Something about this lockdown feels harder. Perhaps it’s the darkness that starts to creep in before dinnertime. Maybe it’s the weather: mostly grey, always cold, sometimes pouring. Or potentially it’s the sheer relentlessness of it all. Whatever it is, the majority of my days are characterised by a strange sense of time moving at the speed of treacle off a spoon.
Most days, I feel like I’ve barely acknowledged myself. I follow a routine that is as banal as it is lifesaving. My weekly trip to the big Morrisons is often the only time I bother putting a bra on, and even then, I’d be lying if I said this happens every week. In short: I’m not feeling particularly fresh.
None of my friends are okay either. Everyone I talk to, whether they’re at home or back in Exeter, is struggling to cope with what feels like another nail in the coffin for what are supposed to be the best years of our lives. We’re constantly being told that our University is here for us, even if we only have two contact hours a week and wellbeing isn’t always picking up the phone. We’re aware that lecturers, staff, and services are trying their best. I’ve been really grateful for the empathy shown by my seminar tutors and the teaching staff as a whole; it’s sometimes easy to forget that they have been speaking up about unfair working conditions for years. They are as much a part of this struggle as we are.
I started this year with plans to leave the house every day, go running three times a week, start doing yoga, and read for pleasure often. I even made a sticker chart, which lasted three weeks before losing its novel appeal. I’m trying to do self-care, but I realised the other day while watching TV that it was the first time I’d relaxed alone in a while. With a house of four people plus two partners who have come along for the ride, alone time is hard to come by. I am not saying that I’m not loving being social and having lots of people to watch Drag Race with, just that leisure time is often spent with at least one other person. Doing my skincare routine (which is occasionally non-existent and often just cleanser because I’m having to hurry to commute to my desk in time for a seminar) is normally the only five minutes I spend focusing solely on myself.
I’m sure that none of these feelings will be alien to anyone else – we’re all locked down in a gloomy season, some of us with lots of family or housemates, or perhaps even alone. Despite the government’s unveiling of their proposed roadmap out of lockdown, there still seems to be a lot of uncertainty about when it will actually come to an end. Most schools and universities have been told to hold fire on reopening physically until Monday 8 March, so it’s likely that that’s the earliest date we’ll be coming out, but we just don’t know. The first lockdown, despite being a frightening concept and an uncertain and difficult time for many, at least had the appeal of being new. Some days I actually relished going outside. I learned to bake bread, I watched a whole load of films (I will swear until my grave that Chicken Run should be made freely available to the NHS), and I got to spend far more time with my family than usual. This lockdown is frankly boring. The novelty of government-mandated exercise is gone. Having classes means I can’t just dedicate a whole day to lying in bed watching Aardman animations. And even if I could go out clubbing, I honestly think I’d be too tired to make it past pre drinks. This lockdown has sapped a lot of my energy, even though most days I just sit at my computer for hours on end.
Still, it’s not all bad, and I’m trying to remind myself of that. The days are getting longer, more people are getting vaccinated every day, and I’ve learned how to make an incredible stroganoff. Sometimes small things can be enough. Baking every weekend has felt like a godsend. Even doing my laundry is something that gives me a sense of purpose. Perhaps this lockdown has aged me, but I honestly love nothing more these days than sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate, knowing the washing is slowly rotating in the machine.
I urge you to find your small moments, whether alone or with others. Build one weekly event into your routine that makes you feel good. We don’t know how long we’ll be stuck here, but we can try to make the most of the raw deal we’ve been handed. After all, these are the best years of our lives. And if we have to make them the best, we will.
– Caitlin Barr
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