People generally appear to be quite surprised when I casually mention that the Lockdown of 2020 was perhaps the best thing to ever happen to me. I try to say this with as much consideration as possible for the fact that countless people have endured immense hardship as a result of Covid 19; lives have been stolen before their time and loved ones have been denied the chance to mourn them. Many have caught the virus and survived only to then learn that surviving doesn’t necessarily mean recovering. Millions of people around the globe are suffering immensely with their mental health. Businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed, jobs have been lost. It’s impossible to conceive of just how detrimental this year has been to so many people and so I must note that I’m not ignoring or denying the negative global impact it has had when I say that going into lockdown in March might well have been my personal saving grace.
When I think back to the earliest months of 2020 I hardly recognize the version of myself that I see. I have been on antidepressants since 2018 and have, as a general rule, struggled with my mental health for a very long time. At the beginning of 2020 I reached entirely new lows and found myself at what was undeniably my personal rock bottom. I was doing a Masters degree that I didn’t enjoy. Almost every cent I earned was going towards funding messy and liable nights out. I felt myself to be at a distance from most of my friends. I no longer enjoyed doing any of the things I once thrived on- I hadn’t read a book in months and I was sick of listening to the same fifty songs on a loop. After Game of Thrones I didn’t even want to invest in another series ever again, and I used to sit up binging TV until the early morning. And while I enjoyed my job it didn’t seem to me to be enough, mostly because I felt that I lacked any real drive. My life wasn’t going in any particular direction and I needed that- I have always needed that. Simply living one day at a time has never worked out well for me. I have always needed something to work towards and all I saw ahead of me at that point was an empty void. In a lot of ways I honestly felt that I had nothing to live for. Each day merely trickled by with the same dull monotony as the last. It was as if I was waiting for something- anything- to happen. I was waiting for my life to start.
And then we went into Lockdown.
‘Grand,’ I said to myself. ‘This will be a nice two-week break.’ After about six weeks of playing Stardew Valley for 14 hours a day it dawned on me that lockdown was probably going to last a little longer than anticipated.
I realized just this morning why exactly it was that I enjoyed the lockdown so much. It wasn’t because I was getting paid to sit around on my laptop all day, nor was it because I finally had a good reason not to leave my bedroom. I needed more than anything for the world around me to just slow down. Throughout the months prior to lockdown I found myself overwhelmed with life. It was simply moving too fast and I didn’t have it in me to catch up. It felt as though everyone I knew was several steps ahead of me in every way- my friends had Real Grown Up Adult Jobs, or they were thriving in their Postgraduate Degrees, or they were at the very least on track to make something of themselves. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no idea what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Or, rather, I did know- I just felt that it was unattainable.
That’s not to say that the seemingly perfect lives around me were actually ‘perfect’ at all. I’m not that naïve, or self-centred. I may well have taken on the ‘woe is me’ mindset at the time but I know now that it was simply a case of inner frustration at myself for being unable to do something about my intense feelings of helplessness and confusion. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to sit back and breathe, as well as take a much needed look at my life without the pressure of feeling like I had to fix it now. I started going for a walk with Coco every morning, stopped drinking, and applied for my PhD. For the first time in a very long time I wasn’t drowning in my own inner turmoil.
After dabbling a little bit in writing in May I sent Sarah a rough draft of a chapter I had written years ago on a whim. Writing was always my favourite hobby. All I ever wanted as a child was to be a writer. My world revolved almost entirely around fiction, which I suppose could be the focus of a future blog post. Before I could actually write I made up stories in my head and drew them out in crayon. At almost all times I have a story unravelling in my head, characters conversing and worlds building themselves up in the back of my mind, but I had lost sight of how much joy that gave me. I never wrote for anyone but myself, either. Sending Sarah that old draft was the first time I ever allowed anyone else to read anything I scribbled down, and after reading it she asked for some more. There was a story floating around somewhere in the swirling vortex I call my brain and so I started working on the first chapter of that abstract idea, and when the first four chapters were done I sent it to both Sarah and Aoife. They harassed me for hours on end each day to write the next part of the story. They made a facebook chat for the three of us called ‘Book Club’, and Aoife made memes about it. Anytime I sat down to play a game on Steam my phone would begin to buzz with notifications from them demanding some more writing. What I wrote wasn’t good but it did give me purpose, something I hadn’t had in so very long. People wanted something from me, even if that something was just my late night ramblings. I dramatically changed the plot of the book about five times over and confused the bejaysus out of them, but I thrived during lockdown in almost every way because of it.
It’s an extremely tired cliché of course to tell someone who’s suffering that ‘it gets better’ but it’s a tired cliché for a reason. It’s true. I look at who I am now compared to who I was only a matter of months ago and I am an entirely different person, for the better, at last. Without harking on about how I’m publishing a book, I am publishing a book. As a child that was the only thing I ever wanted. I know I’ll never get rich or make a living from writing, and that more than likely the whole thing will flop. There’s a distinct possibility only about ten copies of it will sell. I know my book is shite. But it is a step in the right direction; a step away from the person I was in the past. It’s a step towards actually making something out of myself and making something out of my life, and if nothing more comes out of it than that, that’s still good enough for me.