I came out of moth balls this week and returned to some sort of ‘normal’ working life, albeit without many students present. At least I had a dry run. My clock shuddered reluctantly to alarm again, I rediscovered petrol stations and I noted that I felt almost excited to be in a traffic jam on the motorway – well, more of a vehicle chutney really but it indicated an easing of lockdown.
Leaving work at the end of the day is still a novelty – time will tell if this continues – but I do know I prefer this to sweeping paperwork off the kitchen table to mark the shift to evening. This weekend has felt like a proper weekend – without the cinema, retail therapy and beer gardens – but a brief respite nonetheless. To the uninitiated I may look like a somnambulist but compared to the lockdown me, I am really quite driven.
To those of my friends who have worked flat out throughout lockdown and have gone to work every day, I can only apologise both for being so late to this party and for my fellow muppets who have flocked en masse to beaches while their desks have been out of bounds. The last thing you needed was to see our tans improving and to listen to us moaning about boredom while you worked extended hours to keep your independent businesses solvent. Sorry.
The only flaw in my personal return to work plan is that I am a teacher and, as not many students are allowed back into school yet, I can not pretend that I am really yet cooking on gas. If I am already this shattered at the end of the working day, how will I be able to cope with the ‘old’ working life when it really gets off this run way? I realise I am comparing my new self to someone who once worked in a very different world. I am not feeling very match fit. I find myself wanting to know how other people are getting on.
So, on my return home from work (still sounds strange), I indulge in a little social media scrolling, and it becomes really apparent that any juddering return to some sort of normal is going to be different for all of us depending on our personal lifestyles. While we were all in lockdown, there was less comparing of individual circumstances – probably because many of us were too busy in our pyjamas binge-watching box sets and angsting over our sour dough feeder (nope, I have still not started one) to be looking across a social distance at our neighbour. That neighbour may not have had the luxury to #Stayhome but we may not have even noticed.
I think this could now be a dangerous phase for all of us, not just because of the fear of a second spike, but because we are also at risk of comparitis, that little green eye and critical voice that can combine to form its own type of virus. There is clearly no level playing field now; we have a combination of key workers, workers, flexi furloughs (which sounds more phonetically pleasing than the reality), furloughs, the newly unemployed, those fearing a jobocalypse and those that are vulnerable, shielded or just too unwell to work.
At school we were always warning students against the danger of believing everything they read on social media, everything that indicates that their peers are having a much better time than they are; now as ‘grown ups’ we will need to remind ourselves too. If you are carrying the workload of colleagues it may be a challenge to stay upbeat and stoical rather than smell of singed martyr when you return home to scroll through photos of their newly acquired puppies or a mountain of home-baked corona cookies. I realise now how hospital workers and supermarket staff must have felt about us ‘stay at home crew’ throughout. On top of this, some of us have gone from old world FOMO (Fear of Missing out) to post lockdown FOGO (Fear of Going Out) and we feel quite jittery leaving our home to join a slightly bigger bubble. We will need to support each other through this phase.
I am working hard to remind myself that happiness is not a continuum – there have to be peaks and troughs otherwise quite frankly we will all flat-line; it it pointless envying someone else who seems to be high-fiving an eased lock down because they too will be plotting their own scatter graph of crests and lows – they wisely may not post it on instagram. If you want infographics, just watch the Covid-19 press conference every day. This should offer enough comparitis for everyone, but then who am I to judge?
Instead, I decide to indulge in some comparitis of myself – before, during and now in this period of lockdown easing. These are my observations but feel free to scroll on and get on with your own life:
- At the start of lockdown I read lots of books, learnt new skills, filled up my corona jar with notes about what I would relish post-lockdown. Everything was a novelty and a challenge and I decided to approach lockdown as marathon training.
- I managed to slow down quite nicely in the weeks following lockdown. In fact, I have never slowed down to this extent in my whole life and I wish my mother could have witnessed this as she has always lamented my inability to stay still and ‘be present’.
- In the early stages I took to virtual exercise much more easily than I expected – note, it was real exercise, but it was delivered virtually and it all took place in my living room.
- From early lockdown I can now see that I was quite smug about my ability to produce ‘to do’ lists which allowed me to finish each day feeling justified. Reading some of these lists later in lockdown, I realise they were quite frankly pathetic.
- In the second half of lockdown I rediscovered the great outdoors after relocation from my first floor flat (I am a rebel and I cannot be tamed). I then discovered that all my first floor exercise had not been as demanding as I thought – I was clearly just filling up my to do list with zoom classes to keep myself ‘busy’. I should have opened that sour dough starter kit (just can’t forgive myself).
- Post relocation, receiving an email from the people in the flat below mine wishing me ‘bon voyage; made me realise my early lockdown exercise behaviour must have been quite selfish. I tell myself that I am not that person any more and hope they haven’t noticed a big crack in their ceiling.
- Recently I have discovered that outside exercise – in a real garden, not a first floor living room – actually makes you sweat. I have also realised that I am a shameless show-off, positioning the camera to show my newly planted herb garden to wow my fellow zoomers. I find I have slowed down to the point that I have difficulty remembering to ‘attend’ the sessions I booked into weeks before.
- This week, driving my car again, I realise that over the last few months I have lost the ability to parallel park. I am grateful that there are so few people at work to witness this. I will be speaking to the caretaker about CCTV evidence and hope that he will accept a bribe. Perhaps my parking skills will return once my colleagues start fighting over car parking places again.
- I already miss the potterer I had become. I liked having time to sort out the recycling, water the plants, hang out the washing between Zoom calls. Now I wonder how I am going to cram it all back in again and where I can get a house elf. I will just have to hope that Favourite Man (FM) is not called back into his office for a few weeks while I acclimatise. I hope he can be as kind to me as I intend to be to myself.
On reflection I can see that I was a very lucky girl at the start of Corona, and I remain very lucky at the stage we now find ourselves in. I really hope I can remember to stand metaphorically at my door each Thursday night and celebrate the rainbows and dragonflies that my friends, relatives and neighbours will be achieving even if they are still confined to barracks.
I am hoping that my post-lockdown self is a more compassionate and more ‘present’ version of my pre-March avatar; I hope she is kind to herself when she discovers that she never did complete some of her more worthy ‘to do’ lists. Trouble is, my Sunday self compared to my Monday version is a totally different human; let us just see how the ‘rush hour’ commute goes tomorrow. Try not to judge me.