t been able to go to restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres or many other things, but we have been able to enjoy a lot of them at home. We’ve watched more theatre performances than we ever usually would over the course of the year. We’ve probably watched more films as well. We’ve experimented with different food and as a result I haven’t missed eating out. It’s true, there are plenty of things we can’t and haven’t been able to do over the last year, but there has been a lot that’s still been in our control and it does help to try and make every day feel a little different.
It’s not all been doom and gloom
I’m aware that a lot of what I’ve written here comes across as quite negative, but it hasn’t all been bad. I think it will be easy in the future to dismiss this period of time as a dark and negative period that everyone was glad to see the back of, but actually there have been some things that I’ve been really grateful for, from getting to spend so much quality time with my husband to going out for lovely long walks in the countryside (which we’d have previously deprioritised in order to go and see people). I’ve rediscovered that cooking and spending time in nature really do bring a lot of joy, and that you don’t need to travel far to be able to escape. Some of my favourite memories of last summer involve spending an afternoon reading on a picnic blanket, followed by a homemade meal al fresco – things we likely wouldn’t have done if life had been more normal.
Whilst there have been highs among the lows, the last year has been difficult for everyone, and it’s been difficult in different ways. It’s also been a very different experience for everyone and as empathetic as we can try to be, perhaps more than ever it’s been hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I don’t know what it’s been like to shield for the last year. I don’t know what it’s been like to home-school and entertain children whilst trying to balance a job. I don’t know what it’s been like to have to continue working on the ‘frontline’ and continue to have regular in-person contact with other people. I’ve also been in the very fortunate position of not knowing what it’s been like to be furloughed. My experiences of the last year have very much come from a position of privilege and I’m conscious that there are a significant number of people who will have dealt with much more than what has effectively been a mental struggle for me over the last year. All we can do is be empathetic and supportive to each other, being kind has never been more important. And be aware that the effects of the last year will continue for much longer than the 21st June.