The New Normal: How to Win Life during Lockdown

When I sat down to write this column last month, the university had just made the decision to cease face-to-face teaching due to COVID-19. My Twitter timeline swung between people predicting worst-case scenarios and government carelessness and those who believed it was being blown out of proportion and refusing to cancel their holidays. Terrifyingly, the former seemed to get it pretty spot on. I’m sure most people’s routines have changed dramatically in the past month and we’ve had to come to terms with our day-to-day lives becoming smaller, covering less ground. I’m not going to give you a fool-proof listicle on the top five ways to beat quarantine boredom, but when you have a chronic illness you get used to constant changes in routine due to flare ups, so I think it is my duty to impart some wisdom (lol) to my loyal fans in these troubling times. I have battled for years to accept the lack of control I hold over my own life in the area of my health and I just want to talk about some things that help me. I want to reiterate that I am a privileged person with no children or dependants who is not in financial difficulty – this lockdown is easier for me than it is for so many people. I do not work for the NHS, I have not been fired from my job and none of my family are sick at the time of writing. 

Something I find very frustrating and patronising about a lot of the rhetoric around lockdown advice is the focus on using your time productively. I understand the urge to put a positive spin on an unprecedented nightmare but now is really not the time to feel pressured to: lose weight, work on your ‘side hustle’, write your novel or quit smoking. This free time many people are experiencing is not a gift, it is a side effect of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Of course, if these are things you have been meaning to do for a while or if you’re experiencing a sudden spike in motivation, by all means write your novel. But pressure and guilt aren’t good motivators and punishing yourself mentally while the world is already punishing you enough won’t lead to anything good. Some things I am planning to do once my uni deadlines are finished is: knit a scarf, start working my way through the pile of unread library books on my bedside table, and make myself a birthday cake. Speaking of cake, I urge all of you to be very careful of the dialogue you are perpetuating around food right now. For people with eating disorders, it can be difficult to be surrounded by talk of weight and dieting and there’s been a rise in that recently with jokes about weight gain in lockdown and urges to use this time to start a new diet. Eat what you feel is a comfort to you right now, be kind to yourself and your body, think about other people. 

When I have a sustained flare up of chronic pain I need to create a new mini routine to see me through. These pain flares can last a day or a month and I still find it very difficult to deal with not knowing how long I’ll be out of action for. This is something I am also finding difficult to cope with during the lockdown; I’m sure a lot of people would find it easier to handle if there was some kind of magical end date to work towards. Obviously, that is not going to happen and there’s no way of calculating when we are next going to be able to go to the pub. When I am ill I operate on the basis that I will not be able to do any of the things I have planned to do over the next few months. I shrink my life down to a manageable size that includes things that make me feel happy that aren’t detrimental to my health. Usually I try to wake up at a similar time every day and go to sleep at a similar time of night. This is difficult to do and a flexible rule – if I need to sleep more I sleep more – this routine is about being kind to yourself, can you sense the overarching column theme? I try and break my day up into blocks of activities that are manageable to do with my pain; often I cook or listen to podcasts. I try and get outside for a walk. I am aware that I’m not a guru of celestial advice and nobody is going to read this and be like: ‘oh my god! I didn’t even know what a sleep pattern was! You’ve saved me!’ All I think is that I often need permission to be nice to myself, so here I am giving that permission to you: allow yourself treats! You deserve good things and kindness!

My mum and I have started doing this thing whenever either of us are feeling grumpy. We text each other a couple of things that we are thankful for in that moment. I know that sounds a bit silly and sentimental but we are living in an apocalypse film so I don’t care. I will now list some things that my mum and I have been thankful for over the lockdown: 

  1. Grateful that I have been eating nice food like veggie burgers.
  2. Grateful you girls have lovely partners and you’re both safe.
  3. Grateful that we can speak every day.
  4. Grateful for my garden.
  5. Grateful for my kindle so I always have books to read.
  6. Grateful for vanilla coffee pods.
  7. Grateful for Pickle (my cat) because he is so funny.

I encourage you to think of your list too.

[Madeline Docherty – she/her – @Maddydocluvs1D]

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