i hate the lockdown

I hate the lockdown
What I am not sayingBefore you leave a comment, here’s what I’m not saying in this post. Just to save you the embarrassment, and to save my time and yours.

I’m not saying the lockdown is bad. It’s an unfortunate necessity, with some serious downsides, to prevent a far worse situation for the majority. We probably should have entered it sooner, and need to be very circumspect about when and how we lift restrictions.

As should be apparent from the above, I’m not saying that the lockdown should be lifted immediately, or even soon.

I’m not trying to be negative for its own sake, or to undermine any upsides that people have found. Connecting with friends and family, a new-found appreciation for nature, spending time cooking and baking, catching up with reading, reevaluating priorities, and other similar activities are great but covered very well elsewhere online. Personally I’ve been enjoying many of the virtual DIY/noise/no-audience underground gigs, watching bad movies, and both writing more and making more sound than usual.

I’m not attacking or condemning anyone. This is simply a personal reflection on aspects of the lockdown I find negative, on my own reaction to those negative aspects, and the thoughts I’m not proud of that arise from that.

Finally, I’m not saying that I have it particularly bad, I don’t. I’m in an extremely privileged position. In many way I probably have an easier time of this lockdown than the majority of people in the country.

What I am saying
I hate the lockdown. I'm observing it because I don't want to get sick, or inadvertently pass the illness on to others. But I hate it.

First it robs me of the chance to take the long walks I love. Not just to and from work, and on lunch. But the walks of at least seven to 14 hours I’d take on one day of the weekend, and the walks of three, four, five or more hours I’d take the other day. I'm reduced instead to two or three, very occasionally more hours a day.

This isn’t just about duration. At the same time the lockdown robs me of the best routes and parts of routes that I’d like to take when I do go out for my walks. Bear in mind that my autism spectrum disorder means I find social situations and crowds difficult at the best of times. But parks, canals, rivers, footpaths, and cycle and pedestrian green ways are largely inaccessible to me now.

Parks? Often too busy for me except in winter anyway, even before Covid-19. Canals? The towpaths are too narrow to maintain physical distance, and fully occupied with cyclists and runners. Rivers? The paths along the Mersey are busier than I’d expect them to be for the time of year. Footpaths? There are very few nearby, and those there are are mostly close to the river and similarly over-occupied. Likewise those away from the river. Cycle and pedestrian green ways? Again, busier than usual from what I’ve seen. In all these cases it’s impossible to maintain physical distance.

The problem here isn’t just physical distancing in the abstract, or even having to divert off the path or onto embankments where that’s possible. It’s having to be constantly aware of who’s around you. Are people coming towards you in the opposite direction? Are people ahead of you walking more slowly than you are? Are there cyclists or runners coming up behind? That kind of hypervigilance is stressful and tiring.

Even the uglier, less popular places where I’m mostly walking, industrial parks and the like, are more populated with runners, cyclists and walkers than I’d normally expect.

Second, like everyone else, I’m having to constantly walk in the road, or cross altogether with regularity, when I normally wouldn’t need to bother. That’s exacerbated by people walking in groups who simply refuse to fall into single file when there are other people passing (runners on the whole are better at this); families who find it safer to cycle on the pavement (which speaks to the lack of adequate provision for cyclists and pedestrians); cars parked on the pavement (pointing to our over-reliance on cars, our inadequate parking, and how overlarge many of our cars are); and other issues, like fly-tipping, the dire state of maintenance of roads and pavements, and people choosing to stand talking in the middle of pavements, at corners and road-crossings, or to gather in groups around cars and garden walls, effectively blocking pavements.

While individuals are doing their best to get exercise, to talk, to help each other, to carry on as close to normally as possible, they become an impediment to be avoided. I haven’t been on a single walk where I don’t end up within a metre or less of upwards of a dozen people. Perhaps the pavement’s narrow or blocked and the road too busy to cross or step into. Perhaps cyclists or runners come up behind me at the same time as someone is coming the other way and I have nowhere to go to avoid them. I’ve ended up deviating from my planned route several times during a walk on more than one day. This is anxiety-inducing, frustrating, and leads to unfocussed irritation, which has nowhere to go except fuelling further anxiety and stress.

Third then, is the stress of the situation. Not just the loss of freedom and hypervigilance about the presence of other people, but an increased awareness of my own body, breathing and health; the anxiety of going shopping, both trying to maintain physical distance, and trying to find items that are out of stock; worry that I might not be making best use of my time; the disruption to routine; an increased feeling of scrutiny, which already makes me profoundly uncomfortable; and probably other factors I haven’t identified.

This is closest to the surface during my walks, a bristling discomfort and fury. I want to cry, at times I feel like I want to scream, or even yell in people’s faces. Crying would be fine, screaming probably a little more awkward. As for yelling at people, I wouldn’t do it, I don’t want to, and it wouldn’t help. They’re not doing anything wrong. But at the same time everyone becomes an obstacle, an annoyance, an intrusion, an enemy. So I get mad with myself for thinking that way, and the cycle continues.

Fourth is social media. It’s something I already find alienating, but when I’m using it more and there’s a deadly combination of increased conspiratorial posting, a related increase in pseudoscience and medical woo, along with some people clearing struggling and others posting remorseless positivity, it becomes even harder to deal with. It is something I can and do switch off from, but there’s more time and opportunity to take another look.

Fifth, though somewhat related, the news is full of statistics about infections and deaths, and the manifest failures of the UK government. Not just that, but most other political business as usual is either on hold or getting less attention. Covid-19 is inescapable.

Both social media and news are given less attention here, because as important as they are to helping generate, maintain, and exacerbate stress, I’m less consciously aware of them creating stress. They’re a background hum. Each is normally present, just with different content, so very little seems to have changed. But when out exercising, or making a grocery shop the difference from how things usually are is obvious. These become greater foci for anxiety.

So what?My main intention here was to reflect some of the more petty negatives of the lockdown. There are far more serious consequences for many people that have been covered elsewhere which I don’t even attempt to address here. Things such as domestic abuse, loneliness, financial precarity, families separated by circumstance, and more besides. These things are very important, but I’m utterly unqualified to speak about them.

I also wanted to break away from the philosophies of making the best, seizing the day, looking on the bright side, talking up achievements, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but they’re already well-represented.

Hence the more trivial complaints explored here. The kind of things we might not notice, might dismiss, or might suppress and ignore as unworthy. But I think they’re worth acknowledging and owning. I’d like to think this post might be helpful to a few people, might provide something they can identify with.

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