The Lockdown Diaries | The apocalypse is pretty ordinary, really, and that’s the strangest thing about it
[On March 16th, our family – like many others in the UK and around the world – started what we’re currently being told will be 12 weeks of social isolation, in a bid to help flatten the curve, and stop my immunocompromised husband catching coronavirus – along with the rest of us, obviously. I, naturally, decided to document the experience in diary form: so here’s what week 1 looked like… ]
After the lockdown was announced, we watched Neighbours.
To be fair, Neighbours has been amazing this week. There was a psychopath who decided to go on a killing spree, using a range of James-Bond-villain-esque methods, like pushing his victims into an abandoned mineshaft, then throwing a snake in after them. There was a bomb in a cake box, and an entire island set on fire. There were quite a few bare butts. And, you know what? As totally ridiculous as all of that sounds, it’s STILL not nearly as far-fetched as real life has suddenly become, is it?
The pandemic is not the way I imagined it, though. It’s much more … ordinary, I guess: at least for those of us who are staying home. I didn’t expect to be wearing sweatpants for it, for one thing, or wondering if it could be a good opportunity to re-paint the garden fence. At one point last week, meanwhile, I was Facetiming with my parents, and my mum mentioned how, earlier that day, she’d been in the kitchen drying some dishes, while my dad worked in the garden outside, and the TV behind her broadcast the news of entire countries going into lockdown, accompanied by a news ticker updating on that day’s death tally. My mum just kept drying the dishes: because what else can you do, really?
It’s totally not how we imagined it.
We still get up in the morning, make breakfast and endlessly remind the toddler not to eat the bits that fall on the floor. We still do the laundry, make a note to add more washing powder to the online shop, and wonder where all the socks go. We still watch Neighbours: only, these days we find ourselves thinking, “Hey, I wonder how the soaps will handle the pandemic? Like, will they just ignore it altogether – assuming they can keep on filming – or is someone desperately trying to come up with a bunch of plotlines involving everyone sitting around in their own homes right now?” Because, honestly, I think I preferred the “psychopath on the loose” stuff. And the bare butts, obviously.
But here we are.
Even although I was expecting it, the lockdown announcement still made me well up at the enormity of it. We watched Boris Johnson – (Who is literally the LAST person I could’ve imagined being entrusted to guide us through something like this…) make a speech that will be remembered for generations. We saw history be made. And afterwards, I felt a lot of things, but I mostly felt relief. I’ve hated every single second of our enforced isolation so far, but I want it to continue, because it’s the only thing that makes me feel even vaguely safe right now. Vaguely safe, however, isn’t the same thing as actually safe: and, halfway through the week, it suddenly hit me that, no matter what happens in relation to treatments or testing, I’m not going to feel really safe again until there’s a vaccine: which, even according to the most optimistic estimates, is still a long way away.
We’re going to miss spring: and probably summer, too. We might even miss autumn, and then, before we know it, we’ll be right back to winter again, an entire year having passed us by. Sometimes I feel like I’m actually going to scream at the sheer unfairness of it: sometimes the reality of it hits me like a brick, and I just don’t think I can do it. But then the news comes in about a 21-year-old woman who died from coronavirus despite having no underlying health conditions, or my nurse friends posts a heartbreaking update about nursing her first COVID-19 patient, and I realise there isn’t any choice. There really isn’t.
Meanwhile, millions of people across the country still get up every day and go to work: a simple act that, these days, means literally risking your life. At the time of writing, over half a million people have volunteered to help the NHS. Thousands more, meanwhile, are continuing to stock the supermarkets, deliver goods, and take what feels to me like an unimaginable risk, just to keep the rest of us safe. So, on Thursday night at 8pm, we opened the front door, took a single step outside, and joined in the Clap for Carers : Terry stoically holding back tears, and me just letting mine flow.
From all over our little village, we could hear the sound of people cheering in support of the NHS: it was one of the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed, and I hope it helped, in even a small way, to show all of those brave souls that we’re thinking of them, even although there’s so little we can do to really help.
