Much like the British government, I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security at the start of the very first lockdown. After all, global crises don’t really make themselves too apparent here.
Of course, like anyone labouring under even the smallest traces of British exceptionalism, I was wrong. I remember being on the phone to a friend in an unparalleled sense of panic, unable to face up to 12 weeks of lockdown. My greatest fear was – and still is – loneliness, and the anticipation of unprecedented isolation hit me hard.
Like my flatmates and friends, I quickly left London and went back home to my family in Manchester. I’m fortunate to be very close to my parents and brother, but while I cherished the time I got to spend with them I simultaneously found myself feeling isolated, losing self-confidence and filling all my spare time with extra anxieties and overwork.
Three lockdowns later, I don’t feel much different. I know I’m extremely lucky – to have a job, people who care about me and a safe place to live – but it’s still been tough for me to adapt.
Nevertheless, I have become used to this way of living. I’m comfortable wearing a limited wardrobe of fleeces and hoodies; the weekly trip to the supermarket offers a palatable degree of excitement.
“To leave this world behind is a daunting prospect. I know I don’t like it, but I feel like I’m out of practice when it comes to living ‘normally’.”
These aren’t just emotions that I’ve forced myself to feel to circumvent boredom – they’re feelings that have slowly but surely crept upon me, leaving me worried that I won’t be able to shake them off. Where once a Saturday afternoon would have been full of plans, excitement and energy, now I’m met with a feeling of lethargy that makes the long hours of reading, (over)working, screen-gazing and (you guessed it) panicking pass fairly smoothly.
To leave this world behind is a daunting prospect. I know I don’t like it, but I feel like I’m out of practice when it comes to living ‘normally’. I’m like a child who’s had a few days off school – I know I should go back and that it’ll be good for me, but the more time I take off, the less I feel able to return.
So, after all this enforced ‘time off’ normal life, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay to feel how I feel, even if I can’t quite articulate what that actually is. There’s no ‘right way’ to approach the end of lockdown, and wanting some things to be different going forwards is, I think, a good thing.
I know much of the anxiety I feel over the end of lockdown is just that – a heightened state of anticipation translating into excessive worry because I don’t quite know what to expect. I know for a fact that I enjoy socialising, and actually (in normal times) am not plagued by lethargy, low energy or a love of the indoors. I need to have confidence that these things, all of which typically boost my mood, will come back to me.
But I also need to differentiate between the things which I like but haven’t done for a while, and the things I definitely don’t want to do again. Commuting to work on a crowded tube at rush hour, five days a week, is definitely the first thing that springs to mind. But maybe there are some other things I want to change.
“I also know that if this past year has taught me anything, it’s that mixed and conflicting emotions are a very normal part of being human.”
I read the news about beer gardens getting booked up for weeks in advance, and a part of me thought “I should be doing that!”. But then I realised I didn’t really want to plan what pub I’d be spending my May Day bank holiday in – not just yet. Perhaps I want to take my social life a bit more slowly, and do fewer things for the sake of just filling time. I’m no longer so afraid that spending time alone will make me lonely; maybe I need to focus my social efforts in such a way that I’m not also neglecting myself in the process.
However you feel, there’s really no ‘correct’ way to handle your emotions. You might feel two contrasting things all at once – I’m desperate to get out to a nightclub but simultaneously feel like having a nap when I envisage myself in one. I realised that part of why I’m so worried is that I’m constantly trying to justify how I’m feeling to myself. I feel angry for every hesitancy and imagine that others will too.
But I also know that if this past year has taught me anything, it’s that mixed and conflicting emotions are a very normal part of being human. A love-hate relationship with lockdown is totally normal, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that we find ourselves conflicted over (possibly) leaving this part of our lives behind.
This isn’t a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of looking after ourselves as we emerge from one of the most challenging situations we have been faced with. However you feel, it’s okay.
Maheen Behrana is a writer and editor-in-chief of non-partisan platform Backbench