How was it for you?
It’s always been obvious that people have different lives but I’ve never before seen so many obvious differences within my close social circle. I heard someone say the other day that they’d run out of jigsaws – whereas I’ve not read one whole book this year. I’ve heard friends talking of their financial worries on furlough, because 80%/70% of their income is not enough, but a lot of us were not furloughed. I’ve heard people say they’ve felt almost guilty for the break they’ve enjoyed during lockdown (there’s no need to feel guilty), while others talk of their nightmare in losing loved ones. I’ve heard some talk of loneliness; others talk about the lack of space, with their household closeted away together, inescapably. I heard of two old ladies who used to wait until dark and then creep around to one another’s houses to sneak a sherry and a chat before bedtime, feeling like spies as they fed their need for human friendship (and booze). Others spent the months frightened to go near anyone, in fear of illness. Some people reconnected with their partner, others got beaten up. So many varied and quite fundamental differences.
It’s too early for me to unpick my lockdown experience; all I can say currently is that it shook me. We were shielding, working, home-educating, and a lot of that wasn’t ideal. The months were marked first by missing people, then when allowed, by shuttling up and down the country to both rely on people and look after them. I pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before and got shingles, 3, 4, 5 times until it became semi-permanent. There was no option on not working from 5am, sometimes earlier, and no option on not folding laundry till midnight. Our shielding was essential and our social distancing lasted up until this week when we had to make adjustments to accommodate the return to school.
The return to school is a complex issue for many, and for us involves three different schools and colleges. Today marks a surge in excitement because one of my children starts a course in a college that, frankly, almost tempted me to pack in my role as adult provider and go back to being a student. I am tense with hope – I so hope it’s going to be as great as I imagine it could be. I was happy at his age; I wish the same and more for him. For my younger children, we return to known schools. I look forward to seeing their friends. I am not overly frightened of COVID because, although it’s an obvious concern, I have no energy for fear, for the time being. We’ll be careful and responsible and we will move on, assessing the situation as we go.
At home, I steer our ship – I make the decisions and hold the household together. It’s not a role I wanted; I wanted to be looked after by someone strong, and to look after them in return – a partnership, but instead I got a fab gang, for whom I’m eternally grateful, but I also get to make all the decisions and shoulder most of the burden. The only way my family could survive lockdown was for me not to matter – not my physical wellbeing, personal preferences, or emotions – I had to be a robot and had to function constantly and effectively to keep us afloat, irrespective of feelings, ability or strength. Work, caring, education, cleaning, shopping, isolation, illness, hospitals, work again. My only role was to protect my children from physical or mental harm, and try to support their journey into what I hope will be a better future. I managed to almost entirely dissociate from myself, and it was fine; sometimes not mattering is a relief. There’s a lot less to think about when you don’t have to worry about whether you like a particular task, or whether something hurts or not, or even whether or not you’re good at it – something has to be done and you do it – and then the next thing. If having emotions makes you less effective, then you ditch those emotions. Period. All that matters is the children. It’s a punishing but simple and effective way of getting through life. But although lockdown’s over now, and we can start to reintegrate into a sense of relative normality, I’m not sure I’ll easily, perhaps ever, find my way back to the person I was before.
There again, perhaps that doesn’t matter, either.