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I wake at various times: 4am to heart palpitations, then again at 6am to record my violent and beautiful dreams in the notes app of my phone. Finally, I rise at 8am to walk the dog, empty the kittens’ litter trays and put their food on the floor. With no appointments to keep, I could go back to bed for a few hours, but the cold light and gentle activity inevitably make me feel as if the day has begun in earnest, and so I reluctantly join it. I use the momentum of my responsibilities to these creatures that rely on me to push me towards my responsibilities to myself.
I log on to Twitter to remind myself that I’m not experiencing a mental breakdown but am part of a community: for months all of us have had our movements, our social lives and our ability to take part in meaningful activities severely restricted. The latest lockdown coincided with the darkest part of the year. It’s no surprise we’re not coping as well this time around. Logging on to Twitter to feel sane is just one sign that I have taken leave of my senses.
There’s anecdotal evidence that we are all having stranger dreams than usual, chiefly from changes in our sleep patterns and in response to heightened stress. I started writing mine down as part of my ablutions in the morning, and soon found that I was diary-making as a side-effect. It’s funny that the fewer notable events I have to record, the more space I have to be thoughtful about those past events that have led me here. When I stop talking incessantly to other people, I can start to converse with myself. During the first lockdown, I embraced this in order to do high-impact yoga, to practise mindfulness. Now I have become complacent. “I feel pretty good, pretty grounded, in spite of everything,” I insist to myself as I scramble to make it through the day on five hours’ sleep.
I miss my friends but I’m glad in some ways not to see them because, like many people, I have nothing of interest to say. Most of my FaceTime content with my family is animal-based. I wave around whatever animal happens to be walking past, accept compliments on their behalf and then excuse myself to drink another herbal tea. A conversation of this nature constitutes an “achievement” and justifies approximately six hours spent playing Theme Hospital (the 1997 version).
Spending all day in my pyjamas playing a hospital management simulation game makes me feel good, so I do it. I get a targeted ad for a productivity app. “Five days to get on top of your to-do list!” No thank you. To-do lists are mean-spirited, and I only want nice things for myself. If I think about doing a task and then subsequently perform that task at some point before I die then that’s good enough for me. I can now replicate the warm, self-satisfied glow of a completed writing project simply by replying to an email. The goalposts have been moved, I admit. I have strung a hammock between the goalposts, climbed into the hammock and am taking a nap.
I am lucky to find many things stimulating, but repetition breeds distress. This can be blamed partly on a culture that allows us to expect constant stimulation and immediate cessation of desire, but is, unfortunately, mainly due to my personality type, which has always been novelty-seeking and filled with the wish to live a life replete with sexy and discomfiting anecdotes. I can attempt to curb these impulses by leaving my phone in a different room, meditating and practising gratitude, but I can’t give my brain what it wants more than anything else in the world: to be startled by something.
As I walked my dog the other night, the sky was very clear and I could see many stars. I thought about the places I have been where I have been able to see more stars, brighter stars. It is nice to see a few more stars than normal on a cold Margate night, but it is startling to see so many constellations that they sit in their own greenish fog, the sky seemingly contracting with ancient light over you. I want to be a stranger in a strange land. Perhaps you are still going for daily strolls in order to appreciate the quirks of your neighbourhood. I will, if there is a particularly beautiful sunset, go up to the attic to take photos of it with my phone. My neighbourhood can get stuffed. Give me someone else’s.
Unhappiness lies in the dead space between our current reality and our projected ideals. I’m sure that many people have struggled over the past months to make their reality something that it wasn’t. I attempted to fashion an impression of what I wanted out of what I had, and it didn’t work. I woke each day disappointed. I’ve realised now that there are things that are important to me that I can’t currently have. I can’t replicate parties filled with gossip and poetry and physical affection, or simply being somewhere I’ve never been before. I can only appreciate that those things are important to me and that at the first opportunity I will provide them for myself. It’s no failing if I can’t make a Zoom call pleasurable, or find wonder in scenery that I have looked at every day for the past four years. Instead, I can take stock of my life, make plans for the future, and hope they come to fruition. I find the best time to do this is 4am. The rest of the day can be used for leisure.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Lockdown 3 has shifted the productivity goalposts – and I’m taking a nap | Coronavirus