I think it’s fair to say that I (like many others) have not coped with lockdown very well.
Although its myriad of restrictions are slowly lifting I find myself still unwilling (and in some cases unable) to engage with the world again. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure, people seem oblivious to the dangers and I can’t stop worrying about what might happen if a moment of carelessness leads to me losing someone I love.
That may sound overly dramatic – and when I say it out loud or hear it in my head I genuinely feel like slapping my own face – because six months ago I’d have looked at myself and tutted. I’d have viewed present day me as anxious about nothing, worrying needlessly and be rather disgusted about my lack of willingness to go outside unless absolutely necessary.
I’ve been largely silent online because I know that I’m not alone – and that there are far too many people doing exercise videos on blurry webcams, talking about mental health in their dimply lit spare rooms, and sitting metres apart from eachother in a TV studio detailing how people are coping with isolation and financial ruin.
If you’re not worrying about whether you’ll catch something that could kill or seriously disable you then you’re worrying about the people you care about.
Those who know me well (and probably those who’ve read my blog for the last few years) will know that I already had a propensity to over analyse and even obsess over things.
I’ve done this all my life – but back in 2016 I managed to turn this obsessive side of me into an unstoppable force that was hell bent on self improvement. I created structures around me that ensured I was always with people, almost never indoors, continually active and as outwardly positive as I could be. In doing so I accidentally inspired others to do the same and for quite a while I felt virtually indestructible.
However no-one is an island, it’s impossible to be infallible, and dealing with the continual worry related to events you cannot hope to control will have a cumulative impact regardless of who you are.
It’s had an impact on me – and once more things that felt under control now feel out of control.
Old habits are back, and I have struggled to control them.
In some respects life has never been better. I’m still super happy at home, I’m still very much in love and I genuinely enjoy the job I’m doing at the moment almost as much as coming home to someone that I look forward to spending time with.
The world is always out there though – and it seems cold and threatening, even though the sky is blue and the birds are singing in our garden.
I’m trying to go out more though.
The cinema is now open – something my partner and I love going to – but even this feels weird and abnormal. There are one way systems everywhere, taped off toilets, no hand driers, alcohol gel dispensers on every door and both myself and the staff look like we’re planning to rob banks when we meet in the foyer.
The mask is also a daily part of my working life and it’s donned every time I have to meet someone new. For some time now all I’ve seen when I meet them are people’s eyes – and I find that the most unsettling thing about that is that I’m increasingly unsure how to judge their moods.
When looking at only the upper third of someone’s face you can’t determine whether or not a wry smile is connected a frown (are they thinking – or is it a grimace?) when someone looks at me. I can’t shake their hands to greet them, say goodbye, or show them that I’m smiling at them through my mask.
Even when I’m around people I’m not me and I can’t gauge them.
For someone who prides himself on being a people person and watching intently what they do and how they act for clues about what they’re thinking it’s infuriating.
Maybe I should just go for a stroll and exercise it off – right?
You’d think of that now restrictions have been lifted I’d be walking, walking and doing more walking – but (probably because I’ve done less lately) I keep injuring myself. As I type I’m nursing the 2nd torn calf muscle in as many months and this one (like the previous one) has stopped me walking back and forth to work for almost two weeks.
‘But the world is getting back to normal now! It will all get better!’ I can hear you all saying…
Only it’s not is it?
Leicester is evidence that us being out of lockdown is almost certainly a temporary state of affairs. Without a vaccine there are millions of us that are yet to catch Covid 19 and all we’re doing is creating peaks and troughs so that when the inevitable happens and even larger chunks of the country do succumb the NHS will still be able to cope.
That’s another thing. Although I love my job in some respects it’s also part of the problem.
I’m surrounded every moment of the day with others that are dealing with the realities of this very real pandemic. Out of the blue I also meet people (sometimes daily, sometimes weekly) who have either had Covid, know someone that’s had it – or even more worryingly (and with alarming frequency) people that have lost loved ones to it.
They tell me stories about mothers, partners, and grandparents that are now either seriously ill or gone forever – and they have almost all left these people’s lives without a simple hug or the reassurance of someone they love holding their hand on their death bed.
Although they’re coping now you can see that some day soon the people who are putting us all back together and caring for us will also need to be cared for themselves.
They’re deferring dealing with the pain and grief caused by they’re going through and (like me) are leaning into coping mechanisms that are not necessarily the best ways of dealing with their worry and grief.
Someone recently said to me (also an NHS worker) that when the pandemic ends we’ll all fit neatly into three categories.
‘Chunks, hunks or drunks…’
I admitted to her that the ‘chunk’ rather than ‘hunk’ was the way I’d chosen to go – but thankfully I’d managed to steer clear of the ‘drunk’ classification.
Whilst food (of all the wrong kinds) has been consumed by me in plentiful abundance I’m still four and a half years sober – and there’s still no part of me that wants to go back to drinking three bottles of wine a night.
I’m probably in the minority though.
The people around me talk lovingly about pubs, and about having a beer or a glass of wine in the evenings. Some even head off from my appointments with a laughing confession that they’re picking up a bottle of spirits on the way home.
We’re all coping the best ways that we can I suppose.
I’m not writing this to illicit sympathy however – because I don’t want any.
I also don’t really need advice or comments at the moment – because I’ve long known what I need to do to restore balance – I’ve just been running from the reality of it and deferring the decision about when to start.
I’m also not going to be writing about my getting back into the swing of things or how I’m coping or not coping with eating behaviours in quite the same way that I used to either for two reasons.
Firstly I don’t want the added pressure in my head about succeeding or failing in the public eye.
Although winning MOTY in 2018 was a wonderful experience it also enabled me to heap insane amounts of pressure on my own shoulders about how I should be an example to others and that I should never again allow myself to fail.
Doing that in full view of the world and having my image plastered all over papers and the internet was a cage of my own creation – and I’m not particularly willing to do it again – so I will be a bit more reticent in future about the wars I wage upon my waistline.
Secondly I don’t want to be someone that people follow or read about solely because I was either addicted to alcohol or food.
After a while I realised that my entire social media feed was filled with images of people that posted before and after photos of themselves and plate after plate of healthy food. There’s more to me than that – and I don’t want to be defined solely by my ability (or lack of it) to not put food in my mouth and swallow.
To be honest I’ve always felt profoundly uncomfortable with the fact that I became (slightly) famous for getting to a weight that millions of other people around the world managed to do all on their own without any fanfare.
It’s like being sponsored to do ‘dry January’ and then congratulating yourself in public for not having a drink for an entire month without ‘breaking or cracking up’.
If that’s a win then theres a problem. Those in this category should immediately consider embarking upon ‘dry rest of life’ and forget about asking for sponsorship. Do it because you shouldn’t ever begin to feel that not having alcohol in your life is stressful.
In exactly the same vein (since I’m clearly so judgemental) I can hardly jump up and down in public shouting about how not putting a biscuit in my mouth is a triumph.
If it is then its one thats only possible in a society where we over abundance. It’s a first world problem of our own making and now more than ever I don’t think a world that’s seeing tragedy after tragedy up close and personal needs another fat man agonising about whether he should choose peanuts or salad.
That said – I’m happy to encourage others to be healthy – but that’s no longer my life. I just want to be a normal person that struggles or copes like anyone else.
Sometimes I fail.
Sometimes I win.
Ultimately though we’re all just trying to make our way through to the other side of all this madness in one piece – and I can only hope we all emerge as good people standing next to the ones we love who are also in rude health.
Thanks for reading internet (if you’re still out there that is)