So here we are, it’s now 3 months since I last went anywhere other than the supermarket or post office. We’re nearing the end of week 14 of working from home, and we’ve officially been in ‘lockdown’ as a country for almost 13 weeks.
I thought I would blog my experience but in honesty I haven’t had the energy or motivation to even journal let alone create something coherent for a blog. I’m also conscious that everyone is experiencing this differently and I don’t want to be seen to down play anyone else’ experience by talking about the things that I’m personally struggling with, which thankfully are not life threatening.
So after three months here is a brief account of my experience so far…
The early days were categorised by extreme worry and anxiety as I realised this wasn’t going to be like past epidemics where I watched it unfold on the news but instead something that would impact us directly and that we had a very real chance of catching. That even if we didn’t that we’d have to make some pretty major adjustments over the coming months.
Other than ongoing anxiety, which has come in waves, my experience has felt mainly domestic, with additional cleaning & cooking duties.
In the beginning there were a number of administrative tasks in rescheduling things, rearranging work and planning food requirements as we adjusted to both of us working from home. Having recently run down our food supplies in preparation for work to our kitchen I had to quickly restock as best I could. Easter plans were cancelled and instead I found myself standing outside the post office in a long line of socially distanced customers feeling shell shocked and trying not to cry, as I sent gifts to my niece & nephew.
Half our kitchen was already boxed up in preparation for building work that now may or may not happen but I decided to box even more up to make it easier to keep surfaces clean. I dug out hand sanitizer that I’d got from my Nana’s house after she passed last year and set up a cleaning station by the front door for taking in food/deliveries.
Lockdown in the UK doesn’t feel like the lockdowns I’ve seen online in other European countries. Some non-essential businesses have been open during this time and we’ve been allowed outside for exercise once a day. Shops have introduced social distancing measures in varying degrees of success, play areas in parks are closed and public spaces have been closed until recently. I know many people who aren’t able to leave the house at all and I also know people who continue to work as normal but stay home the rest of the time.
We realised early on that my husband is in the ‘highly vulnerable’ group due to an existing health condition and should ‘shield’ until end of June. Guidelines have since changed on this and we’re not actually sure if he is ‘highly vulnerable’ or just ‘vulnerable’ but either way we don’t want to take any changes and have therefore both been limiting our own interaction with the outside world even more than the guidelines require. I’m also in the ‘vulnerable category’ because of having ME which could be worsened if I got any virus, particularly something like Covid – 19. As time has gone on we’ve introduced more bike rides (for hubby & SD) and walks (for me) in remote areas, We’re quite lucking where we live in that we can drive a short distance and be in countryside, but we haven’t yet been meeting up with people outside of the home.
In order to shield hubby I’m doing the shopping, taking possession of any deliveries to the house and taking responsibility for cleaning the house down each day.
It’s strange how we’ve slipped into a new normal. Food planning, shopping and cleaning down food on arrival at the house now take up hours of the week. I have a complex system for working out meal plans, keeping the freezer stocked to reduce times going to the shop and trying to cater for my low fodmap diet as best I can with what is available.
As the lockdown continued the work on our house was able to recommence with the help of a temporary wall to keep the builders socially distanced from the rest of the house. They also operated with less people so they could socially distance from each other and so far it seems to have been working pretty successfully. The upshot being that each week we lost more and more space and have to date been coping without an oven for a few weeks now, use of the washing machine on weekends only and without a downstairs sink for one week, this has of course made the extra hygiene needed more difficult but still manageable. Without my cleaner I’m doing a lot more cleaning, including trying to keep on top of the endless dust from the building work and cat hair from my two rescue kitties.
My husband is also taking the opportunity to complete some DIY projects and is still working his full-time job from home. He’s also doing the lion share of the dealing with the builders (from a distance) and making phone calls etc re the work on the house.
The result of which is the house is in disarray, not helped by my using the dinning room as a office. The only solution I’ve come up with so far is to accept the chaos and take small steps to prevent the feel of overwhelm, such as trying to have a structure to the day.
