Greetings once more from the end of days. Or what feels like it from where I am standing. I say standing, but in fact I am more likely to be sitting these days. Sitting doing fuck all, like most of us, still trapped in our homes for an unhealthy number of hours per day, lacking prolonged contact with other humanoids.
It would be fair to say that we westerners have become so much better about talking about all the differing aspects of our health in recent times. Yes, there are still taboos to be broken, but there aren’t many areas of our physical health we can’t talk about. Mental health, once something discussed in hushed and euphemistic tones is now more openly discussed, even if some still find it difficult. Now I’m wondering if our social health will be the next big thing we need to start checking up on.
We’re already aware of the mental and physical health impacts of COVID-19 and lockdown. Not just from reading the papers – these things are happening to us. Loads of us have been putting weight on, despite our good intentions at the start. Yes, I told myself – I will do Joe Wicks and Oti Mabuse dance classes and emerge fit and strong after lockdown! This was a big fat lie. As time has gone on, I’ve been finding it harder to motivate myself to move about, even for my beloved walks. I know everything that I should be doing but instead find myself consumed by lethargy. And cheese.
Oh, and for everyone who has been posting their inspirational running and cycling stories on social media, well done to you. I’m not judging you for showing off your healthiness and sanity during this difficult time. One of these days, I hope to join you.
We’ve also been talking about the mental health impacts. Google lockdown and mental health and you will find screeds of reporting on the increase in anxiety and depression, suicide ideation and fear. And the fact that so many people are feeling lonelier than ever before. Of course, there are people happy in lockdown because it suits them: introverts, bookworms, online gamers and so on. But the vast majority of us have struggled.
The conversation about social isolation and the negative impacts it has on our health has been going on for while within health and social care. However, this has naturally tended to focus on groups that are more high risk: elderly people (especially if they live alone), disabled people, people with various mental health problems etc. Most social interventions target the highest risk first, simply because of the tightness of resources.
Here is a parallel: recent anti-poverty work has looked beyond the immediate poverty levels to try and target the ‘just about managing’: AKA the working poor, people getting by, juggling their finances. But if one ball drops, the whole thing falls, and they end up in serious difficulty. Chances are that a global pandemic, followed by a global recession, is going to mean a whole load of balls getting dropped for a whole lot of people. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown is going to expose those who have been ‘just about managing’ in terms of their mental health and perhaps their social health too.
There are lots of us that live alone, either all the time, or part of the time. And pre-lockdown, lots of us will have been content with that too. It might not have been perfect. There will have been times where we wished there were another person to lounge on the sofa with on a Sunday evening. Other times, we would have been glad to get home alone, to a quiet sanctuary with no-one else in it.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone. Just my own experience of being somewhere in the middle of introvert and extrovert. I like my own company and my own space, but not all the time. Pretty average I would have thought. Having ups and downs in my mental health is average too. But I would never have described myself as ‘just about managing’ in terms of my mental or social health. Yet after three months of lockdown, I can feel some things slipping away. Just like my physical energy levels, I am becoming socially lethargic.
Remember in the beginning it was all non-stop Zooms and Houseparties? We facetimed with friends we hadn’t seen in a while, embraced new online friendships, and lived our lives through social media. But as lockdown has gone on, this has become more and more unsatisfying. As the weeks wore on, after working hard during the week, the prospect of trying to look normal on a screen full of people became less appealing.
There is no substitute for in-person, human interaction. It’s as simple as that. Solitary confinement is used as an additional punishment in prisons for a reason. It’s fucking torture for us to be without other humans for a prolonged period. It can kill us. For people who live completely alone, being without human contact, including touch and smell, for all this time is making us malfunction. We are out of sorts. Seeing other happy families and couples on Zoom can make us feel worse rather than better.
Everyone has had different experiences of lockdown. There are clear inequalities based on job security, size and space of dwelling, access to greenspace, numbers of household etc. but even people with secure jobs, gardens, and happy families may have been driven crazy by the inability to escape their loved ones or by working at home and trying to home school. There are some who have had too much interaction, as opposed to too little. It’s not a competition, but I suspect the ones who are completely alone are much worse off.
Even those of us in the middle can feel the impact. I get a few days a week alone and the rest with my son – lucky me, you might think. Yet, I find it harder and harder to stay social at this virtual level. There are days when my skin is literally itching with boredom. But I don’t want to read a book or watch the millions of must-see TV I still haven’t watched or go for a walk on my own. I want to hang out. I want to see my friends, go dancing. Get sweaty in a room full of people. Go on a date, kiss a man. I want to connect. I am sick to death of this online world.
The impact of over three months of lockdown is taking its toll. I see the effect on my son too. His world has shrunk at a time when it should be opening to him. While he is fortunate enough to be reasonably comfortable compared to many, there will be damage that needs repaired. This is the same for all children and young people, whose futures look increasingly bleak.
Many may disagree, but I have reached a tipping point now where I can see that the wider damage of this virus is worse than the infection and death rate. We risk losing so much more than we already have. Open the schools, the playparks and the bars, the museums, and theatres. Fuck social distancing. I don’t want to be distanced anymore. I am no longer afraid of it, even though I know what the consequences could be. I will follow most of the rules, but I will reserve the right to make my own judgements.
Like many, I maintain a secret optimism that this pandemic will bring about the death of capitalism and halt our destruction of the planet. I hope that Black Lives Matters will bring down the system and end racism once and for all. Equally, I harbour a fear that it won’t, that our human race is doomed, and that this really is the end of days.
So…what if it is? Then my need to connect is even stronger. If humans really are going to self-combust and destroy this beautiful planet, then I do not want to end it trapped alone in my flat, never seeing the sea or a mountain again, sexless and without friends. I want to go down dancing and shouting with joy. As ever, I turn to the poets:
‘Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.
Until next time,