“Lockdown II – The Resurgence” is, in many ways, a tougher watch than the debut series. I easily recognise the lead characters, Grief (for pre-Covid life) and Anxiety (about future life) but I feel like I’m not seeing enough of my favourite early players. Like, where is Teddy-Bear-In-The-Window? I liked her a lot. Plus, the first series finale tied up all the loose ends in a pretty satisfying way and I was keen to think that was the end of it.
Binge watching this second series is a new kind of exhausting, and I’m having to work harder to look after myself – no more Covid-19 Drinking Games at three in the afternoon for starters. In case it helps anyone else, this is the stuff I’m doing now to dial down my anxiety, and to make me feel safe. Lots of it will be specific to me, but it might resonate with you. Almost none of it costs money, and most of it can be done at Level 3 Lockdown.
Scroll down to the list of Small & Specific Things That Make Me Happy and Calm My Mind if you want, or you can stay here to see how I worked this stuff out.
I did a useful thing a couple of years ago. On holiday at the beginning of 2018 with no distractions, I sat on a beach and made a list of all the things that had made me happy in 2017. This was after I had spent the whole of the previous day writing down all the things that had made me unhappy that year. My father died in January 2017, and my grandson was born in December 2017, and in between those bookends it was a pretty eventful time.
So I ended up with two lists in a notebook: “Traumas 2017” and “Joys 2017”. Writing stuff down is one of the things that works for me – instead of feelings and vague ideas and worries floating around in my head, writing them down pins them to a page and makes them look and feel more manageable. Originally, I had planned to burn the pages of “Traumas” in a ceremonial way (“Burn it all down!”) but decided not to because, as time goes by, that list of things feels further away from me… And it reminds me that big and terrible things become smaller and less terrible eventually.
Also, because I spent a whole day writing down everything I could think of – big and small – some of the things that ended up on the “traumas” list sounded almost amusing when you read them side by side.
- “Breast cyst – waiting for my biopsy results.”
- “Satchmo catches a Tui.”
Writing down the list of traumas put some of them in their place and gave them perspective. It was also weirdly comforting that reading some of the others made it clear that it had, objectively, been a fucking year.
- “Withdrawing medical intervention for Dad and feeling like we were killing him”
- “The night my mother thought she was dying in her flat downstairs and she called an ambulance but not me. Paramedics arrived at our house. Woke up to hear a man’s voice coming from her bedroom, thought it was a home invasion.”
- “Holly goes into labour too soon.”
Bloody hell. So after a day of recording that list, writing the List of Joys the next day was, in and of itself, an exercise in self-care. It made me remember and savour all the good things that had also happened in 2017 – Disneyland, New Orleans, dinners with friends, things I had been proud of writing, stuff I had achieved round the house (“New roof, fixed deck”), reconnecting with my high school English teacher, singing in the car with my three-year-old granddaughter, favourite gigs, things I’d learned… I got really specific with it, and made myself remember all the times I had been happy.
Then I looked for the patterns in the list of things that had brought me joy and came up with:
- Moments of Stillness
And it felt like those are the places joy comes from for me, and that these are the things I should consciously think about putting into my life. Make appointments to see people, plan to visit the places where I feel the most like myself, write about the things that make a noise in my head, say yes to as many gigs as I can because some of them will be spectacular and you don’t know which ones until you have done them, and carve out some time just for me.
I put a post-it on my office wall with those 5 things to remind me. I also made another post-it of the filters I use to decide if I am going to do something, so that when an email arrives asking me to spend time on something, I can look up from my screen and check to see if it fits. My “is it worth my time” filter (in no particular order) is:
- Feed my soul
I made a third post-it of the people I like to spend time with because they uplift me, people who make me feel light and happy, better after I’ve seen them than I did before. There are more than a dozen names on that post-it, and the goal is to make sure that, in any given week, I see at least one of them.
Covid-19 has temporarily fucked some of that – seeing people in real life, travel and gigs, and I lost my regular writing job even before this all happened. So that’s a problem now, an extra challenge, but I am trying to find work-arounds. I have set up a couple of group Messenger chats with people from the post-it so we can talk – every day if we want, about nothing or everything. And I am planning local travel, and beginning to write for no good reason and no money, just for the sake of writing…
Big Hot Tip: Whenever I feel happy, I write down what it is that has made me happy. Some of it is surprising – like, if I hadn’t written it down, I wouldn’t know that “tidying out a drawer” is a source of joy for me, and calming. Then when I am anxious or flat or filled with dread or lost or lonely, I have a look at this list and see if there is a thing on it that I can do to lift my spirits. So it becomes like a shopping list of things I can go and get when my cupboard feels empty.
Caveat: Everyone’s experience of lockdown is different – we are a team of five million, but the field we play on isn’t level. I don’t have small children in my bubble to educate and entertain, so finding time to myself is easier. I also don’t have a job that I am trying to do from home. While my income has almost entirely disappeared, I have been able to access the Government Wage Subsidy, plus pre-Covid I earned a decent living and wasn’t living from pay-day-to-pay-day, so there has been a buffer. My stressors are that I can’t see my daughter and grandchildren at Level 3, and I don’t have enough work and I don’t know when or if that will change. Like I say, grief for my old life, and anxiety about where I might fit in a post-Covid world. But even though your stressors may be different, there might be some things on this list that work for you.