I’ve been working between 3-5 days per week. My work days which used to be either busy traveling and working then crashing out either at home or in a hotel are now easier in the sense that I’m not going anywhere and don’t need to get up so early, however instead of the usual quiet working from home days I’m used to a couple of days a week I’m now fielding what feels like hundreds of whats app messages from colleagues and friends/family and joining at least 2 video calls a day. Before I know it’s it’s 5pm and the briefing by UK gov is coming on. It’s strange how the days have taken on their own rhythm and watching the gov update which seemed scary and ‘war time’ like at first has become a normal part of the day.
Also because I have ME my day in terms of time I have energy to do anything is quite short and mostly taken up with work or house work. Keeping the house clean and sanitised, the fridge stocked and making three meals a day feels like a full time job some days, especially when my step-daughter is here.
After work I wipe all door handles etc, made dinner, feed the cats and take turns with hubby tackling the seemingly endless amounts of dishes we now produce.
As a result the time is going pretty quickly and I can’t say I’ve been bored at all.
My mood is up and down and of course I am worried about what the future holds and not knowing what will happen is difficult, especially as I suffer with anxiety at the best of times.
We didn’t see my stepdaughter for a while in the beginning but once her whole household had been home for 2 weeks we started having visits again and she’s been staying for longer periods and doing some homeschooling days with us after the weekend. This has meant that our routine has been out and we’re assessing week by week whether it is safe for her to visit but generally our time between visits is slightly shorter so time is going fast.
At first I felt a little guilty that I wasn’t doing anything to help during the crisis but the reality is my husband is shielding so unless I want to sleep separate and social distance in the house I need to do the same as much as possible, also I am unwell myself and simply don’t have the energy to keep on top of the safety of my own house and family and my work let alone anything else. I haven’t driven in months because my brain fog and fatigue mean I’m worried I won’t be able to concentrate, not to mention the pains and numbness in my legs which isn’t ideal for driving.
So I’ve contended myself to doing the minimum – doing work on the days when I have work to do (am freelance so work is a little quite atm) and not pushing myself to work 5 days a week just because I’m home, keeping the house clean and stocked with food ( a bigger task than i’d imagined for a house of 2.5) and resting in hope that after all this my health will be slightly better. I feel guilty as I know people are coping with all this on top of more work than I’m currently doing and with kids full-time but this is my reality at the moment, and my priority has to be on getting my health improved so that I’m not living with so many limitations indefinitely.
I’m doing things that I can practically do – ordering take out from our favourite local restaurants, doing reviews for places/services I’ve used, ordering vouchers from small businesses I’ll use again when we get to the ‘new normal’, removing things from the diary and where possible rescheduling rather than getting refunds, calling each of my parents regularly, sending gifts and letters to family and friends, putting out food for the food bank collection when I can etc.
My family are all over 200 miles away so it seems like it will be a while before we can do even a social distanced visit and whilst I’m worried about how long it might be before we can make this happen I’m also anxious about returning to normal.
At first I was loth to take time off work during this time despite my ill health as it wasn’t clear whether I might loose work due to the situation, but it’s looking more likely that I will have some work for the rest of the year so I’m keen to get into a more structured routine with which days I work. I’ve been adjusting my work schedule week on week, depending on what work is available and how I’m feeling. I’m grateful I have this flexibility but I’ve learned that this approach takes up a lot of energy. I find that having set days off where I don’t have to think about it, I just know that I don’t work works best for my ME but in the current climate that doesn’t always work – for example there might be a meeting on a Friday when I won’t usually be working but as I’m at home anyway it makes sense to work a half-day, attend the meeting and get paid, if my step-daughter is here on a Monday it makes sense to do less work when I’d usually be working a full day so I can potter around the house and be available rather than getting stressed trying to work and monitor homeschooling at the same time – I’m lucky in that my workload is such that I can organise this reasonably easy but it doesn’t suit my ME because I’m neither working nor am I relaxing/resting and I’m constantly juggling the diary around and trying to decide when/ how much and what work to do.
