163 days. 23 weeks and 2 days. 3912 hours. That’s how long I’ve now been in this altered reality so symbolic of 2020 AD: lockdown. Quarantine. Isolation. Coro-no-you-don’t.
OK, so we’re not quite where we were, even a month or two ago. I’m now stretching my legs most days for a walk into the city (Cambridge – I realise there could be worse places), and I was able to get a new wheel for my bike, so I’ve put that to use, too. I have also been doing supermarket runs throughout, albeit as infrequently as possible, and taking all manner of precautions. But even so, it’s hard. I’m watching the world and people I know gradually return to normal, but for me, it’s going to be a longer process. No socially-distanced meet-ups with friends. No “eating out to help out”. No return to the office, yet.
A member of my family and household suffers from multiple lung conditions and, on top of this, myriad forms of anxiety. For them, life was quite literally thrown into turmoil with the outbreak of coronavirus. We ‘shielded’ as much as was practical, but try convincing someone – quite understandably – fearing an unseen army of germs that they need to accept food parcels left on the doorstep, and things get complicated quickly…
Back in March, the prospect of spending an undeterminable amount of time at home seemed full of opportunity. Quickly, I went into overdrive, packing as much into my days and nights as possible. I was working from home, burning through Netflix and Disney+, playing my saxophone for the first time in years (as well as a keyboard I bought on impulse) and, of course, turning my house into a fitness studio. I even filmed some of my workouts. Joe Wicks, I am not, but I gave it a go. All this, in addition to lots of photography, reading, learning, zoom-calling, social media surfing… the list goes on.
Finally, I had time for all the things I’d been wanting to do, and I could do them all at once and without distraction. But then
I burnt out.
The relentless daily expectations I’d built up for myself fell apart; I slipped behind – just a day or two at first, disappointed in myself. This low energy and self-esteem made things even worse until I reached a point of feeling despondent and generally anti-everything.
And so began a period of significant stress and detachment from things that had come to help me at first. I stopped working out – almost completely – my diet was thrown totally out of whack, and I couldn’t focus on anything. During this time, I also experienced possibly the worst single day of my life, but more on that (maybe) in the future.
For a few weeks at least, I couldn’t pull myself out of the rut I’d dug myself into. I was lonely. The memory of what normal was suddenly seemed so far away, and I missed my ‘old life’. Home was tense, with fears about the virus a reality for us all, but also the claustrophobia we were experiencing.
Despite hitting a low, I can’t deny I was lucky. I have very emotionally supportive management at work, who would touch base now and then, as well as some great friends who would check in (and to whom I was often rubbish at replying). I understand that this wasn’t/isn’t the case for everyone who’s in a similar position, and I am very grateful. Those occasional little messages and phone calls did enough to pull me through, in spite of everything going on. And even though most of my routine had gone out the window, one thing that stayed was a themed weekly zoom quiz with some friends from school that we started way back in March, and that’s still going on now (each week we tackle the next letter of the alphabet and this Sunday will be ‘W’. Dedication, hey?).
Even the tiniest things can lighten up darker times in our lives, and the value of making time for contacting friends and having fun can’t be overstated.
But this wasn’t enough on its own. I needed to get back to being myself: optimistic, inquisitive, proactive. It took some time, that’s for sure. Only now am I starting to see good habits form again and not-so-good ones fall by the wayside, but this circular journey was an important one, and one I had to choose to make myself. I was forced to evaluate and reflect on what makes me happy and what I was missing most. After the upheaval we’ve all experienced, it’s telling to see the parts of our lives that we choose to come back to, and that must, therefore, be very important to us.
So what did I rediscover? And what did I leave in that distant pre-lockdown world?
Home workouts suck. So I switched things up.
Before isolation, I was perhaps in the best physical shape I’ve ever known. I was working out 4, maybe 5, times a week at the gym and trying to eat well. Admittedly, I had just come back from a quick trip to Barcelona (talk about good timing), and I’d been keen to look a certain way while I was there.
Losing access to the gym so suddenly meant I had to get creative to keep up. I think I must’ve been one of the last people to order dumbbells and have them arrive on time before the tidal wave of orders hit the web, but apart from having those, it was just me, YouTube and a lot of determination.
After a positive start, it quickly went downhill. Doing the same kinds of exercises over and over again, in a limited space with no one – not even a friend – giving me feedback was soul-destroying. I didn’t know if I was making progress, or even maintaining my fitness. I was bored. I gave up.
Strangely, despite initial reservations, I’d grown to love the atmosphere of a gym. Yes, they can be extremely nerve-racking at first, but I soon realised that a surprising amount of other people in there were just like me: beginners, or going just to keep fit, rather than training to be a bodybuilder. I find the communal and vaguely competitive air very motivating. The act of going to the gym – a physical place set aside for doing one thing – also helps put me in the right zone. At home, surrounded by distractions aplenty, food, my dog – it just wasn’t great for getting in a solid workout. I also grew to hate fitness videos – feeling totally inadequate against the sculpted fitness personalities whose ‘EASY HOME WORKOUTS ANYONE CAN DO’ were not making me look like the people on screen, and I started to think it was all hopeless.
