When the UK government told us we needed to stay at home back in March, I decided lockdown would be a great opportunity to start to regain my lost fitness. All that spare time stretched out in front of me, tantalising, waiting to be filled with good intentions and beneficial activities. In a fit of optimism, I intended to start so many things, but instead, I found I was just freezing.
Then I intended to start just one thing – but again, even that was too much in the end. The days slipped by. I watched others doing Couch to 5k, writing, drawing, exercising, having quizzes on Zoom and settling into new routines. At first I walked a little, but this soon fell by the wayside. Eventually I just stayed still, and silent, stuck in a sort of lockdown inertia. At first I told myself I was quite enjoying this new normal. Nature was returning, the skies were clear, the air had a new sweetness to it. The background noise faded. But still I stayed stuck.
Instead of exploring the square mile outside my door, I stayed at home, hiding in the back garden, watching the blue tits fledge, listening to magpies crawking in the tree above. Instead of the long walks I planned, I sat still, losing myself in social media, whilst the windowsills collected a layer of dust around me. Days passed, weeks passed. There was nothing I could put my finger on – but I just wanted to hide.
A few weeks in, my mood began to slip. Weeks of grey, with the world closing in. I sat and did nothing. Scrolling, eating. Basics. My university work lay untouched, when I was supposed to be diving into research. Books sat unread. The garden grew ever wilder.
Eventually though, it began to pass. A deadline for university meant I had to start to do something. Slowly, I lifted my head and ventured to a shop for the first time in months. Just seeing other people began to have a positive effect. I wiped a shelf and then I hoovered a room. I washed my hair. I ate a vegetable. Slowly, movement started to return. My brain began to feel able to think again.
Is it a natural reaction, when faced with a threat, to hide away? Fight, flight, or concealment? When ill, some animals find a hidden, quiet spot to stay. I think there is some instinct that slows us, to protect ourselves from danger. Society is geared towards achievement, movement, business – but to step out of all of that is important, too.
Having compassion for the way I responded to lockdown is important. Living with CFS/ME means I spend a lot of time pondering the slowing of bodily processes – my body limiting the amount of available energy as a response to, well, something… is there a mirroring of this in response to lockdown and the threat of COVID-19? Looking back on the last few months has been interesting. The unknown, that invisible danger. To quietly step outside of the fight and keep my head down, resting, waiting it out.
Maybe the waiting helps to figure out who to trust in this turbulent climate. As businesses, shops and pubs reopen here in the UK, the internet takes sides and those two sides scream at each other across the divide. Some say there is a very low risk. Others say there is a very high risk. Politicians contradict each other. Stepping back helps to survey from a distance, to negotiate risk for myself.
As COVID-19 changes the societal landscape outside, I am still slow, and quiet, and mostly hidden away. I’ve seen a few friends and visited family once, but don’t feel a pull to jump back into the building hustle and bustle. I haven’t walked as much as usual and I feel I want to return to those familiar wild places of comfort – but it’s not time yet. Days are still slow, I am still slow.
I watch the fields change from brown to green and summer stretches out in front of me, but still I wait. Watching. Settling.