The first day is weird. It’s a bit like the day after you get back from being on holiday, but before you’ve gone back to work – you feel like you should be doing something productive, but you actually just sit around watching the hours tick by. Day two is when you plan on getting yourself sorted and make a list of everything you want to achieve. The likelihood is that we’re all going to be stuck indoors for at least twelve weeks, so may as well try and make the most of it, right?
Despite my best intentions, day two comes and goes with very few signs of progress. My social media is clogged with people posting: half of them in a blind panic, the other half making colour-coded charts detailing the amount of weight they’re going to lose, the languages they’re going to learn and the books they’re going to read. I could do with making a chart. I’ve only got a black biro though, and it doesn’t quite feel the same. Would it be bad if I just slept for twelve weeks? Bears hibernate, and look at them. They aren’t bogged down with a virus threatening to wipe out half of bear-kind.
On day three I finally get round to making the list I wanted to make on day two. It mostly consists of responding to all the people sending texts, emails, Facebook and WhatsApp messages. Most of them say the same thing. I know Tom Hanks has it. I know Idris Elba has it. I know Prince Charles has it. I know there are idiots still going out for picnics. I know, I know, I know. A COVID-19 meme that was made at 9am is already old news by midday. The entire country is shut down, and we’re just shuffling the same titbits of news back and forth with each other.
I decide I’m going to focus on reading as much as possible. I like reading, but always find myself either too busy or too tired to get much done, and have a shelf filled with half-read books. Now is the time to finish them, I guess. But being inside for so long does weird things to your head. I don’t know if it’s the lack of sunlight or human interaction, but it feels like someone has peeled my skull back and replaced my brain with concrete. It reminds me of something my dad always used to say: “A 5lb bag filled with 10lbs of shit.” Everything is fuzzy, like I’m caught between being awake and asleep. I take a nap knowing that I’ll be up most of the night as a result. That’s the thing when you’re not staying active – your body doesn’t need as much sleep. I want to sleep for eighteen hours a day, but I’m lucky if I get five. The days are ticking by so quickly, but each hour feels like a lifetime. Maybe it’s time to take Joe Wicks up on his offer of some P.E. lessons.
I’d have considered myself a libertarian before all of this, but would gladly have watched her get dragged away by her hair by some Doc-Marten-wearing military type
A week has passed and life has settled down into its own routine. I force myself to focus on the little things: get up, have breakfast, shower, get dressed, work, exercise. I’ve always harboured a weird thought that I’d do well in prison. Not socially, of course. I think I’d be passed round the bigger boys like a rag doll. But the idea of being alone in a room for the majority of the day, without having to worry about work, tax, notifications, emails, and all of the other fog of life has had its own bizarre sense of appeal to me. The last week has firmly knocked that notion out of my head. Humans need interaction with other humans. It keeps us sane.
Boris’ announcements become another part of the routine. I find myself settling down to watch them every night like my Nan used to watch Coronation Street. That’s what this whole situation feels like: some weird, long-running TV drama that we’re all being forced to binge watch. I try and focus on the things that are real: the NHS workers who are being pushed beyond the limits of human endurance; the supermarket staff who are working around the clock to make sure people have everything they need; the elderly and ill who are living in constant fear of catching it. My own grievances pale in comparison, and I feel a sense of guilt at how little I’ve actually achieved in my first week of self-isolating.
I see a video of a woman shopping in London. She tells a bemused reporter that if she changes her way of life, the virus has won. I think of how quickly my belief system has changed in the face of a crisis. I’d have considered myself a libertarian before all of this, but would gladly have watched her get dragged away by her hair by some Doc-Marten-wearing military type. People keep posting that old Benjamin Franklin quote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” It feels right in theory, but I don’t know. I want the entire country to be locked down because it just seems like the thing we need. And just because Ben Franklin said it, it doesn’t make it gospel. What does some old philanderer in a white wig and stockings know about coronavirus? The entire country needs medicine. And you know what? Sometimes medicine doesn’t taste nice, but it’s good for you.
The bizarre haze of those first seven days has lifted, and I feel an obligation to make the most of the spare time I’ve been granted. I think of things that I can do that will actually help others that are suffering. You know, independent businesses and the like. I send some money over to a group that’s raising funds for out-of-work artists, and I feel a bit better about myself. Is that selfish? I don’t know. I feel helpless. I go to post about it on Twitter but decided against it. There is a wafer-thin line between raising awareness and being a smug twat. And no one likes a smug twat.
That’s what this whole situation feels like: some weird, long-running TV drama that we’re all being forced to binge watch
I sound so self-involved, but it’s hard not to be when you’re stuck inside all day with your own thoughts. I don’t know anyone who has been directly affected by everything that’s going on. Other than people who have lost a bit of work here and there, my friends and family are all safe and healthy. I’m viewing everything from a distance and it’s hard to believe it’s all actually happening. I think of people living through World War II and realise that they didn’t know they were living through the war the way we do. To them, life changed for the worse, and they didn’t know when it was going to return to normal. I don’t know if it ever did. It wasn’t just normal on Monday, then on Tuesday they were rationing, dropping bombs and losing loved ones. Things happened incrementally, and I hope there were some good days amongst all the suffering. People adapt to whatever life throws at them. At least they did. We’re different now: more selfish, self-involved and solipsistic. I’m not judging either. I’m no different.
For people like me, life has just been paused for a bit like on Bernard’s Watch. I’m thankful that I’m ok, and sad for everyone that isn’t. I want to do more to help, but know the best thing I can do is stay indoors and not risk catching or passing it on. A wave of guilt washes over me as I admit that I’m actually quite enjoying being self-isolated. Is that allowed?