Those lockdown feels

Today is one of those days when it feels like every single nerve in my body is completely exposed. Everything that happens feels intense, whether good or bad. It just feels too much. It’s almost as though the absence of hugs has removed a crucial conduit through which we process our emotions. As though touch balances us by calming the extremes, bleeding off the lows and making the highs manageable, but also lasting.

I am dying to wrap myself around my friends. To feel my face against theirs, to match their breathing with my own, to consume the feel of their heartbeats like a drug.

I turned fifty recently. People have been sending me beautiful, thoughtful gifts. Orchid earrings (I LOVE orchids), flowers, wine, chocolate. My bestie is making me the most beautiful quilt in perfectly Linda colours. A friend I haven’t spoken to for ages sent me earrings, a pendant, and a keyring made of wooden discs laser engraved with my organisation’s logo. Lots of people donated to Transcend on my behalf.

I feel loved. But bereft at the same time.

This has been the weirdest week. On Wednesday I woke up and went downstairs to chat with my husband and play with the cat, and I noticed a weird artefact in my vision. There was a patch in my vision surrounded by a brightly lit line that was rippling. I couldn’t read because the patch was in the way, and I’d never experienced anything like this before. Unnerved, I called Nurse on call and spoke to Laura, who asked me lots and lots of questions, and seemed very concerned with whether or not I had a headache. She encouraged me to see a GP the same day, and urged me to call back if my symptoms changed. By the time the call was over the patch had expanded beyond the boundaries of my eye and disappeared, but I remained unsettled.

Within 30 minutes I had developed a bad headache, so I called Nurse on Call back and this time she urged me to go straight to the emergency room. This is the third time in my life I have been told to go straight to the emergency room. Fortunately they’ve all turned out to be false alarms, but it’s an unsettling process, to say the least. It’s definitely better to go to the hospital and find out you’re ok than choose not to go and find out that you really should have gone, but it’s not a fun process. The nurse was talking about neurological issues, and I knew she was concerned I might be having a stroke. The “it can’t happen to me” part of my brain was warring with the “holy crap I’m dying” catastrophising part, and I was distinctly edgy.

Since we’re in a pandemic and Victoria is in the middle of an outbreak, I wasn’t allowed to have my husband with me (we didn’t even try, because we know the drill by now), so I went through the ‘check in’ process and wound up in a cubicle feeling stressed and vulnerable. One of the nurses asked me to put on a hospital gown, which, if you’re not familiar with them, could hardly have been designed better to make patient feel exposed (literally) and alone, gaping and open at the back as they are. They’d only be worse if they opened at the front. As I’m now fifty and much more assertive I declined the hospital gown (why did I say yes in the past??) and remained in my own clothes, which gave me at least the illusion of control.

I sat down on the emergency room hospital bed feeling anxious and alone, and the bed started to shake. Having been told I had possible neurological issues I immediately thought “hell, is this real, or is it in my head?” I watched the bed for a bit and listened to the rumbling, and then the two nurses in the cubicle rushed to the front of the room and said “what was that??? Is it an earthquake??” at which point I figured it was not in my head. An actual earthquake came as a relief. (And, honestly, it was exciting. Never occurred to me that lives could be at stake, or any significant damage – we don’t get that kind of earthquake here, or at least haven’t in the past!) I jumped on twitter to find every Melbournian (and a few Canberrans, Sydneysiders, and people further afield) saying “hey, did anyone else feel that?” and then my phone started to melt down with text messages.

To put this in context, we also had the most bizarre riots on the same day, with tradies mixed with nazis and other alt-right fascists rampaging through the city and staging nonsensical protests on the West Gate Bridge. We were well on track for the apocalypse. I don’t think any of us would have been surprised to find a swarm of locusts in our backyards.

It was quite a day.

It turns out that I get migraines now, and this explains the visual disturbance and the headache, but the ER doctor was very concerned about my blood pressure, which was high. I mean, I was in the ER concerned about possibly having a stroke, worried about catching covid due to being in a hospital during a pandemic, hearing about riots and experiencing an earthquake, and my blood pressure was showing signs of stress. Go figure.

It’s just relentless. Life doesn’t stop lifeing at us just because we’re in a pandemic. Kids get sick. We get sick. Parents get sick. Things break. We break. Job dramas. House dramas. Pet dramas. Family dramas. Life goes on, but here we are, feeling quite bereft of the resources to deal with it.

And yet, look at us. Mostly dressed (when we need to be), mostly washed (ditto), getting up and doing things day after day. It may feel like we’re not coping, but as my friend Lisa pointed out quite emphatically today, we need to celebrate the wins. We need to celebrate being alive. Making it from one day to the next. Connecting with our friends (when we can). Getting food on the table. Just surviving is a win. Lisa asked me how far I have come in the last five years, and professionally the answer was obvious – I have started a Data Science Education charity, written a book, educated a lot of teachers, created a lot of resources, built a lot of partnerships.

But personally, perhaps the most important answer is: I have figured out that I get to choose. Who I work with. Who I spent my emotions and energy on. How I live my life. A lot of people are changing jobs, moving to the country or the coast, figuring out what matters to them. That’s a gift. And maybe some of the things that matter to us are out of reach just now. But they will come back into our lives, all the more precious and valued for having been missing. We get to choose. And tonight, I am choosing to celebrate how far we’ve come.

Hang in there. Get vaccinated. Stay connected. And celebrate more.

Are we ok? Can we be?

Yesterday a close friend called from interstate, where he is not in lockdown. He wanted to know how I was.

I’m ok, I said. But I lied.

I don’t know why I lied. I tell him everything. He knows my soul. Maybe it’s because I’m trying so hard to be ok. Perhaps it’s because not being ok is unthinkable. Because if everything that’s going on means I’m not ok, and none of it is going away anytime soon, then when will I ever be ok again? Is being ok something we can even aspire to now?

Here we are again, in lockdown with no clear end in sight. Just when we thought we had figured out how to manage this virus, it changed on us. It will almost certainly change again. That comforting magic carpet of certainty that most of us used to ride, that enabled us to surf confidently over the complexity of our lives, has been comprehensively shredded. There’s no certainty now.

Every day is the same, yet differently traumatic. The strategies that kept us going last year were cheap, poorly made, single use trinkets, barely fit for a week in lockdown. For me, at least, they unravelled, came unglued, and broke completely at the beginning of this latest lockdown. Still, we had hope. We hunkered down and consumed the daily numbers ravenously. Hoping, begging, praying they would come down today.

And then the unthinkable happened. Covid zero eluded us. Suddenly the end was not reliably in sight. No more visions of donut days and celebratory dinners at actual restaurants.

Now the way out is vaccination, but unless we are one hundred percent vaccinated, which we can’t possibly do because young kids still can’t get the vaccine, the “way out” is not actually out. It’s… kind of… through? Less in? Differently in? We talk about getting back to normal, but there is a deep suspicion fermenting in the depths of my broken heart that fears normal is gone forever, just like covid zero.

When our kids were little and we were chronically sleep deprived, my mantra used to be “this, too, will pass.” Even in the depths of despair after another dreadful night, it helped to remember that what we were going through was temporary. Things would change. They wouldn’t necessarily get easier, but we could be sure they’d be different.

It seems to me that my mantra works for the pandemic, as well. This will pass. Things will be different. Maybe easier, maybe not. But the never ending day, reduced, reused, and recycled into the same day tomorrow? It will change. I just wish I had some idea of what it will change into.