Fear itself

On Sunday Melbournians were startled to learn that lockdown was ending. Not just startled, but thrilled, joyous, horrified, alarmed, frightened, ecstatic, shocked, and excited. Among other things. I think I was probably not the only one who felt all of the emotions. ALL of them. All at once. At maximum intensity.

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that it has taken me a couple of days to process what is going on in my heart and my head, and why threads like this beautiful one from Marieke Hardy sent me into floods of hot, uncontrollable tears without warning.

Melbournians have been in lockdown a lot. More than anyone in the world. And it has been hard. So hard. But we knew we were doing the right thing. The alternative was thousands and thousands of deaths that we could avoid. So we avoided them. How could we choose to do otherwise, the murdochracy and the federal government notwithstanding. How could we live with ourselves if our need to be out and doing things resulted in thousands of deaths? So we stayed inside. We pined for our loved ones. Across the city was as far as interstate or overseas for much of the time. No hugs. No three dimensional, high bandwidth, simply being together. And here we are, coming out the other side. What is there to be sad about?

But I am not the same person I was in February 2020. What’s changed? More than anything, I think it’s the fear. I am frightened. I’m frightened of strangers nearby without masks. I’m frightened of strangers with masks, if they come too close. I’m frightened of being inside. I’m frightened of the next variant and the next and the next, and terrified that this pandemic is going to dictate our lives for many years to come. I’m frightened of our health system becoming overwhelmed. I’m afraid I won’t be able to see my family and friends interstate and overseas for years.

I’m frightened that this end to lockdown will be snatched away faster than it was offered. I’m frightened that I won’t ever learn not to be afraid of strangers, or remember what it’s like not to watch the behaviour of others with narrowed eyes and a frantic calculation of risk. I’m frightened that life will never be the same, and I’m also frightened that we will fail to learn from everything we’ve seen in the last two years and that life will be exactly the same.

The fear is a stone in my chest, heavy and foreboding. This pandemic feels like a snapped cable, scything through possible futures and cutting down hope and possibilities with wild, chaotic bursts of random chance, each flailing swipe utterly redrawing the shape of tomorrow.

I’ve never suffered from clinical anxiety, but now I feel as though anxiety is all I have. All I am. All I can be.

At least now I have identified the source of my tears. I know why I haven’t yet organised a single social event, or planned so much as a dinner out. I think it may take some time to master my fears. There are so very many of them. They are so intense. They form an almost impenetrable shell around me, one that will take some work to break through.

I can do this. We can do this. There is hope, even though it is changeable and sometimes hard to find. There are still people. There is still love. There will be a tomorrow tomorrow, and another one the next day. One breath at a time, one foot in front of the other, one cautious venture out to the local cafe at a time. Hold on to each other. Together is how we’ll get through this, and together just got a little easier around here.