AS IRELAND EMERGES from lockdown, I’m nowhere near ready to cast off my cocoon quite yet. Does that sound self-indulgent, especially in light of all the horrendous situations people have been subjected to since lockdown kicked off in March?
Homeless families existing in hotel rooms. Some people forced to isolate alone, deprived of human contact for months. Countless kids and adults enduring domestic abuse situations, teetering on the knife-edge, 24/7. People who’ve lost loved ones far too young. And then there’s me – silently screaming “NOPE. Not ready…”
Where do I fall in the Guess Who Lockdown Lineup? Externally, I’m the ‘Working from home mum, who should be heralding her husband’s return to the office while ushering her offspring off to summer camp.’ Internally, I can’t think of anything worse.
This reluctance to return to “normal” came as a surprise. The prospect of heading to a restaurant instead of magicking a meal out of tagliatelle and Spam was a glimmer of hope until May. Then, the husband broached the subject of heading back into the office.
The fear. A new constant, my responsible adult, was “leaving” me. I blubbed like an irrational teenager.
The trauma treadmill
Why the drama? Without wading into much detail; at some stage or other – I’ve been every one of those isolated souls previously mentioned. Subjected to a childhood dominated by domestic abuse thanks to an alcoholic father, Mum died when I turned 19.
This led to years of couch surfing, wildly erratic flatmates, and an unfortunate dependency on recreational escape. When I was 29, Dad died. Another bundle of muddled emotions was set to one side in favour of the silver lining – finally, I could get my own home.
Increasingly long story short; life has been a trauma treadmill. None of it properly addressed. Buried. Sure, where would you start? Then, kids came along, which brought its own trauma – further numbing the joy that should have been there. “If only I could take to the bed for a season… that would sort me out.”
Then Leo told us we must stay at home for months. No school runs, no office commutes, no game face to meet the mates, no forced conversations, all of which are – as it turns out – exhausting when you’re suppressing stuff for decades (plus an introvert presenting as an extrovert).
For the first time in a lifetime, a pandemic gave me, and no doubt many others, a cause for pause – whether we wanted it or not.
While I’ve been the closest thing to content since my life started (merrily bunkering down in my first proper home, dealing with historical wounds, and having a solid excuse to avoid my children’s pleas for play zones) everyone else has been having a meltdown.
Picture it – you’re an extrovert who thrives on human interaction. You were probably built on a solid foundation of a secure childhood, your family gets on your wick but you’d be lost without them, and you live for debates with randomers in the boozer. Thanks to life’s lottery, Covid-19 may have been your first proper crisis.
It’s been extremely strange and excessively unnerving, and understandably so. Meanwhile, it’s been a 2km walk in the park for others and I – for one – don’t want to give it up yet.
We should be troubled by the lack of a vaccine, or definitive treatment for this pandemic, spikes re-emerging across the globe – but, personally, it makes me feel “normal” because I’m used to chaos.
Chaos brings me calm. This worldwide pandemic somehow validates my daily internal turmoil.
Now that lockdown is coming to a close, we’re all different levels of freaked: a percentage of the population is acting like nothing’s happened, another swathe doesn’t really know what to be doing with themselves, and the rest of us aren’t going anywhere. How do we go about navigating this “new normal”?
Easing lockdown fear
As someone who’s generally reluctant to venture outside anyway, there are a few ways to allay lingering post-lockdown fears:
• Slowly does it: It’s not quite up there with such noted national slogans as ‘Down with that sort of thing’ or ‘Careful now’, however, slowly building yourself back up to being a social butterfly strikes the right note of caution right now.
• Don’t revert to bad habits: If you needed to neck at least three drinks before you could start chatting to people while out, maybe there’s something deeper that requires addressing.
• Note your feelings: Listen, “journaling” (AKA keeping a diary for my ’80s cohorts) isn’t for everyone, but there’s a lot to be said for scribbling a few lines at bedtime and noting how you’ve dealt with being out for a prolonged period.
• The power of ‘No’: Not only does it work well with overzealous kids, but it also works a treat with friends and family if you’re not feeling it. It only took a pandemic to instil the notion that you don’t have to be available 24/7.
• Recharge: Mentally, you’ll be braindead after physically seeing a load of faces for the first time in yonks, so do listen to your body – it will always let you know if something isn’t quite right. If you feel tired, or overstimulated (yes, we’ve all reverted to being newborns), please try and take the downtime required. Speaking of which…
• Don’t let the self-care slip: Loads of us have been re-introduced to baths, books, birdsong appreciation, and staring into space for prolonged periods. They’re still there for you when you need to switch off.
• Be prepped: If you’re not ready to book yourself into the pub for your 90 minutes of suitably substantial nibbles, and are just wrapping your head around getting on public transport again, be prepared. If you can wear a face covering, get a face covering. I’ve made a habit of sporting snoods around my neck that I then shimmy up over my face when heading into a shop.
• Don’t sweat the small stuff: Perpetual “what ifs?!” keeping you up at night? They are a huge – and largely pointless – waste of your mental and physical energy. However, once you’re snowballing, how can you decipher what’s what? For that, use The Worry Tree, a really helpful tool.
Other handy resources I use to deal with “the outside world” pre and post Covid-19, include…
• Talking to mental health professionals. Easier said than done, I know, given talk therapy is not subsidised, but there’s always a way. Spunout.ie has a list of services, while my GP referred me to Cluain Mhuire, who subsequently asked me if I’d be OK with being a case study for a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) trainee.
• Lastly, I will always recall when said CBT counsellor handed me a print out of Rumi’s The Guest House. It was a revelation:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Finally, to everyone who has been – and will continue to go – through the absolute wringer, you will find your pause button, when you’re ready. For now, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. If Covid-19 has taught the world anything it’s that there’s truth in the adage, “take things one day at a time.”