The disruption of both my work schedule and the building works would normally be a big cause of anxiety and it is in a way but because I’m already disrupted and anxious due to corona virus and my households vulnerable status it just feels like more strangeness in an already strange time. Also there has been the bonus of having my hubby at home to help. I’m very conscious that anything could change at anytime – particularly if anyone I know and love gets sick.
I am getting better at going with the flow though and practicing being okay with no forward plan. I have a vague plan for 2 weeks ahead in terms of work and a vaguer forward look that hopefully by August bank holiday (my birthday) we will be free to travel to Northumberland to see family (my optimism for this changes day to day) but other than that I have no control over what is happening and we expect to be home at least until end of July so I am not making any new plans.
We mostly now know when SD will be coming but that could always change. She’s back to school two days a week and we expect that to continue to the school holiday but we’re all keeping a close eye on the data and we might change that if we think we need to. Until recently we were getting a week on week plan from the builders of what they can/can’t do so I was trying not to worry and just accept that at some point we would get the other half of our house back but in the last few weeks more things have opened up and I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and getting excited to start organising my new kitchen.
My aim is for more open space and being able to move (flow) though the house easily. I want the house to work for how we exist within in and for it to be easy to open any cupboard or draw and see what is in. But this is only half the picture – I want to be able to sit down with a cup of tea and relax, I want to work on my jigsaw without having to clear space and take it out, I want the maintenance (cleaning, tidying, fixing) of the house to be easier so we can go for a walk or start a game on a Saturday afternoon rather than working through lists of tasks, I want to find clothes easily on a morning and not have to devote my limited energy to thinking about where things might be or what to wear, I want my morning routine of taking supplements and making a smoothie to be easy with everything accessible, I want things to feel ordered and calm without the need to constantly be battling to keep them that way. I want to have space for Yoga, for reading for making calls with family. I want my hubby to be able to spread his ancestry projects out without the house feeling cluttered, I want my step daughter to be able to find her own healthy snacks and drinks as she grows in independence and know how to contribute to keeping the house tidy. Having some extra storage will also be helpful with being able to keep a sensible stock of the things we use regularly in the house, in case of another lockdown over the winter. This also aligns to my plans for more simple living as I’m trying to streamline my processes, including shopping. Anyway, more on this in another blog.
There are some upsides to my experience of the lockdown too- my hubby and I are often eating lunch together and eating earlier and spending more time together on a night time, I’m able to get up later and take breaks when I need to and am not feeling pressured to do ‘stuff’ outside of work when I’m really not well enough. I’m communicating more with friends and family – none of my F&F live locally so in normal times it can be long periods before I see them which is still the case but because we’re all in the same boat we’re utilising video call more and staying in touch. What’s interesting is how few friends I’m in regular contact with. It makes me feel a bit sad in a way that there aren’t more people but also makes me more focused on the people that matter.
I’m conscious of how much my life has shrunk over the past few years – with moving out of London, getting married and then in the last year getting sick with ME and just not being able to do things outside of work/family and even struggling with those things.
Another bonus is I’m finding that I’m listening to more podcasts as I usually work in silence while I’m at home but now that I’m home more often I’m finding some engagement/sound helps stay focused and I’m supporting my favourite podcast productions on patreon as a way of thanking them for all the free content I’ve enjoyed and also getting more content to see me through these times. My favourite for the last year is The Minimalists – I’d highly recommend their free weekly podcast which is also on You Tube and their documentary on Netflix. They talk about minamilisim in the widest sense and could be described more as talking about purposeful living.
This is something I’m giving a lot of thought to during the lockdown – there isn’t a lot that I miss so what would my new simple life look like? How can I retain the things I’ve enjoyed about the lockdown and bring back things that truly bring me joy and meaning? What new things would I like to bring in to fill the space?