There are days when the bleakness and sheer tedium of lockdown and COVID-19 smothers me

Deb Bunt, Co-author of Slow Puncture alongside Peter Berry, reflects on having a positive outlook even in the midst of the latest lockdown

Published by Deb Bunt on Jan 14, 2021

There are, of course, days when the bleakness and sheer tedium of lockdown and COVID-19 smothers me, as it does all of us. Taking and extending the government’s much maligned and over-used metaphor: the light at the end of the tunnel seems distant. The train isn’t just running late due to soggy leaves on the line, a faulty engine or, as Reggie Perrin once lamented, staff difficulties at Hampton Wick (or in this case at Number 10); for some of us it appears that it hasn’t left the depot yet, for some of us a search for the driver is still going on.

Thoughts created from deep within the depths of my melancholia do not promote good mental health and it’s easy to become depressed. So, I have created my own light and my own train to travel in for the next few months. Then, before I know it the government train will have arrived, crammed with joyous medics leaning out of the windows, waving their syringes with unconfined delirium.

“Vaccines for all, come and get your free vaccines!” they will shout and people will emerge, sleepy, dishevelled (and possibly indecorously hirsute) from their lockdown darkness; sleeves will be rolled up, upper arms wielded, ready for the jab which will help to mitigate the months of misery.

My approach does not work for everyone, sometimes it doesn’t even work for me. But unless I try to retain a positivity, the alternative becomes unpalatable.

How do I do this? Often, I think about Peter and his words of wisdom. He once said that those with dementia “build their own shelters from the storm…” and whilst lockdown and all its relative privileges is not comparable with dementia, I can take the sense of Peter’s words. I certainly feel as if I am caught up in a storm and I shelter from it by trying to be structured, by not rushing activities, by enjoying the things I do, rather than moving impatiently on to the next one. This has always been my downfall and Peter’s enforced ability to live in the moment is now being played out by so many of us. It doesn’t do to harp on about yesterday, yesterday has gone. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring (well, perhaps we do at the moment!) so why not focus, really focus, on what we are doing today, right now, and take the time to appreciate it.

In Peter’s dementia world, “today is not just a new day but my first day of the week and the first day for a long time.” I wonder if this is applicable to each new day that dawns during lockdown. Forget yesterday, it has gone, consigned to the bulging, overfull bin of rancid lockdown days. Instead, I must try to grab handfuls of the new day and hold them close. I must breathe in and enjoy the scent of the day’s achievement rather than gagging on the stench of regrets.

Those who know me, understand that I am notoriously bad at sticking to any one thing at a time; indeed, my mind makes a hyperactive butterfly look like it’s inflicted with a form of Rhopalocera torpor. But by trying to focus, by really trying, I am able to work through each day and retain (on the whole) an element of positivity.

One of the major things that defines me is my love of, and obsession to, exercise. Ensuring that I cycle at least six times a week (well, one rest day is permissible surely?) is paramount to my well-being. Distance doesn’t matter so much these days; but the important thing is that I do it.

Who cares if the cold air slaps me around the face? It’s a reminder that I am alive; who cares if the rain stings and the keen wind makes my eyes water? How great that I can feel these things. “Blow wind and crack your cheeks”, I might have written, had some upstart crow not beaten me to it a few hundred years ago. I feel strong and impervious to the elements. The beat of my heart pounding when I make it up a hill (and yes, let me debunk the myth that Suffolk is flat – it most certainly is not!) energises me and, when I get home, I allow myself time to appreciate the endorphins dancing around my body. I gather them to me jealously. I am now that child who hoards illicit smarties. Those endorphins (especially those orange one!) are mine and I will not share them with anyone. Selfish perhaps, but this is what sustains me and keep me positive.

I know that everyone’s lockdown experience is different. If we are using the transport theme (and I fear we are, there’s no going back, that ship has sailed!) we are not all in the same boat and, although we are waiting for the same train, I am waiting for its arrival, peering ahead through my rather privileged eyes. Experiencing lockdown in rural Suffolk is different from experiencing it in Croydon (from whence I hailed two and a half years ago). Indeed, during the first lockdown, it was hard to remember that there was a virus, such was the impact on my life. Life had changed pretty minimally then and, to an extent, the impact on me even now, during this third lockdown, is much less severe than for friends and family in London.

But, nonetheless, it IS a lockdown, we ARE in a state of national emergency and I must confess I’m scared. I find it hard to sleep, my mind is swamped with news of the virus, of deaths and repercussions; individual’s horror stories form a disorderly queue in the corridor of my semi-conscious brain, they jostle for my attention and nudge me awake if I have the temerity to drop off. I worry about my grandchildren and the impact – both short term and long term – this has on them. I worry on both a parochial and a global level.

To cope with this negativity, at the end of each day I reflect on the things I have done, despite the restrictions. I know I am one day closer to a return to my own normality, one day closer to seeing my new grand-daughter whom I have met just the once, one day nearer to hugging friends and not being forced to pirouette absurdly around strangers in the street. It is possible to be positive, but it is also really hard. Allow yourself some pity days, it is not weakness: it’s human.

As always, much of my reflections are shaped by my friendship with Peter. I will finish with another Peter quote, a perfect way to sign off my musings. If you substitute the word “virus” for “Alzheimer’s”, I believe there is a valuable lesson in how to survive lockdown and retain a positivity.

“I have learned to walk hand in hand with Alzheimer’s by not letting its grip become too hard. I have learned to try to warm its cold grasp, softening its hold; walking alongside Alzheimer’s is an art. Trying not to step into its shadow, we become dancers in a dance for life.”