So, the lockdown started, and I felt a tiny bit safer. We’re fortunate to be able to do this. We’re lucky that our apolcalypse is proving pretty ordinary – boring, even. It’s not that way for everyone, obviously, and, every day, that stark fact becomes a little bit clearer, and I start to feel scared again.
It’s been two weeks now since Max last went to nursery, which I’ve always thought was our biggest risk factor in terms of catching the virus. Over those two weeks, he hasn’t shown a single symptom of it … but, then again, children often don’t, we’re told: so, if he DID pick it up on that last day with Other People, he could still have passed it on it to us at any time in the past two weeks. Then there’s my mum, who had to go to the pharmacy last week for a routine prescription: my parents aren’t technically in the high-risk group yet, as they’re both still under 70, with no underlying conditions, but they’re close enough to it (Let’s just say that one of them has a significant birthday in the next couple of weeks, and leave it at that…) for me to worry about them constantly, and require constant updates on everyone’s health. (I am also really fun at parties, just in case you were wondering.)
As for Terry, meanwhile, he never did get those antibiotics he was prescribed during our first week of isolation . Apparently the queues at the pharmacy are averaging two and a half hours now, and, according to the local Facebook groups I’ve joined, which have been set up to keep people connected, there’s been at least a couple of spats, as people’s tempers start to fray. Not only would it be too much of a risk for either of us to go and mix with that many people right now, it also seems like too much to ask anyone else, so while Terry’s throat is still sore (The immunosupressants which make him more vulnerable to COVID-19 also leave him more vulnerable to other illnesses, and a throat infection that a “normal” person might be able to throw off in a few days can end up lasting several weeks for him…), he’s just getting on with it, and feeling thankful it isn’t worse.
On Saturday, though, things did take a turn for the worse, when he received a letter from the government , officially identifying him as being in the highest risk group for Coronairus, and telling him that, in addition to staying at home for 12 weeks, he must also try to minimise the amount of contact he has with me and Max. I wrote about this in a separate post when it happened, so all I’ll add here is that while we will, of course, follow the advice to the best of our ability, we also think it’s going to be necessary to balance the huge risk to our mental health that separating our family would pose, against the very small risk to our physical health that’s presented by the three of us continuing to have contact with each other whilst remaining isolated from everyone else.
I realise some people are inevitably going to judge us for that, but ask yourselves how you’d feel if you were told you couldn’t see your very young child for three months, and if you genuinely think you’d be OK with that, then I guess you win at Pandemic-ing. Er, congrats.
As for me, meanwhile, well, at the weekend, someone commented on Facebook to tell me that splitting up our family for three months was a “small sacrifice,” but, to be totally honest, I feel that separating people from literally everyone they love, and taking away every single bit of human contact for months on end is actually a pretty big sacrifice: it’s the kind of sacrifice, in fact, that will make a lot of people feel like they just can’t go on, and attempting to diminish that and pretend it’s nothing seems quite unkind, really .
Not everyone has the mental fortitude necessary to cope with things like this – especially those who are already dealing with serious mental health issues – and not all of the deaths that result from this pandemic will be from coronavirus, sadly: which is something worth thinking about before you jump in and tell someone they’re not allowed to feel bad about the fact that everything that made their life worth living is now gone.
So, while I’m grateful that we’re able to stay at home, when millions of others don’t have that privilege, I’m also sad that ‘saying safe’ means giving up so many of the things that mattered to us. I’m frustrated that so many people still don’t seem to understand that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive: that we can be 100% behind the lockdown, while still feeling devastated that it was even necessary; that we can understand the need for isolation, but still feel like bursting into tears at the thought of one more day of it. The fact that there are other people who have it worse doesn’t mean that any of us have it particularly good right now, and I wish people could be a little bit more understanding of that, and stop trying to tell us that we’re only allowed to feel bad if we’re dead, and nothing else counts.
We’re allowed to feel scared.
We’re allowed to feel sad.
We’re allowed to feel however we want, really: because every single one of us is currently going through something that none of us could even have imagined just a few short weeks ago, and we’re basically just making it up as we go along, aren’t we? So we still do many of the same things we did before: the cleaning and the laundry, and even a bit of work, when we can fit it in. We still watch Neighbours. But everything has changed.