After Lockdown Ends
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
an opinion piece by a South London writer, reflecting on the end of lockdown, and the feeling of dread that comes with it.
I don’t know if I want my old life back.
I said it.
I like the ‘new normal’ (notwithstanding the pandemic that has predicated it) and I’m trepidatious at the thought of leaving it behind and returning – like a sunburnt bird migrating north – to normal life.
At the start, of course, lockdown took a bit of getting used to.
Walking around the empty cobbled streets of Covent Garden the day before we went into full lockdown, the warm spring air in the abandoned piazza seemed charged a feeling I remember from childhood snow days. A feeling of being emancipated from normality and routine. Except now the material form of excitation wasn’t ice, but an extremely infectious disease.
With lockdown looming, I took the opportunity to visit a supermarket in a bid to stock up on supplies. What few shoppers there were seemed unusually polite and buoyant. The relative scarcity of the shelves also struck me as strange. In what were typically bright aisles of superabundance there were now large empty spaces; especially among pre-packaged staples, hand sanitiser and bottled water.
I had some kind of mental shopping list in mind, but they were out of everything at this point. So I made do with fresh fruit and veg and some organic ready meals I quite like with a use by date of three days. At least I knew I’d last the week.
And then it was here.
As we were told that the time had now come for us all to stay at home, I bathed in a slush of self-pity, wondering how I might cope. I worried about my elderly Grand-dad and my disabled brother. The threat of redundancy loomed large. Woe was me.
Then again, I had a house full of books I’d never got around to reading. Subscriptions to Netflix, Mubi and more. A cornucopia of content I’d yet to enjoy. In short, I had plenty to keep me busy.
Although, of course, I wasn’t busy at all. Like everyone else, lockdown meant that my once crammed calendar was suddenly empty, like the fridge after Christmas. Rather than lamenting the loss, I found that the quieter, slower life imposed by the lockdown offered a much-needed break. And a chance to reassess my priorities.
Pretty soon I stopped watching the rolling news and the daily government briefings, which, like sugary cereal, made my brain buzz with knowledge at the time, but left me racked with anxiety soon afterwards.
Then came a super-productive-phase; working on the creative projects I was lucky to still have, starting new ones, reading several books a week, cooking new cuisines, finally having time to fix my bike and install some black-out blinds in my room, reconnecting with friends and family I might otherwise only hear from a few of times a year.
As the weeks went on, I began to enjoy the tranquility of this quiet new life, which, whilst not perfect, I had come to prefer to my old one.
My old life, I could see now, was unnecessarily frantic. It often felt like I was treading water, flapping relentlessly just to keep my head above the surface.
Up at six, write for three hours, cycle to work, back to back meetings all morning, gym at lunch time, presentation to the exec team in the afternoon, back to my desk to catch up on emails, quick call as I dash across Waterloo bridge, wolf down dinner before rushing to the theatre for seven-thirty, ‘just one’ drink in the bar afterwards before deciding I’m too tipsy to cycle home so jumping on the night bus instead, rolling into bed way past midnight only to do it all again the next day.
During lockdown I got used to going to bed early and getting up when I needed to, leaving it to my circadian clock to wake me up when it felt I’d accumulated enough sleep.
I liked waking to the gentle tune of birdsong, a sound usually drowned out by distant traffic.
I liked having more time to cook and to read and to think.
I liked not having to drink when I didn’t really want to. (Helped, of course, by the comfort of knowing I wasn’t missing out on anything, because nobody was doing very much.)
The fear of missing out was perhaps the first thing I noticed once the absolutism of lockdown ended and normal life began to creep in under the door.
As the rules loosened – allowing you to meet one and then six friends, outdoors, in a park or public place – I’d be lying if I said the invites came flooding in, but there was a definite trickle, let me tell you.
And as plans for a few beers on the Common materialised I felt the tranquility of solitude ebbing away, like water from an emptying sink. It felt, to me, like the end of an era. An era which, for me at least, hadn’t been nearly as bad as I’d originally anticipated.
The internet tells me that this kind of anxiety might stem from a psychological condition known as 're-entry syndrome'. Something that people who’ve been living overseas often suffer from, fretting that the changes they’ve made to themselves will abruptly abate as soon as they return home.
I too worried that whatever changes I’d made to my life would dissolve and disappear as soon as I returned, kicking and screaming, to normal life. I felt as though this unexpectedly blissful phase wouldn’t just be over, but retrospectively erased. Like Marty McFly fading from a photograph.
I’m aware it might seem glib, tone-deaf, even, to talk about the improvement of my life in the midst of a global pandemic which has taken so many. But I think it’s important to acknowledge and recognise what this lockdown has taught many of us about the way we’d been living before.
Perhaps, the best way to honour those we’ve lost is to use what we’ve learnt from this experience to build a better society. Rather than ambling back, like lemmings off a cliff, to the way it was before.
In the end, of course, I went to the Common. And as I sat on the grass, beer in hand, the sun set sending a vivid twilight shining through the trees, I found everything just as it was before. Despite the many weeks of solitude and reflection, I was disappointed to find that nothing in me or the surrounding trees or the setting sun felt especially different. Except somehow, of course, it was.
I can see now that my pre-lockdown life wasn’t always fun for me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Being out in the world is and should be fun.
If lockdown has taught me anything it’s that I don’t actually need government permission to do the things I most want to do. If I want to stay home, I can. If I don’t want to drink, I don’t have to. If I want to sit on the common and have a beer in the sunshine, I can do that too.
The other day someone asked me if I could remove the lockdown from my life, as if it never happened, would I?
Honestly, I don’t think I would.
About the author: Adam Foster is a playwright and writer based in South London. He is an Artistic Associate at Squint, and is looking forward to his play, WOOD, to be shown at the Omnibus Theatre, when it’s safe to re-open.
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