My Half-Lockdown: The Bad and the Ugly

Normal life is resuming. Mine isn't.


Again, it’s been a while. This time I thought I’d write about why.

Note: I’m still editing my next in the “Everything is True at Once” series. I have a few other posts waiting in the wings too, some of which are 90% done — I might publish one of those first, depending on what ends up being easier to finish. Either way, EITAO is not forgotten.


THE BAD


Things are hard for me at the moment.

My physical health has been bad since late January, which has thrown me around on a lot of levels: it’s uncomfortable and painful in itself; my diet is heavily restricted; I can’t do proper aerobic exercise just as I’d finally started to get into a routine with it; my mobility’s hugely reduced at a time when everything’s opening up, people are going to bars again and gigs and festivals are tentatively coming back; my energy’s cut in half at a time when I’m looking for steady work; I’m frequently fuzzy-headed, which makes it virtually impossible to edit my many almost-ready posts, let alone write new ones (this year’s post count next to 2020’s speaks for itself); and last but not least, I’ve no idea what my health complaint actually is. So far the doctors and specialists I’ve seen haven’t been able to find anything, and the lifestyle adjustments I’ve made haven’t seen the problem off either. They’re just damage control.

Few other things in the mix too. Family problems: complicated stuff, exacerbated by the recent lockdown. The ongoing aftermath of a major OCD flareup from last year: the pandemic didn’t mix well with my deep-rooted fear of causing death or misadventure through my oversight or neglect. Religious doubts: there’s no real way to explain to a non-believer how destabilising these are, but if you get it, you get it (I’ll write about how I handled them when I’m up to it). Loneliness: my housemate stays in his room almost 24 hours a day, every day; meanwhile I’m at the age where your friends start fading into the background and your SO starts taking over, but the search for an SO isn’t going very well so in my case only the first of those things is happening. Or else I just haven’t picked my friends very well. Either way, I’m not connecting to the people around me at the level I want to and I’m sometimes lonelier with company than I am alone.


Perhaps worst of all is my constant sense of uncertainty about my future. I was a musician before the pandemic — I led a couple of bands, played with other bands as a gun for hire, accompanied several choirs, entertained dementia patients, did session work on other people’s gigs and recordings, accompanied kids’ exams, taught music theory, you name it. But all through the pandemic I’ve found that while other musicians have been complaining about how much they miss gigging, I’ve mostly just been feeling relieved that I don’t have to do all the promo, contact all the venues, learn all the songs, rally all the bandmates, shift all the gear and experience all the pressure any more. When you’re the only instrumentalist accompanying 100 singers in front of 200 of their friends and relations, two hours can feel like a long time.

So now that things are finally opening up and I’m starting to get offers again, I find I don’t want to follow through on any of them — especially not with my health the way it is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop me getting jealous when I see friends advertising their gigs on social media and feel like I’m falling behind. Also, I’ve no idea what I want to replace music with. Something steadier and less vulnerable to things like global pandemics would seem like the sensible option, but I actively dislike the thought of working for most of the companies I’m applying to. And the usual “adult things” that motivate most people to do jobs they don’t like — marriage, children, the property ladder, money, status — don’t interest me. I don’t call that being better than anyone else, and I’m trying my best not to call it being worse. I call it inconvenient.


THE UGLY


It’s times like this that you lean on your family and friends, but, well, see above. Failing that you lean on God, but well, see above again. I still pray every day, I just have much less of a sense that someone’s actually listening than I used to.

Other than that, my reactions to everything are more or less what you’d expect — why me, it’s not fair, look how fit and healthy everyone around me is, no-one gets it, why am I so defective, look how lazy and unproductive I am, if I had more grit I’d be pushing through my problems and getting more done, if I had more sense I’d be focusing on nothing but getting myself better. (Pro tip: if you’re beating yourself up for doing something and for doing its complete opposite, it’s generally a sign that you’re closer to the Golden Mean than you think and your real problem is a mouthy inner critic.)

When you spend a lot of time sitting around by yourself, the world tends to shrink. You tell yourself to embrace the present, sink into the moment, “be here now”, but then you think ‘And where am I now? Always in the same place, dealing with the same stupid resentments, furious at my housemate for leaving crumbs everywhere, barely able to take control of my own moods, day after day after day.’ Your personal problems seem intractable, your anxieties seem insurmountable. There’s a constant sense of frustration, impatience and irritability as you think about the laptop sitting there waiting for you to type something worthwhile into it, the camera sitting there waiting for you to learn how to use it. If only I cared less. Or cared more.

Ghosts from the past are a constant presence too. Here’s a list of all the worst things I’ve ever done, the stupidest things I’ve ever said, the friendships I didn’t do enough to save (and didn’t I get more from those people than the current motley crew?). And if you’re sick with a mystery illness, you blame yourself for every unhealthy pattern and bad decision that could possibly have been the psychological trigger. I always push myself too hard, avoid confrontation, please others too much, suppress my strongest feelings, let fear stop me doing what I really want to do, beat myself up too much (yes, ironic isn’t it). I know the world is a multicoloured jewel of a place, but my poor choices have made it look grey to me. If my choices were free, I’m angry with myself. If they were predetermined, I’m angry with my DNA, that mocking genetic puppetmaster.


And what about the future? Nothing much to look forward to in this state, but an awful lot to worry about. What if I never achieve a scintilla of what my parents already had by my age, or what my college friends have already managed? What if I never find a career, or do find one and hate it? What if I never find a partner, or do find one and hate them? If I’m this bad at handling the tiny amount of complexity and responsibility I have now, how will I cope if my responsibilities suddenly double? What if I do cope, but only by turning into someone I don’t want to be? (All fear is ultimately the fear of death, which is why people are mortally afraid of self-improvement: it involves continually slaying less noble versions of yourself.)

Worst of all, what if I never get better? Two big adjustments required then, one involving a major reassessment of what I’ll be able to squeeze into one lifetime — the Only Lifetime I’ll Ever Have if all these religious doubts are on the money — and the other involving a significant rehaul of my self-image. Besides everything else, being this laid up for this long is embarrassing. Mortifying. Rather than being Young, Fit and Strong — the Same as All My Friends — one of the Normal, Capable People — I’m turning into one of them. The chronic crowd. The people that the Normal, Capable People pity and make allowances for. I’m not used to being one of them. I’m too young to be one of them.

I don’t mean all that of course — not when I’m writing it. But if my emotions could talk, that’s what they’d be saying. And if the mess I’m in does have psychological roots, my primary suspect is all the times I’ve suppressed strong emotion because I thought it was being impolite or unreasonable.

What the hell am I going to do?


To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, ‘That was the bad side baby, here comes the good side’ tomorrow if editing goes well.