The isolation diaries | part 2

‘The new normal’ is a phrase that seems to permeate every crevice of social media and conversation lately, at the attempt to adapt to this contemporary way of being seems essential – unstoppable even.

Being the creatures of habit that we are, the determination to exercise some control by reclaiming the situation and altering routines to make sense of the tragedy sweeping the globe is overpowering.

We are transforming the moulds of society to suit the confines of a, hopefully temporary, structure that dictates we must stay inside unless absolutely necessary to venture out. Sadly, I am getting almost complacent with these updated rituals, to the point that it does feel normal.

Truth be told, I was one of those who assumed this would all blow over pretty quickly and we would simply pick back up where we left off. Until then, events would be on hold and communities in limbo. This naivety was probably the force behind my initial surge of optimism.

It’s starting to sink in that this will be our reality for some time, and that it’s likely to get worse before we can start repairing the patches the virus has relentlessly caused. No, it won’t be like this forever, but it has changed the world unapologetically and indefinitely. ‘Normal’ as we know it will never authentically return.

Facing this fact is uncomfortable. I’m shifting my mentality from clutching at visions of shiny future plans, to focus on the present. The circumstances have reinforced that anyone could be taken from us and that no one is safe – not even the young and healthy. So I’m cherishing any glimmer of hope and happiness that I can get my hands on.

Having said this, escapism is key for me right now. A good book to delve into when my mind is cloudy (I’m finally reading Little Women and adoring it as much as I did the film); a trivial card or table-tennis game with my family; these are allowing me to briefly tune out so I can gather my thoughts on returning to earth.

Practices have been too deeply uprooted to ever take the ease of simple tasks for granted again. There is no ‘popping to the shops’ anymore. Previously I would nip to Morrisons on demand to satisfy whatever I was craving, whereas now I make lists in advance to limit my interactions as much as possible.

Every time I slap my gloves on and assemble my trolley in the car park queue, I am overwhelmed with emotion and find myself fighting back tears. Not because I’m frustrated or scared about the restrictions, but because of the wave of gratitude for workers that soaks me, and in response to the positive sense of community that has emerged from behind the scenes.

Of course everyone is living this uniquely based on income and individual predicaments, provoking suggestions that we are not all in this together. Personally I think this is a really unhelpful attitude to promote.

There are always anomalies, and some people and systems unfortunately are only interested in looking out for number one; however the acts of goodwill and pure generosity I have witnessed from most has skewed this trend. From the children’s paintings I spot stuck in front windows whilst out exercising, to charity and food bank donations, and creative initiatives to support the NHS and key workers.

Anyone helping others, spreading lovely messages and stories, or even just following social distancing rules properly, is part of this collective effort. Those who choose to ignore implications and belittle others and blatantly disregard lockdown restrictions, are on their own. In the age of the over-sharing nature of the internet, connections are quick to tear down accounts that share something they disagree with for the sake of a few likes and to rally a virtual mob. Now more than ever, my timeline is overflowing with people slagging others off despite knowing nothing about their circumstances.

Yeah, if you’re going to meet your mates to have a BBQ in the park, you’re an arsehole. But there are various respectable reasons that people may be leaving the house, so let’s not be so quick to judge.

It’s increasingly hard to stay positive amidst the worry, confusion and death tolls that are rising so unforgivingly, although the acts of love pulsing through the country are easing the pain.

One thing I know for sure is that I will have an impressive array of skills to show off once the lockdown is lifted. In addition to dedicating more energy to crafting my writing, I have been nurturing other ambitions that have been left like weeds to overgrow and wither away.

A lonely guitar has sat in the corner of my room for years; travelling with me to each of my university homes and gathering nothing but dust. Once my flatmate threw a book that coincidentally strummed the untuned strings, and I half-joked that this was the most it had ever been played. A work Slack group drew my attention to Fender Play, a music-teaching app that is giving away three months worth of free guitar lessons. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to start practising properly! The guides are so easy to follow – usually I find online learning quite intimidating, which has led me to be put off. In a few short videos I have picked up the (very) basics and whenever I have a spare half hour I am eager to sit down and continue the journey.

The study room in my parent’s house has remained unchanged since we moved in. We fondly call it the ‘Snug’ (or the ‘Cwtch’ as my boyfriend has renamed it, after the Welsh word for hug) as it’s a cosy nook for me to hole up and work from in the day, transformed to a hub of activity at night as whoever is around will hang out on the sofa bed, drink and play games. A while back my mum proposed that my brother and I could have full rein over decorating it, which I had forgotten about until coming back and looking for a project to fill my weekends and evenings. So, a Pinterest interiors hole, some furniture reshuffling, and a tin of paint later, I am slowly but surely making my mark on it! Stay tuned for the final results!