So what did I do? Well, after a few weeks of little activity, I tentatively began using my dumbbells again. But differently. I made sure that every session contained different exercises, rather than repeating the same workout playlist of basic curls over and over and over. I also started working out outside to minimise distractions; just the mat, the dumbbells and I. For anyone feeling like they’re plateauing, I’d highly recommend ditching the confines of a living room if possible.
I also began practising yoga. Now, I hope to write more about this in the near future, so I’ll spare most of the detail, but this has been a fantastic addition to my routine and easier to incorporate than I thought. As well as a need to break up my standard workout routine, my foray into yoga came from an increasing awareness of how inflexible I am, and the fact I needed to do something about it. Already, I see benefits: my overall tone has improved, I find some movements more natural, and have less discomfort in my back and other problem areas. If anyone needs a way to complement arm and leg day, yo-gat to try it (see what I did there?).
Ditching the WFH mindset
As well as improving my fitness practices, I made changes to my home working set-up. First of all, I banished all work resources and equipment from my bedroom and the living room, putting it all in our as-of-then underused spare room.
As with gyms, having dedicated spaces for certain activities is something that I believe in strongly. Now, when I’m in my ‘workspace, I’m working. This separation has been really helpful. Before, I would have my laptop on the table in the living room, TV on in the background, and a snack beside me. Work, entertainment and daily necessities all blended together, and sometimes it felt like there was no escape. Being able to walk away and take a breather, refresh and refuel, has been very beneficial.
I realise not everyone will have the luxury of a spare room, but I would suggest segmenting things where possible to anyone feeling a little swamped. A specific corner, times of day to get certain things done, time away from the screen as well as in front of it… it all helps. Work/Life balance is important – even with everything centred around home. The next challenge I’ve set myself is to ensure I get dressed every day, as opposed to wandering around in my sleeping shorts and tank, never quite shaking the comfortable embrace of my duvet, but hey: small steps, right?
Dreams don’t have to be paused
As well as improving things I was already doing, I realised I needed to find time for some other more creative outlets. While working at home, it was all too easy to finish all my tasks and then settle down, satisfied that I’d done enough, and wait for it all to begin again the next day. But this wasn’t me. Pre-COVID, I was never content with doing ‘just enough’. Not only was I getting up every day, making myself presentable and going to work, but I was also physically going to the gym and then spending my evenings on other projects.
I’d convinced myself in my slump that there was no point anymore, and that I might as well wait until after lockdown to continue with anything I had in the pipeline. My goals of working in film, or writing for a living, had been shelved “until the time was right”. But that wasn’t helpful for my long-term goals, nor was it doing anything for my mood. I’m a creative person at heart, and happiest when I’m doing something new and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Coronavirus will pass, and the world we knew before will still be there, albeit changed, afterwards. My perspective changed, and I again saw this time as an opportunity rather than a restriction.
This is one of the reasons I finally decided to kickstart my blog, and I have things planned for my YouTube channel, too. Hopefully, spending time cultivating these passions now may open doors when things are back to normal. What better chance will I ever have to spend time honing my skills? And what better way of feeling more in control of my future and having something to look forward to after all of this?
I’ve had time (so much time) to think hard about what it is I want to do and where I want to go in life. I’ve bought a new laptop to allow me to work better and edit faster, and my new camera and accessories to help me create higher quality content. So even though it may seem as if I’m back doing a bit of everything like at the start of lockdown, I now feel more focused and confident that I’m doing the right things for the right reasons. I almost had to sink so low to pull myself back up. I’m also making sure to keep my ambitions in check, and not go too heavily into one particular thing too soon, again segmenting my time and my brainpower to avoid completely flatlining. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and so I’m trying to balance things a little more evenly, as well as making time just to step back and tell myself, “You did good today”.
The light at the end of the tunnel: is it switched on?
Who knows when we’ll be rid of this horrible virus, or if we ever completely will be, but we have to adapt and overcome. I personally feel in a much better place than I was mid-lockdown. Don’t get me wrong: days can still feel lonely, unproductive and soul-destroyingly repetitive, but I’m doing my best to keep my aspirations burning bright. These months have been unprecedented, and it’s important we recognise that, and be kind to ourselves just for getting by – and that’s where I’m at, mostly.
I hope my outlook and experience will be helpful – or even just garner a knowing nod and let someone know that there are others out there going through the same feelings. Have you had a similar experience during lockdown? What has helped you? Join the conversation in the comments, and stay tuned!