… but did we ever leave?
So Melbourne is back in Stage 3 Restrictions for six weeks, and honestly, I don’t much like the looks of where Sydney is right now. Hopefully the rest of Australia can stay out of the current wave, but who knows? All you really need is one infectious person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and off we all go again. We really are all in this together, clichéd as it sounds, and we all depend on the people around us to behave sensibly. I do try to have faith in my fellow Australians, but the evidence has been rather mixed on that front, and I have to confess, I’m concerned.
I have many feelings about the way this situation has been reported on and politicised, and maybe sometime I will write about them. I will say, I’ve been fairly impressed with Daniel Andrews. He has got some things wrong (I was very unhappy with the way the people in the towers were treated – not so much the lockdown itself, which seems to have been necessary, but the lack of logistical support for it and the way it was handled generally), but he clearly has the health and welfare of Victorians at heart, and that he has been working like mad to try to keep us safe. And his communications have been stellar, honestly. His press releases are clear and empathetic, and explain the reasoning for the decisions being made. I’m glad we have him here, and I do wish the media would lay off him a bit and that we could have a bit more bipartisan support for what needs to be done, rather than alternating between screaming about dictatorships until things are relaxed and then chiding Andrews for being lax. Pick a lane, people. Or better still, just get on with encouraging people to stay safe.
So much for not writing about the way this situation has been politicised! Oops. But back to the actual theme of this post, which is about being back in lockdown, and how that feels.
Honestly? It feels a bit crappy. And I say that as someone who thought we came out of Stage 3 a bit too soon and wanted us to go back in much sooner. I was genuinely relieved when word came last week that we were headed back into lockdown. It really is the only sensible thing to do given the numbers we’ve got. I know this. I believe this.
I still feel rather upset about it, though.
I’m one of the lucky ones. My job is about as secure as any job can be right now, and I can do it from home. It’s rough for my husband, whose contract ended in early March, and who hasn’t been able to find anything else yet (you may have noticed that the unemployment situation is pretty sucky right now), but in terms of what we need to survive, we are fine and more than fine, with secure housing, and all the toilet paper and pasta our hearts could desire (toilet paper and pasta being, of course, the definition of contentment in this new era). We don’t have kids, so we aren’t living the nightmare of juggling work and home learning, nor do we get to play Childcare Bug of the Week, with the associated testing and isolation (I have a friend who has played this game three times so far, and can tell you which COVID-19 testing locations are the best and why). I have set up regular gatherings online with friends to watch things together or read Shakespeare plays or just hang out, so our social life is covered. About the riskiest thing we have to do is the weekly grocery shop for the handful of things we can’t get delivered.
This should be easy for us. Comparatively speaking, it is easy for us.
It’s still hard.
This is not a bid for pity. Like I said, we are very, very, lucky. But I think it needs to be put out there that even for people who are very, very, lucky, who are doing lockdown on the easiest possible setting… it’s still not always easy.
And if it’s not easy for us, what is it like for everyone else? I can only begin to imagine what it is like for people who don’t have financial security, whose housing is precarious, whose careers are dependent on them being productive at work while they manage childcare all day, every day. I only have the vaguest inkling of what it is like for people who are at higher risk than us and really have hardly left their house in months – my ‘range’ has been about five kilometres from where I live and I’m going stir crazy. If I couldn’t get out on my bike, I don’t know what I’d do.
I am missing my choirs and my singing work desperately; I can’t know what it feels like to be a full time performance artist, with no idea when they will be able to work again. I was sad when I cancelled my trip to New Zealand; but I feel, very deeply, for the travel agents who have had to cancel everything and whose industry is in a hole they may not be able to dig themselves out of for years.
I am missing my niece, who is nearly five, has no interest in Zoom hangouts, and really doesn’t understand why she can’t spend time with her grandparents or her ‘silly aunt and uncle’. But that pales in comparison to the feelings of people whose families are split across several states or countries, and who can’t just take a quick trip home when someone is seriously ill.
I don’t want to play the Depression Olympics here. I think we have a rather toxic idea in our society that if someone is worse off than us, we don’t have the right to be upset about our own situation at all. But our feelings are what they are, and feeling guilty about them doesn’t help. It’s OK to be not OK, even if there are people who are worse off than you (though, obviously, you should avoid dumping your feelings onto people who are already worse off than you are if you can possibly help it– here’s a nice little graphic / article about how that works).
I think the other thing that makes this hard is that for a lot of us, we can see, rationally, that this lockdown is necessary, and so it feels irrational and silly to be upset about it.
But it’s important to separate what we understand with our minds and what we feel in our hearts. In fact, I think we have to – if we act on what our hearts want without reference to what our minds know, especially right now, we are going to make stupid decisions that may harm ourselves and the people around us. Because of COURSE we want to be with the people we love. Of COURSE we do. We’ve been trying so hard for so long to do the right thing, and we are tired and we are bored and we are lonely and we deserve a break and a reward, and this new lockdown feels like a punishment for a crime we didn’t commit.
And yet, it’s still necessary.
The reverse applies, too. If we try to pretend that what our minds know is the only kind of knowledge, that we need to sit on all that emotion and repress it and pretend it isn’t there because it’s silly and wrong and anyway, other people have it worse than us, we are also going to make bad decisions. We aren’t robots and we aren’t superhuman and if we try to power through, the odds are, we will eventually reach a breaking point, and that’s not good for anyone.
