Listen, I’m not going to pretend that this is an ideal situation. Personally, this isn’t how I planned on spending my gap year before uni but we are where we are. So, I have accepted what I cannot change and looked at this (once again) as an opportunity for growth. Like the generations before us, we are being challenged by a global crisis that is affecting all of our lives. However, unlike the various wars, conflicts and natural disasters in the past that have required great sacrifices from practically all members of society, this generation’s one responsibility in order to participate in this effort, is simply to stay inside and isolate from others. I know I am not in the majority, but the idea of spending weeks on end isolated in my house with the exception of spending time in nature, fills me with genuine glee. All the potential and promise that lies in one month of uninterrupted solitude really excites me. I can’t deny that I’ll miss café lunches with my friends, exploring new cities with an uncharged phone and getting warm and tipsy at an over-priced bar, but I know that I have a lifetime of those moments ahead of me and before I know it this will all be a strange fever-dream of a memory that we recall with slight disbelief. The world will return to some version of the normality we remember, but we are not guaranteed that this opportunity to get to know ourselves will ever come again.
I am one of the lucky ones. I’m not a student trapped in a flat far away from home with people I consider strangers, or a person who experiences domestic abuse at home, or an elderly person living alone without the right support. I live in a comfortable home with a Mum who I get on with a little too well and a quiet step-dad who spends most evenings composing music for medieval instruments. I know I am privileged and it’s easy for me to encourage others to use this time productively when I have very few obstacles stopping me from doing so.
At the beginning of the first lockdown in spring, I wrote down a list of everything that the best version of myself would be. I then decided what steps I would need to take if I were to become this person, and that was how I spent my lockdown.
Flash forward 7 months later and I’m smugly looking back at that crudely drawn list with a real sense of satisfaction and achievement. Since April, I have adopted new habits and patterns that have helped me attain a lifestyle that benefits me mentally and physically. Without sounding too high and mighty, it felt as if I began ascending Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs towards Self-Actualisation. For 7 months I have practiced yoga daily, meditate each morning and read for thirty minutes each night. I even took an online diploma during the summer in Mindfulness practice. I make sure to do something creative every day, big or small, whether its writing poetry, sketching, journaling or crafting. It feeds my soul. Due to both my yoga practice and the exercise routine I’ve designed (this is beginning to sound a little bit like the opening scene from American Psycho but bear with me) I’m the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my life. My poetry has been published in two further anthologies since April and I received my first paid commission from the BBC to write a poem for radio. I’ve begun throwing myself into activism through making resources for local student-led climate change groups as well as now helping lead my local branch of an international feminist group. I’m making more steps towards a plant-based diet and I’m learning how to cook meals that make me feel like I may live ten years longer after eating them. After a few quiet revelations within my friendship circles over lockdown, I finally feel like I have come out the other side with a network of people that I could spend hours with in comfortable silence and still consider it a day well spent. I have known so many people who’s company makes me feel lonelier than any social isolation could, but these people truly know my damn soul and I love them for it.
So as we head into another national lockdown, perhaps we should welcome this time to rebuild, transform and refocus. The changes we choose to make do not have to be big to be significant and in improving our own quality of self-care, we naturally improve the quality of care we give to others – something we all need to work on. One month from now we could all look back on versions of ourselves that we naturally outgrew with the right care and attention. The first lockdown showed me all the possibilities of time spent working on yourself, and now I feel like Dorothy stepping out of her monochrome world into one of technicolour. Ironically, it took being shut inside for months for me to realise just how much of the world I wanted to see and all of the potential that lies in the future. Just think of what one more month could do…