Here is my crazy random list of:
Small & Specific Things That Make Me Happy and Calm My Mind:
- “Tidy” something like a drawer (go through my socks and undies, or the pantry, throw out old shit) because even though I can’t manage the world, I can manage one tiny piece of it and make it make sense
- “Clean” – anything that can offer the opportunity to stand back and notice the difference like floors and windows, or makeup brushes, or the bathroom mirror. Not necessarily the whole house, just a small bit of it if that is all I can manage. The world might be a filthy pile of shit but a corner of my house is fresh and new.
- “Sort” through and “organise” my clothes or jewellery, put away stuff I don’t want to wear, keep out just a few things so I can look forward to wearing something lovely, and just gaze at pretty things. The world is a dumpster fire and heading in the wrong direction and I cannot understand it, and everything is ugly, but if I ever go anywhere again I have a pretty thing to wear, and how lucky am I?
- Do something nice for someone else. Send a card or a letter or a text, telling someone else they are wonderful, that you are thinking of them, that you admire what they do.
- Video record bedtime stories to send to my daughter so she can sit the kids down with the iPad while I read to them, and she can get five minutes’ peace.
- Walk on the beach, listen to the waves, picture what is over the horizon, imagine what it might be like to live in one of those houses right there, watch the dogs chasing balls and imagine for a few minutes what it is like to only have to think about chasing a ball…
- Watch a Tui fly, and imagine what it is like to only have to flap some of the time, and be able to glide effortlessly for short moments.
- I use Headspace and do a 10 minute guided meditation whenever I feel like it, sometimes on the beach, or I drive somewhere and do it in my car. One of the best things I’ve learned from meditation is to be interested and curious about my mental state, but not judge it. “I’m really anxious today. That’s interesting. It feels like a buzzing sound, or a clamp, and look how fast my heart is, and it appears to be in my throat… Fascinating.”
- Stare at my cat. Watching Satchmo sleep and seeing him breathe rhythmically with his little tummy going up and down makes my own breathing settle. Holding eye contact with him also, according to the scientists, releases oxytocin (the feel good hormone) in both of us. This also works with humans if you have one handy.
- Ride the stationary bike in my office (but I have to approach it as a gentle ride, not a workout because I hate “exercise”) usually while I listen to a podcast (because my mind wants a distraction from its own noise or to feel like it is being “useful” by learning something, and I know I will stay there until the audio has finished).
- Write a long email to a trusted friend, and experiment in the email with giving my life a narrative. Find the story I am living right now – the “what is happening” and the “how I feel about it”. This is my friend Lesley in Canada. I have known her for 50 years. She doesn’t judge me and I can tell her secrets, and I write to her to find out what I think because somewhere in my storytelling I find the truth. Or at least, begin to make sense of things.
- Books: find the ones that either lift me out of my real life, or tell me something about my real life, or both. I read memoir and fiction right now – I immerse myself in other lives as an escape from my own, but also in the hope I can bring some wisdom back.
- Music: Loud and fierce women are working for me just now. Give me Lizzo and Beth Hart. Turn off the news (it is very fucking repetitive) and put on Judy Garland.
- At the end of each day: wash my face with cheap and safe face wash from the supermarket, and use organic face oils bought from a local supplier online which are relatively cheap (like $12 each) which feel great, and make me feel good. Plus aromatherapy oils in the morning and at night as a ritual. It feels like an ancient practice that women have been doing for thousands of years and makes me feel connected to them all.
- Designate whole days for not washing or getting dressed, giving myself permission to be a sloth. Then have a day of fixing that – shave my legs if I feel like it, wash my hair, wear real clothes. Give myself permission to be a princess now and then. The contrast between sloth and princess is satisfying, and I let myself enjoy both.
- Make a plan for something to look forward to. I am finding this challenging now because plans keep being shat on from a great height (our big overseas trip for 2020 was cancelled, our weekend getaway this month was derailed) but I am trying to accept that I should still make plans – change them if I have to, but keep making them anyway. Let the gods laugh.
- Pick a thing to fight for. Have a campaign I believe in. Work out what I can contribute to it (often for me it is writing or speaking out loud) and do that. One fight at a time.
- Don’t fight with people I haven’t met. On Twitter, or on Facebook. I am easily tempted into this and fuck it up all the time. But I try to only engage with people I would also let into my house. Otherwise, they don’t deserve to be invited into my head.
- Make meatloaf: I found a recipe for meatloaf in Renée’s memoir, “These Two Hands”. Renee is a 90 year old New Zealand lesbian socialist writer. Her memoir is filled with stories about people and places that are familiar to me, and it has been the best Lockdown book. The recipe is from her mother-in-law, Ruby, so this meatloaf has been made for at least 100 years. You put everything in a bowl (mince, vegetables, spices, an egg) and smoosh it with your bare hands, and it is like a combination of playing with playdough and finger-painting – a treat of tactile goodness. And then you get to bake it and eat it. On the night I make it, I serve it with mashed potatoes, and make sandwiches with the leftovers for a couple of days. A literary meatloaf, if you will, handed down through many generations of women who got shit done, both in and out of the kitchen.
- Love someone. Be one person’s best and most loyal friend. Make sure they feel loved every day.