By Elliot McKernon
Last week, my girlfriend asked what I wanted to do for my birthday. I said I hadn’t thought about it, and she replied that we better plan it soon since not many places could seat a group outdoors, as is required by the local lockdown in my area.
I was shocked to realise my birthday was only a few days away. Lockdown feels like it’s gone on forever, but in my head, it still feels like early spring.
My feelings towards lockdown have shifted back and forth over time. At first, the sheer madness of it was almost exciting, and I felt like it’d be a fun fortnight working at home, rather than at my university office. Six weeks later, I was miserably crawling out of bed each morning, slouching to the desk only a couple feet away to try and write my PhD thesis. My funding was about to run out, but I had lost all ability to motivate myself in the home environment.
Eventually, I got the hang of being locked in and developed something of a routine. Since I couldn’t get to the gym, I learnt to enjoy running for the first time in my life. I hosted and joined quizzes on zoom, and played video games online with friends. I got into the swing of it, and I actually felt pretty good. I submitted my PhD thesis, only six weeks behind the date I’d planned, and I felt decent about that. But summer was around the corner, and I realised I couldn’t enjoy it with my friends. I hadn’t seen them in months, and I hadn’t seen my family since Christmas.
Without any work to do, I became filled with ennui. I tried to finish off my creative side projects, which I’d put on hold to complete my PhD, but that didn’t hit the spot either. By mid-summer, I was thoroughly fed up, and embarrassed at how optimistic I’d been about the length of the lockdown. I had a routine, but it had begun to haunt me rather than support me. People had grown bored of online video games and zoom quizzes, and it became a struggle to organise social events even online.
Finally, the lockdown began to ease, and we had our first guests to our house in months. We tidied the house like our lives depended on it, and enjoyed socialising while distanced and separated at either end of the room. We went to the pub, and marvelled at all the people around us, enjoying the thrill of the routine change more than the beer or the food. Shops and gyms began to open, with restrictions and rules that I was perfectly willing to follow.
Sadly, my area was forced into a local lockdown just a couple weeks later, a lockdown which is still in place. Once again, people here aren’t allowed to meet anyone from another household in their home or garden. We can still meet outside, in public spaces, but the brief window of ‘freedom’, where we were allowed friends over to our house, suddenly became a cruel and tantalising hint of what we were missing out on.
With no easing of the local lockdown in sight, hearing how other parts of the country are opening up is bittersweet. I’m grateful my friends can see each other, especially those that live alone or in remote places. I’m also glad my parents can receive guests in their garden, or visit my brother. But it’s hard not to feel jealous. It’s even become harder to organise games or events with people online since they’re making the best use of the relaxed rules to spend time with the people they’ve missed.
I can’t say how I’ll be at the end of the lockdown, because I can’t even predict how I’ll be in a fortnight. I doubt my experience is unique, but it can be hard not to feel emotionally distant from those you’re physically distant from for so long. I have friends who’ve maintained the same routine since before the lockdown, switching from writing code in an office to writing code at home.
I’ve also had friends who’ve moved cities or started new jobs. I’m still trying to find work, and figure out what to do with my life, but it’s challenging to do that when I don’t know what life will be like in two weeks.
So, for me, ‘the new normal’ has been one of constant flux. It shifts each month, with my mood swinging back and forth in response. I’m excited for the end of lockdown, but I can’t say what life will be like afterwards. I can’t figure out if I’ve adapted to the new normal or not, because I can’t pin down what is normal now.