Wednesday 29 April 2020

A Postcard from My Lockdown Vacation

I don’t take vacations away from my friends. I take them with me!

If not for coronavirus this would be the final day of my week away at the cottage in Langrigg, Cumbria. I’d be having lunch somewhere, quite possibly the Beehive Inn at Eamont Bridge. Veggie lasagne and chips, and a half-pint of something. Instead, I’m sitting in my garden at home.

The cottage booking was cancelled, of course. Hire car too. Instead of a week visiting places up and down the east coast — Holy Island, Bamburgh, Alnwick Garden, Morpeth, Belsay, Blyth — and a week in the Lake District, I’ve spent the fortnight at home in lockdown. No car. No trips out. No visiting friends and family. A weekly walk to the supermarket for groceries. Occasional visits to the local corner shop. My daily walk for exercise. The house. The garden.

Before the holiday I’d had three weeks working from home. That wasn’t easy and I’m not looking forward to getting back to it. It was all so new, strange, and scary. The country — indeed much of the world — in lockdown and no idea how long our lives would be put on hold. It’s the end of the fifth week of lockdown here in the UK and to use an overworked phrase it has become the new normal.

But five weeks and one staycation in, I can honestly say I’m doing okay. As I write that I feel a sense of embarrassment. Guilt. Shame, even. How can I be “doing okay”? This is a global pandemic. People are getting sick and dying every day. Many have lost jobs, homes, loved ones. Education at all levels is in stasis. Parents are trying to keep their children safe, entertained and learning while dealing with their own issues. People are short — some desperately so — of money, food, and hope.

And here I am, on the final day of what has turned out to be a rewarding and peaceful fortnight at home.

I’m aware of how privileged my situation is. I may not want to go back to work on Monday but I have a job to go to that is as secure as any are these days. I’m healthy and not in need of anything essential. I’m classed as a key worker and I know I’m playing my part but like many others, I wonder if I’m doing enough.

One of my best friends enrolled for the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme and has been supporting people from home while she is in isolation. I considered doing the same but it would mean pulling back from the friends and loved ones I’m already supporting — and who support me — on a daily basis, pandemic or not.

I’ve written elsewhere about how important it is to me, and for me, to keep in close touch with people. As well as — hopefully — helping others navigate these times, it’s vital to my wellbeing. I’ve shared photos from my holiday on social media as I would have done if I’d been out and about each day visiting familiar and new places. It’s been a challenge at times to find things to photograph about the house or in the garden or on my daily walk, but it’s also been fun. I think it’s honed my photographer’s eye, and brought to my attention things I might otherwise have overlooked.

I’ve made notes in my memory journal as I normally do on holiday and kept my regular diary of course. On the face of it, there’s not been a lot to record. Days in lockdown are inevitably similar but there have been some genuine highlights that have meant a great deal to me. I’ve especially enjoyed video calls with friends, sharing the sights and sounds on my evening walks, visits to the shops, and birdsong in the garden. In turn, friends have brought me into their homes, gardens, and lives.

These are simple things and I was sharing like this with people before coronavirus hit. But I think we’re all more aware now of what really matters to us, and are doing all we can to connect and stay connected. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. Some of the conversations I’ve had recently have touched on darker themes including depression, anxiety, suicidality and self-harm; money and employment worries; concern for family, friends, and loved ones including beloved pets; healthcare; politics — and of course the pandemic itself. We must be able to acknowledge these and the emotions and thoughts that accompany them. Acknowledge them, and share with people we trust.

A friend told me this morning she’s keeping going by staying busy and supporting and encouraging others. Another friend described how she’d connected with someone whose story gave her the courage to share her own. Another supports her best friend, the way Fran and I are there for each other. Talking isn’t always enough, of course, and I look for other ways to help where I can.

I’d wondered if there was much point taking these two weeks of annual leave when I’d be stuck at home, but I’m glad I did. It’s been a valuable time for me. No matter how things go in the weeks and months ahead I will look back on this fortnight with gratitude. I always say I don’t take holidays away from my friends; I take them along with me. That’s never been more true than now. Thank you for being with me on my lockdown staycation.


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