I’ve been away from work due to Coronavirus restrictions now for just over two weeks. And while I’d usually try to avoid clichés in writing and never thought I’d be leaning on Ronan Keating for inspiration, the simple fact is that life has become a rollercoaster of emotions.
I’m not normally prone to extremes of emotion. I’m a fairly steady ship, all things considered. I can handle the ups and downs that life throws at me and tend to not bother others with how I’m doing. People have their own struggles, they don’t need to be involved in mine. It’s how I was brought up – internalise it, don’t talk, don’t share. As an adult though, I’ve learnt that you can talk, but I’m still far more likely to just keep things to myself and rely on my own mental strength to get through.
Lockdown has tested this and tested it severely.
I started the whole thing in quite a low mood. My first few days were spent more in self isolation than lockdown, but I was careful and made sure that social distancing rules were adhered to. I’d be pretty stupid to be simultaneously aware of being vulnerable to this virus while also gallivanting around the shops and socialising. Being away from work hurt though. As a teacher in a school in a disadvantaged area I want to be there helping, calming vulnerable students and besides all else, teaching them. But I wasn’t allowed and I brooded on this for days.
The announcement of school closures helped in a funny way. I was now in the same boat as the majority. I no longer felt like I was cheating my way out of work or that I was skiving. But then I found out that I couldn’t access my work emails from home, meaning that I would still be very detached from what was still actually going on in school. Almost two weeks on from the announcement and I’m still waiting for a reply to my email, hoping that someone in our IT department can solve the problem. Luckily, unbeknown to them, it’s been sorted by a teaching colleague (cheers Shaun) and it turns out that everything’s working without me. So no surprise there then…
School closures meant kids at home. And kids at home meant home-schooling, which while it made for another blog post, was a daunting prospect. However, in our house we’ve faced up to it with an unusually positive attitude and we’re trying where possible to do new things. Me and my 10-year-old son now have a daily lockdown Spanish lesson via the Duolingo app and we’ve all started drawing and painting again after a friend set up a Lockdown Creative group. We’ve both had to adapt a bit too – while my wife is a mathematician, she’s been turning her hand to Science too and I’ve been having a go at Geography and History. Never a dull moment, but a hell of a lot of hard work.
Lockdown has created quite an eerie atmosphere though. One of my favourite pastimes has been just looking out of the window, partly to enjoy the stillness of everything, but also to just see if anyone’s out there. I keep looking over at our football pitches with a sense of longing. I’d do anything to be able to put on a training session or shout from the sidelines as we play a match. But lockdown has taken those privileges away and while when I’m doing them it can be fairly stressful and all-consuming, now they’re not there I miss them desperately.
There have been various reports and estimates about the length of time that this will all last for. Personally, I was initially told that I’d have to stay away from work for 4 weeks – there was even a faint suggestion that it might be earlier – but now I just feel any hopes of this fading away. I’ve heard lots of reports of around the 12-13 week mark and many that suggest we may be at home until the new school year begins in September. It’s a strange and terrifying thought. That you won’t see friends and family again for this length of time is almost surreal. And that’s before I even think about my students. But then, given the times we’re living in, as long as I get to see them all again, it’s Ok.
While there have been plenty of positives about the whole lockdown situation, there have been a lot of negatives. I don’t mean just not going out either. The job losses, the closure of community hubs, the suspension of sport and entertainment and of course the death.
From a personal point of view, as an avid user of social media, some of the moralising has sickened me. The campaign to applaud NHS workers was a wonderful thing, but as the son of a former NHS nurse of some 37 years, I did wonder if those applauding had ever particularly appreciated what they had with our health service before this point. Or even, once they’d stopped clapping and Coronavirus became a non too distant memory, would they continue to appreciate it. You see, I lost count of the mornings that my mam would walk in from a night shift in tears or bruised and looking like a ghost of her actual self after a patient or a visitor to her ward had verbally or physically abused her again. Were some of these people now those posting self congratulatory Facebook updates? Was standing at the door clapping as easy as slapping a nurse who was trying to help your dying relative? Was it easy to forget nurses being spat on during their shifts because you were clapping and whooping? Maybe I was over-thinking, maybe I’m the one who’s moralising. I don’t know, but I kept my tributes to the NHS to myself and phoned home to speak to my mam.
As a footnote here, a week on from the initial applause for the NHS and having bumped into friends who work in hospitals on our daily government sanctioned walk, I found myself on my doorstep with several others in my street, applauding and listening to the fantastic noise being generated in our vicinity. To be fair it was a moving experience, but my original point and my original concerns still stand.
