Yes, I know it is September. But in my defence I refer to court to 2020. The events of this year have distorted our usual sense of time. 2020 has changed our world entirely, but has also been a sodding grind.

On the 23rd of March the UK went into lockdown…

…and I posted a blog. I realise one of these events had a greater effect on most people’s lives than the other. When the PM asked the nation to stay at home, the husband and I had already been self isolating for 10 days. As a result, the blog progressed from gasping at the sight of an empty London to hints and tips to help one through a few of weeks of social distancing.

Ah, how naive I was! But it was a different time. Anxiety at what lay before us mixed with the determination to make the best of it. My initial post set out the ‘Four rules’ I’d come up with to maintain a healthy mental state.

  1. Get outside once a day
  2. Get exercise once a day
  3. Video call someone once a day
  4. Cut yourself some slack!

There have been many more rules made, flouted, discarded and denied in the weeks since.

Twenty three weeks later…

… and none of my rules made it through intact. The plan to call someone once a day went first. Frankly, it was a relief to scrub that one off the list. I’ve gone back to the usual pre-Covid group chats and messages. Now that I don’t see folks in person there are some people I text more often and others who have gone to the bottom of the list. That’s ok, we all have those re-prioritised chat feeds now.

One thing which I hope will continue is the weekly online gaming session. A few hours of online company is something which I know has got me through those weeks when I don’t really speak to anyone other than the husband.

As for rules one and two, getting outside proved difficult when the parks were full, hay fever covered everything in an orange dust and the roads melted in the heat. I tried online exercise courses but a one bedroom flat doesn’t provide much room for an excitable video when the other occupant is in a company wide meeting.

All of this meant there were several times when the final rule, of cutting myself some slack, was missed because I was too distraught at failing in all my other rules.

Five things I managed to do

Our usual pace of life has gone which means I often brood on how little I managed to do this year. To help drag myself out of these moods, I drew up a list of five things I’ve achieved. It provides solid evidence and reassurance that I have progressed, despite the chaos.

  1. Signed a publishing contract and wrote the book (whoop!).
  2. Participated in health research studies for the NHS and private companies.
  3. Volunteered in my community with our Mutual Aid group.
  4. Invented the PKU friendly Dark Chocolate & Ginger Hot Cross Bun loaf for the bread maker.
  5. Knocked 5 minutes off my 5km run time.

What were the good memories of lockdown?

Most Londoners would say something about meandering deserted streets, waking to bird song or enjoying the clear air. The photo above is the view south from Parliament Hill in July. IRL, you could see the North Downs 20 miles away.

Afraid I’m fairly typical. My favourite memories are of running on quiet roads in bright sunshine while children took over the pavements with hopscotch games. At home, running and gardening tips were swapped with the neighbours as we all had fewer people to speak to.

As soon as we were allowed to, a friend and I would meet regularly for long evening walks. Less frequent were our HIIT sessions, where would shout at each other through a minute of pushups to the bemusement of other park users. As the weather warmed, we turned to swimming sessions as exercise and catch-ups in the heat.

I avoided the supermarket for months as our household were lucky to get regular delivery bookings. Though the husband would say that waking in the night to book deliveries while the website was quiet is an odd definition of ‘luck’. The variability of food available meant that we branched out into a few different recipes. PKU “Fish and Chips” were a staple in the cooler spring evenings which then gave way to vegetable sushi in the summer. (NB even vegetable sushi is fairly high in protein so has been restricted to a treat now and then).

The bad: Social media and FOMO1

There were hours spent scrolling through news feeds in an attempt to understand the multitude of daily events. I countered these by rushing to the other extreme of social media and news detoxes. Entire weekends were spent in achieving a momentary reduction in my reading list.

The weeks in early May, when lockdown was lifted but we were all told to stay at home anyway, were the worst. I was caught in a loop of FOMO at it’s most aggressive. “I should be out there, but it isn’t safe. But I’m missing out, but I don’t want to see anyone incase one of us is infected…”

On those days I would watch more TV than I thought possible. As a side effect, I have finally caught up on the Marvel and Star Wars movie franchises. When I felt I’d wallowed enough, a run, cycle, or just a walk around the block would usually reduce that FOMO back to a manageable level.

And the regrets.

I wish I had made more of an effort to manage my daily structure . While I did finish my writing project before the publishers deadline, it would have been completed earlier if I’d spent fewer mornings in the dressing gown scrolling news feeds. Nor did I settle into a routine for my exercise, partly due to commitments outside my control.

In hindsight, I think I was waiting for a routine to materialise so I could slot in exercise and work times. This may have been easier with a regular nine-to-five job. But I’d bet I’m not the only one who didn’t do much because there wasn’t a routine to fit those events into.

Those uncompleted tasks or missed events would play on my mind and my mood would spiral downwards. I’d often write the day off and sink onto the sofa pledging to do better tomorrow, only to repeat the cycle. Having a structure wouldn’t have avoided those anxious days entirely - this is a pandemic after all. But I think I would have had fewer depressed moments.

Seize the day

Just as the pandemic isn’t over, nor is the chance at doing things a bit differently. That goes for society as well as ourselves. But since we aren’t all stateswomen at the top of our game, we need to be the change we want to see in the world. And often that means starting small.

This week I’ve planned in my exercise and have been shocked to discover it doesn’t actually take as long as I thought. This means I’ve started a few other chores which I finished sooner than anticipated. Can I keep it up? There will be difficult days, when the headaches or the cold rain mean getting out the door is just too damned hard. But I will still have the next day to work on an addition to my little list of ‘Five Things’.

I’d be interested to hear what got you through, please let me know on Twitter.

  1. Fear Of Missing Out ↩︎