Putting on an upbeat persona for others, well, that’s professionalism. But trying to put one on for yourself? I don’t think we can lie to ourselves like that and not have consequences.
So where does that leave us? Buggered if I know. Seriously, I am not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV.
But I think, perhaps, we do need to make space for ourselves to feel what we are feeling, without judging ourselves for these feelings. I think we need to be a little more honest with ourselves and others about how we are, because if we are always putting on a front and acting as if everything is fine, that puts pressure on the people around us to do the same. (So if, like me, you have difficulty being kind to yourself for your own sake, perhaps it will help to think of being emotionally honest as creating a space where others can be emotionally honest, too.)
I mean, I’m not advocating a full and frank disclosure of your mental state to every stranger on the street who asks ‘How are you?’. (I mean, that could be hilarious, and also something I would do on my less socially aware days, but it’s probably not a good idea.) But maybe we can stop putting pressure on ourselves to always and publicly be OK, even when we are not?
I’ll go first. I’m having good days and bad days. Mostly, I’m fine, but sometimes I realise that I’ll be working from home until at least the end of the year and then I want to cry, because the best part of my job is hanging out with my amazing scientists. And I know it’s necessary, and I know it’s doing my part to make sure the science can happen (the more of us non-lab people who work at home, the more lab people can do their work in the lab while remaining socially distanced). But I still feel isolated and lonely and sad. So sometimes, it’s hard to feel motivated. I see all the people on the internet with their Iso projects and feel inadequate and guilty and a little bit resentful because I feel like I’m just plodding from one day to the next in survival mode. And I’m scared for my friends in countries where the pandemic is being poorly managed, and then sometimes I forget to be scared, and then I feel guilty instead.
There is good stuff, too. I’ve read some excellent books recently (Jo Walton’s Or What You Will is an absolute wonder of a novel). I got to watch Hamilton! on Disney Plus, which was great fun. Working from home means I can make bread in the morning and eat it for lunch. I have ordered pretty masks from eShakti, and one day they may even arrive. Every few weeks, I get together with my friendly organist, and we stand well apart and record music for our church, so I have at least been getting to do some singing. My bicycle gives me the freedom to do some socially-distanced exploring and exercise. My weekly CSA box provides fresh veggies and inspiration and supports a small farm to keep their operations going. My Shakespeare readings are giving me the opportunity to spend time with my friends in Melbourne, Darwin, Taiwan, and Europe, all together, so that they can get to know each other in ways we would not have done before the pandemic.
These things all bring me joy and energy.
I am very lucky.
I am also sad and anxious and scared and angry and lonely, all at different times or all at once.
And that’s OK, because these are scary and saddening and maddening and anxious and isolating times. It would, I suspect, be more concerning if we were all just fine.
(Fun fact: for the first four weeks of the epidemic I was very much Just Fine and also completely manic setting up everything to look after everyone and doing All the Things – and also completely incapable of reading for pleasure, or watching films, or doing anything else relaxing. I was not Just Fine. But my, was I productive!)
I know that we keep on hearing about how this is the New Normal, but there is nothing normal about this. Let’s not make ourselves crazy trying to convince ourselves otherwise.
It’s OK not to be OK.
Stay safe and be well.
And if it’s all too much, please seek help. Even if it doesn’t feel like it should be too much. It’s not a competition, I promise.
A few links that might be useful
Mental health resources
I’ve provided some emergency / crisis lines and websites below, but you should also know that if you are in Australia, Medicare will cover you for up to 10 counselling sessions per year with a psychologist. To access this, you’ll need to chat with your GP about setting up a mental health care plan. (Many GPs and counsellors have telehealth appointments if you are concerned about going out just now).
- Lifeline – 13 11 14 . Anonymous, round the clock crisis support of all kinds.
- Headspace – 1800 650 890. Mental health support particularly for young people
- SafeSteps – 1800 015 188. If you are experiencing family violence, it’s not your fault, I promise. Please contact SafeSteps, if it’s safe for you to do so.
- QLife – 1 – 1300 789 978. Mental health support for men.
- Kidsline – 1800 55 1800. Phone-based mental health support for kids.
- The Black Dog Institute does mental health research and has some good resources and links to a variety of helplines.
- Head to Health is a government website with some good resources
A couple of useful COVID articles
- This is a good article and infographic to help you assess COVID risk in different scenarios. It was written by three clinical researchers including an infectious diseases epidemiologist, so it’s accurate. It is also very clear and readable.
- The Guardian has a good article on masks, how and why they work, and how to not have them fog up your glasses. (I’ll be honest, I’m still working on this last one, and am yet to find an infallible solution)
Some good places to spend your money
- I had all these plans in January of taking a holiday in country Victoria in Autumn, and spending up big in the regions that had been affected by the bushfires. But right now, those regions still need my money, but they definitely do not need my Melbourne germs. I’ve been looking for ways to support them online. Victorian Country Market looks like a pretty good one.
- SisterWorks sells food, homewares, clothes, etc made by immigrant women. They also do reusable face masks if you don’t have one yet!
- Another way to support refugee women is by ordering a meal from ASRC Catering. I can vouch for the deliciousness of their food (though they can’t manage all allergies, so just make sure you check before you order)!
Some things to make you smile
But first, a useful PSA on Stage 3 Lockdown from Tom Gauld.