Tom: I found pandemic lockdowns really hard. My routines went out the window; sleep became an arduous chore. I had drinking dreams and other disturbing dreams - vivid and real and then gone a few moments after waking up with only an uneasy shadow left behind. On waking, the heaviness and crushing oppressiveness of another day spent in the uncertain, alienated wasteland of lockdown.
The same as the day before, and the day before that one and the day before that one. Time stretched out like bread dough into one long elastic floppy moment of dullness and lethargy. At times it’s taken a monumental effort of willpower just to get out of bed. I'd lie there for hours sometimes in limbo, wanting to get out but not able.
The only time I’ve felt fatigue like that before was in early sobriety when my body and mind were working overtime to deal with withdrawal. I think this brought up echoes of early sobriety for me and also the trauma that I drank to cover up and which I was starting to wrestle with in sobriety.
Mental health can be fragile at the best of times but I never realised that the noise and busyness of normal everyday life was actually helping to keep me sane. The usual distractions of daily routines, social interactions, sports, cafes, and driving a car - most of my usual coping strategies - were taken away during the pandemic and in their place were stories of death, fear, worry and anxiety.
One thing I held onto in the new reality was that all around the world people are experiencing similar things, which is oddly comforting – who could have predicted such a sense of worldwide community was possible? If you’re suffering with something it’s always a relief to know that others are going through similar or worse things (which is why sober communities are so helpful).
I’m pleased if you had good experiences during pandemic lockdowns and managed to be productive. That’s great, but for some - if not many - the suffering made us want to scream. In many ways a lot of my usual acute anxieties have been taken away as there’s been little social interaction but they’ve been replaced with (or unearthed) an underlying nebulous anxiety and bouts of heavy depression.
I’d heard the expression "taking it moment by moment" before and used it myself quite a few times. In recovery they say things like "take it one day at a time", in meditation you’re supposed to be in the present moment. I knew this concept and thought I understood it. In very early sobriety I would try to get through one hour at a time: If you’re craving a drink at 5pm and you’ve made a commitment to NEVER to drink again for all eternity, the weight of time is pretty crushing. Your brain can’t fathom that the craving will ever subside. All you know is that you’re dying for a drink right this second, it seems like you’re going to feel this way forever and that there’s no way you can handle it. You start to spin out and it just feels so overwhelming that you need to drink.
But you tell yourself 6pm. I’ll give myself to 6pm. I’ll somehow try to get through to 6pm and if the pain is still unbearable then I’ll go get a drink. 6pm rolls around and with any luck the worst of the cravings have passed, you can breathe perhaps… so you extend it to 7pm… then 8pm… you don’t feel good but the urge has relinquished it’s vice like grip on your head, no point caving now, might as well try to sleep.
I knew the concept of taking life in small doses but it wasn’t until these lockdowns that I was actually forced to take life literally moment by moment. I had to stop and slow down like I’d never done before. Slow. Right. Down….. To…… One….. Moment….. At….. A….. Time. The only way I could handle lockdown was to stop everything; stop planning, stop thinking, narrow my world to this moment.
I asked myself: can you get through this moment? Yes, and what about this moment? Also yes. That gave me something to cling to as I lay staring at the ceiling.
For all lockdown’s challenges it did give us a unique moment to push pause. A lot of people can now see that the old way of doings things was unsustainable.
Maybe it’s not lockdown that traumitised me; maybe it’s helped me to see more clearly the trauma caused by our normal culture. As restrictions have eased and people have again ventured out of their homes, let’s hope we can all start to make some positive changes.
I think we can simply start with trying to change our own thinking – and if that’s just replacing one negative thought with a positive thought – that’s as good a place as any to start.