I’m sure I’m just overthinking things as usual but, in spite of the fact that this lockdown is already kicking me square in the mental health, I’m now also beginning to worry about the emotional and mental impact the end of the lockdown is going to have.
This lockdown is difficult. I miss people. I miss good conversations and hugs. I miss laughing at bad jokes and judging people on trains for their food or their hairstyles. I feel exhausted all the time despite not doing much at all. I am grumpier than usual, much to the pleasure of my family. I feel anxiety tying knots in my chest all the time. Tension runs a low, dull beat in my head constantly. We aren’t built for this.
We aren’t built for watching funerals of relatives on an iPhone. We aren’t built to process deaths of people by plotting a line on blue and orange graphs. We aren’t meant to accept the deaths of 30000 people as ‘relative success stories.’ We are meant to be together and to hold each other as we cry and mourn. It’s essential to lockdown and stay apart but it is taking a toll.
But I’m also afraid that I’m getting used to it. I’m concerned by how comfortable I can feel being directionless, passing the time scrolling and reading nonsense on twitter. It’s concerning how quickly I’ve lost contact with people who I once contacted often; caught up in entertaining my kids and stopping myself growing bored. We aren’t built for this, but I’ve found a rhythm that I can survive in. Some days it’s not bad at all.
So what happens next? What happens when things ease off? We can’t just go back to normal can we? I don’t think we are built for that either.
I’ve spent some time travelling due to a few jobs I’ve held. Some of those trips have been intense. Time working in cultures alien to our own and in contexts of extreme poverty knock us for six and the culture shock in both directions can significantly rock our mental health. I’m becoming more and more that sure we will all experience that sense of culture shock when the world reignites the engine.
Here’s an example I am already experiencing. We drive the car about once every two weeks at the moment. We walk everywhere else. When I drive, 30 miles an hour feels like 60. It feels too fast. How quickly I’d forgotten what moving at unnatural speeds feels like. That’s what culture shock feels like, familiar and yet uncomfortable. We are going to experience a lot of it. Noise, busyness, crowds, routines, expectations, deadlines and traffic will all feel familiar and brand new at the same time. For some of us that won’t be an easy transition.
Here are 6 things I used to try and do, and tell others I was leading to do, when we were expecting or experiencing (reverse) culture shock. I think they might help us as we re-enter.
Talk about it.
It will feel silly to talk about how you’re struggling to be back in the life you missed for so long, but if you don’t communicate that feeling it can eat you alive. Your feelings are valid even if you think you’re being ridiculous. Talk about them. Perhaps some solidarity or a listening ear will help.
Work towards something.
Make sure you achieve something every day. It’s easy to get caught up in the questions and thoughts of re-entry. Giving yourself things to achieve that you couldn’t in lockdown will help. Visit a friend. Walk to work. Use public transport. Little achievements of normality will help.
Consider what you don’t want to go back to ahead of time.
What will you stop doing that you used to do but can’t in lockdown? What will start doing that you’ve taken up during lockdown? Carrying these things from lockdown to the other side of it will smooth the transition. If new habits and practices we took up in lockdown keep going, it creates a sense of continuum between lockdown and the future.
Be careful who you spend time with at first.
Going from seeing your family to seeing every living person is not going to work for any of us. Ease yourself back to human contact. I love people but if my diary fills up I’ll be very quickly overwhelmed by the emotional cost of those relationships. Slowly rebuild your social life, you’ve less in reserve than you might think.
When you are feeling uncomfortable or strange during culture shock it’s important to ask questions. I think this is good advice for leaving lockdown too. Is my time really best being spent on this? Do I need this? Am I resting? Am I working too much/little? How am I sleeping? Have I taken up bad habits again which I thought I’d stopped? Allow yourself to critique your own choices in order to make your restart feel comfortable.
The language feels dramatic but this pandemic is a global trauma. We walk around with low level fear of a killer virus, that’s traumatic. We are kind to strangers but keep our distance because of fear of catching or spreading this, that’s traumatic. Seeing everyone in masks is unnerving. The coloured lines and numbers of deaths and infections are traumatising when we consider their meaning. We have to find ways to grieve this properly, whether that’s a journal, a service or a moment of silence, I don’t know but it feels jarring and detrimental to not mark our loss in some way. Choose to embrace the grief that is quietly moving around you. That lets it work itself out. Ignoring and getting on with things just lets it fester.
An end to this feels a long way off and perhaps I’m being dramatic (not the first time) but these are things I’m going to work on in preparation for this ending, whenever that might be. Perhaps they will help you too.
Stay safe. Check on your neighbours. Have the extra slice of cake.