I’ve taken a cynical view of other #lockdown social media posts too. And again, perhaps it’s mean-spirited of me, but some of it has made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. The main source here has been from (probably) middle class parents who appear to be trying to outdo each other with posts about what their kids have been up to. I read one saying that their 9 year-old-son was ‘taking advantage’ of lockdown (you know, despite all the death and that) in order to go through his parents’ record collection (because it simply had to be vinyl, didn’t it?) and listen to as much as possible while critiquing it. I simply don’t believe these people exist. And if they do, I feel for their kids. No doubt there are others whose children are learning Ukranian or studying sub-Saharan cave art or raising money for the oppressed indigenous people of Myannmar by having a gluten-free bake sale. They aren’t. But it makes you look interesting to more people on social media while we’re all locked down with nothing else better to do.
A real positive that I’ve discovered through lockdown has been the International Space Station. I know, it doesn’t sound particularly positive, right. More the domain of geeks. But let me explain. I discovered through a Twitter page that you could stand outside at night, during the particularly sunny week we had when the skies were clear, and watch it pass over the planet at a particular time of night. It got me curious and although I realised it would only be a light moving over, I found myself doing a little bit of research. It passes over the planet over 200 miles up, moving at over 17000mph. I was hooked. An actual space ship going over our house. And thus, for a few nights in a row I would be out in the cold, enjoying the silence and gazing skywards as a space ship with three astronauts aboard flew past the moon, Venus and over our house! It was only for a few minutes, but given the times we’re living in, it proved to be a few minutes of absolute joy. It’s something that I’ll continue to do when and where possible.
Lockdown has created a yearning for the outdoors, not just with myself and my family but with lots of others too. When it became clear that we would only be permitted one period of outdoor exercise per da,y my initial thoughts turned to finding ways around this. I was adamant that I’d be setting an alarm for 5am most days and sneaking out for a run. However, an ever growing sense of doom and paranoia put pay to that and I settled on the fact that we’d be out as a family, for a long walk, every night.
This should be a pleasant and positive experience and on the whole it is. However, two pressures have made things a little more serious. Firstly, in order to prevent boredom we’ve been trying to find different routes, which while being wholly possible is now becoming a bit of a pain. Then of course there is the sense of doom that one can feel when you bump into other people. Other people. They’re like the enemy! We’ll spot people approaching from a good distance away and while we’re happy to cross over, should it be safe, as time has gone on it’s become more of a game of cat and mouse. What if they’re turning off? What about the people on the other side? What about the person with the dog approaching from a separate direction? You find yourself still harbouring a sense of fear and yet second guessing the other people on the same side of the road as you! It’s quite bizarre and I don’t think I’ll ever look at going for a walk in the same way again!
The sense of paranoia multiplies tenfold in Asda (other supermarkets are available and indeed frequented). In the space of a couple of weeks I’ve gone from dashing around getting essentials from more or less empty shelves, while trying to think about not straying too close to others, to scenes more akin with what I’d imagined 1980s East Berlin to be like! Now we queue, at least two metres apart, in silence, for a good twenty minutes just so we can get in to the store. Security guards patrol the aisles while other members of staff block doors so you can’t leave via the wrong way. Shoppers eye each other warily, often mumbling or tutting impatiently if you get too close. People don’t seem to have figured out that it’s nigh on impossible to maintain a safe distance once you’re in a busier aisle. And don’t even think about not following the directional arrows on the floor! The weekly shop has become even more of a nightmare than we ever thought it could become.
The final word on lockdown must go to the mood swings. I stated earlier that I’m usually calm and can handle my emotions and not particularly bother others with them. Nowadays things have changed. Last week brought an almost opiate high when BBC 6Music played David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. I sang and danced around the kitchen with actual gay abandon and it felt great. But then while listening to Maximo Park’s ‘Apply Some Pressure’ I was reduced to silent weeping by the line “What happens when you lose everything?’ And then we had to go and watch The Undateables – one of our favourite programmes but one where my viewing was undoubtedly hampered by continuously finding that I had something in my eye…
Coronavirus has changed so much. As the weeks of lockdown pass and the global death toll continues to rise, it’s hard to put a timeframe on when things will feel like any kind of normal again. And will we even recognise what normal is anymore? I sense that even when we’re finally told that everything can go back to ‘normal’ there’ll be such a sense of doubt that normality will, in fact, take a very, very long time.
Until that time, stay safe and remember to look after those that need your help. And of course, keep reading!