On social media this week I’ve seen an increase in demand for an end to the COVID-19 lockdown both in the UK and US. Apparently a large swathe of the population have ‘lockdown fatigue’ and after four weeks ‘just can’t take it anymore’. There are going to be a lot of mental health issues to deal with if life doesn’t return to ‘normal’ immediately (say the papers). Conversely for many introverts, or those who suffer with social anxiety in ‘normal life’, this lockdown is bringing peace, solitude and often a drop in anxiety and stress symptoms. A contentment not found in everyday life.
As a medically diagnosed anxiety sufferer I know it’s not much fun. At its worst in 2016, therapy helped me enormously, but my best management technique is time on my own – be that working from home or out in the garden and allotment. Perhaps it’s genetic, I have a recorded interview with my late Great Grandad where he said “Give me my dog, a gun and leave me to walk in the woods all day and I’ll be at my happiest”. He was a Victorian gamekeeper / gardener before you ask, not a weapon wielding serial killer.
Periodically daily life might cause my brain to reach a point where it can’t cope with too much social engagement – at its worst I’ll be at a social function where I can hear six conversations going on at once around me and my head explodes… causing me to leave the scene and go for a solitary stroll. I’m usually the guy sitting under a tree at a party looking at the sky, quite happy in my contemplative thoughts. I don’t need to be the one dancing on the table with a line of tequila shots at the bar (but it might still happen occasionally).
Living your dream life
Now faced with the COVID-19 lockdown, for the first time in my life I’m being ordered to live my dream life – stay home, keep away from strangers, bake, cook, eat, watch Tiger King, take some daily exercise in the countryside or do some gardening. My garden doesn’t know what’s hit it, I’ve actually been able to sit still in a chair outside this week without counting fifty weeds that need pulling up or planning my next landscaping task. My wife would tell you that filming and cutting my Gardeners World ‘viewers video’ was the most stressful part of this week (apparently we were close to divorce – not that I noticed).
With this isolation I have little to no anxiety unless I have to go food shopping armed with my n95 mask and nitrile gloves. Supplies which were bought five years ago in case there was ever a pandemic – a level of planning that in itself tells you what my anxiety levels are normally like. Who plans for a pandemic? I do. My mother says I should have been in government (but we’ll leave politics aside).
The guilt of happiness
Emotionally I’m finding this to be a very confusing time because I don’t think l I’ve ever been happier at home with my family. I know full well that there are NHS doctors and nurses losing their lives on the front lines in our hospitals, retail staff keeping us in food, care workers looking after the vulnerable, dustmen picking up the rubbish, keyworkers everywhere doing their bit. They’re having a VERY hard time and I feel extremely guilty that I am not. This is supposed to be us ‘doing our bit’ and for me it’s literally and metaphorically a walk in the park. Clapping on a Thursday evening just doesn’t seem to cut it does it? I’ve been ordered to do all my favourite things. Even delivering shopping to vulnerable isolating neighbours doesn’t seem too much of a burden for me.
“How’s Matt coping with it all?” my wife has been asked several times by friends and family who know my normal predisposition to worry. She has to rather confusingly reply “He’s never been better”.
I think it’s possibly the questioners who are worried. Life is upside down. It appears that the COVID-19 lockdown has brought about something of an anxiety trade. The social butterflies are struggling with their mental health, perhaps for the first time. The weak introverted ‘flowers’ have become the strong calm trees and life has rarely felt better for them – we’ve done isolation training for years. This is our time.
Typically anxiety sufferers might be familiar with being told to just ‘man up’ or to simply ‘get on with it’ and we know how irritating that can be. I’m sure we aren’t going to throw such ridiculous ideas back at the lockdown fatigued masses because we understand that it’s not that easy to deal with one’s emotional state. Perhaps however, when this is all over and normality returns, we might all have a better understanding of our respective positions and be less prone to misunderstand and judge each other harshly over our default mental states. Normal life is hard for a lot of people, lockdown life is hard for a lot of people – we’re all different, that’s our strength not our weakness.