On 17th March 2020, two months ago, I wrote:
“But I’m hopeful. Things will stabilise and get better, because they have to. I’m trying not to think too much about the details of how we’ll get there.”Grappling with uncertainty
Just under a week later, on 23rd March, the UK would enter lockdown. And here I am, two months on.
My initial writing about the coronavirus pandemic had a lot to do with uncertainty and unreality. I couldn’t quite get my head around the stasis we’d suddenly been forced into. And so the beginning of my time in lockdown was occupied with a frantic grappling to find a new purpose, new hobbies, new formulations of productivity that would mean this unparalleled free time would not go to waste.
I got in touch with my University careers service for some advice on what I could be doing now to help myself for the future. I threw myself into student societies, and filled my days with ‘productivity’.
I started running, and I envisioned myself returning to University in October with a whole new physique and routine. Yes, I would actually go to the gym during term time. Maybe I would even pick up a sport.
I had some academic goals I wanted to achieve, including finishing off and handing in my dissertation. With all of this time, there’s so much I could do to prepare myself for next year, and I found myself itching to get started.
But I felt this motivation burn out pretty quickly as the days got more samey, and the end to this uncanny world seemed ever murkier. Having endless time stopped meaning possibility and started meaning procrastination.
More than anything, I started to find it scary to think about the future and returning to the real world, because, when I do, I’ll be in my final year of uni, and I still haven’t quite put my finger on what I even want to do with my life. So I stop thinking about it, and throw my attention to something else.
It didn’t take long before I stopped getting dressed properly everyday, stopped wanting to write articles, stopped even wanting to think. Some days, I have a numbness to the world, and lockdown makes this quite difficult to combat. Wasted days aplenty, it doesn’t matter if I don’t get dressed today. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see the point of getting up today. These are destructive habits I’ve fallen into before, but lockdown offers such a tempting abyss: it is so easy to disappear into these endless days, to stop existing, to wallow.
I have to actively remind myself, sometimes, that this isn’t my life – this will end one day. It’s a horrible feeling to want to just sleep until October – but it’s also a very real feeling that I’ve found myself swimming through in lockdown. It’s hard to constantly keep my head above the water – some days I simply succumb to sinking a little bit – but I still see bursts of motivation and purpose, even if I’m only motivated to read a book or watch a Netflix show.
Writing and reading weren’t originally tasks or chores for me. As an English student, I have to make an active effort to separate my reading and my writing from my self worth and ‘productivity’. No, you do not have to finish this book today if you don’t want to. There is no deadline to that blog post. Your writing doesn’t have to be publishable or insightful or profound.
This blog is full of random thought posts that I write for myself more than anyone else. And, for a while, it was a little difficult to let myself write here: I felt like I had to be writing more serious pieces for publications as opposed to blog posts, or doing academic work, or anything else that’s more productive that just sitting with my laptop all day, Netflix in the background, writing, writing, writing.
If lockdown has been good for anything, it has let me reconnect with this, one of my favourite pass-times that always slips through the cracks when I have academic work to attend to. In 2 months, I’ve written 12 blog posts (which has actually tripled the number of posts on my site) about anything and everything, to different levels of quality, and to little avail. This blog is basically just a place for me to talk to myself.
Since lockdown, I’ve read 14 books that I’ll never write about academically. I read them without the intention of thinking profound thoughts about them, and without writing about them at all, unless I really wanted to.
If anything, for me, these two quantities are a glorious representation of my unproductivity. I’m finally reconnecting with what I enjoy.
I’ve also been creative writing here and there, just letting my fingers dance across the keyboard (or my pen skate across the page) to produce things that I don’t intend to do anything with. I love just writing for the sake of writing. Shaking off those toxic productivity vibes has allowed me to return to this.
I’ve been digital drawing, something I always intended to do with my laptop, but never found the time. I don’t plan on doing anything with these drawings (although I did use one for a recent blog post). I don’t want them to be perfect – they’re made so I can enjoy their process, to experiment with different colours and techniques.
I’m still running. Running has maybe been the most important thing I started doing these last two months – it gets me up, out of the house, and gives me something to aim for. Some days, I even get dressed and wear makeup. My motivation to do these things just ebbs and flows.
So, two months on, I’m still hopeful. Things have stabilised and got better, because I’ve allowed myself to shake off the bounds of responsibility and productivity. Thinking about the future is still a little unsettling, but this time to explore my passions will hopefully, over the next couple of months, help me start thinking about the future without having to be scared of it.
It’s strange, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back to ‘normal’. But I’m started to process it a little better now.