Another unlikely hobby I have been obliged to trial is cutting hair. I have no idea why my brother would trust me to cut his mullet after some awful failed fringe-trimming attempts of mine in the past (and my general lack of ability to do anything with my hair) but this is one to add to the repertoire as I spent a good hour shaving and snipping away at his mane. Safe to say off the back of that I really don’t have a gleaming career in hairdressing ahead of me, and think I’ll be waiting for the salon to reopen before trying to cut my own locks.

I am so thankful for the last charity shop mooch I had a few months ago, as the finds have proved very fruitful when introduced to my everyday wardrobe. The red jumper was so cheap from Tenevous, and joyfully replaces a very similar woollen sweater I mourned the loss of after my mum shrunk it in the wash a few years ago now. I vividly remember layering the older replica over summery dresses, and perhaps this one will serve the same purpose some day! For now it will do to keep me comfy around the house, teamed with my favourite pair of linen shorts and socks nicked from my boyfriend pre-isolation.

I am aiming to keep some kind of balance between food and exercise (although let it slide when I get peckish in the evening and compensate with cheese, salt & vinegar Walkers and Snickers), and healthy snacks are playing a vital part in that. I love kale crisps because when done right they resemble tastier alternatives. Some co-workers asked for my recipe and it’s really as simple as sprinkling olive oil, salt, pepper and chilli flakes onto some fresh kale and shoving it in the oven for a bit. Delicious AND a superfood boost.

I am very appreciative of this encouragement to get out and exercise once a day – I am a regular gym-goer (and won’t bore you with my love for running any more) but the panic that ensues if I haven’t optimally spent that sliver of solo freedom is enough to persuade me to fetch my running shoes and trek up our nearest hill or shoot off for a 10k.

My indulgence in self-care has led me to savour the frivolity of bath time, whereas before I may have hopped into a bubbly pool for ten minutes or so before growing tired with the facade. Now I set out an allotted time, adorn the surrounding surfaces with as many candles as I can track down and settle into the soapy abyss with my current book.

I have since finished One Day by David Nicholls and boy, if your eyes haven’t scoured those pages yet, you’re really missing out. I hung onto every word, often re-reading a paragraph to properly absorb its meaning.

Boujee bath time obviously wouldn’t be complete without a tipple on the side, and if we can’t pamper ourselves in these uncertain times then when can we? Prosecco on tap – yes please (and yes, a lot of delicate self-timing was needed to achieve modesty in these images).

As my day-out destinations now consist of Morrisons or a brisk dog walk, you better believe I’m dressing up: the extra the better. While I’m lucky to have a garden to prance around in, I’m also endlessly inspired by the determinedness of those who don’t to continue worshipping the sun: legs dangling ambitiously out of apartment windows, rooftop havens restored to their full glory, bodies positioned to gain maximum potential from the prisms of reflected light on the carpet of a flat.

Gradually, the importance of the green expanse surrounding my house is enlightening me, and I am thankful for hot summer-like days spent on an old blanket lapping up the sun’s rays. Surpassing this gratitude, however, is my delight at still being permitted exercise. I genuinely fear for the state of my mentality if we were unable to stretch our legs, and so just pray that the rules are abided by so this can continue.

I have been desperate to volunteer since the pandemic began, fuelled in part by guilt at my privilege and the rest by a need to help others; and finally I have found my good deed in an elderly woman that I am ecstatic to be assisting with her shopping. At 96 she can’t leave the house to stock up like many of us, so when my mum drew attention to her struggle I offered up my services willingly.

I have NEVER felt more content and happy than after dropping a delivery at the lovely lady’s doorstep. I’d take the permanent warmth that lingers long after a small gesture over the fleeting glimpse of satisfaction from shallow personal gains any day. My only qualm was in the meat section – a place I avoid due to being a veggie – as I had no clue where anything was located and so stood idly trying to seek out strange labels and calling my mum for assistance.

I have inevitably measured my emotions this bank holiday in comparison to generic years, and those classic feelings of excitement for a long weekend are now subdued and muted. There was still an instinctive pocket of me that anticipated the freedom of four days off, but what is usually a growing tingle of wonder about what activities will ensue, it is now a paranoid sense of relief. Work has escalated to the prime source of occupation for regular days, and while I welcome a short break, the premise knocks me a bit.

I hope you have the happiest Easter that you can, and may next year see us in heartier spirits. My heart goes out to those who have lost, those whose mental health is faltering under this immense pressure, and those who are isolating alone. Please hang on in there. Somehow it will get better.

Lily x

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