A year of… UK lockdowns, pandemic living, COVID stress

A new venture for me this year has been the Reflections videos that I’ve created at the end of each month. March will be the third one and as I’ve been starting to put together some thoughts for that, its felt natural to think back a year, to last March.

March 2020 was the most stressful time of the current pandemic for me. Everything seemed uncertain, cases were rising, deaths were rising and there was a lot of talk of a lockdown. But, here in the UK it felt difficult to believe that we would be in much the same position as Italy, which had already been subject to lockdown and that was experiencing a terrible toll from coronavirus.

But lockdown happened, the death toll climbed and we did absolutely follow Italy into an abyss that many countries have since experienced. In the months that followed, we seemed to emerge out of the worst of it, but, as we now know, the worst was still to come. For several days in January 2021, the UK registered well over 1000 deaths a day from COVID and we now have one of the highest overall death tolls in the world. So many grieving families, so much pain and sorrow.

And, while we all want that to be the very worst, and the roll-out of the vaccines worldwide is such good news, we don’t yet know what surprises COVID has in store for us over the next few months and years. I certainly didn’t expect the UK still to be in lockdown 12 months later, and counting…

I feel very fortunate that I haven’t lost anyone dear to me to COVID. My brother and I are now among the eldest in even our extended family and are still only in our 50s, so we haven’t faced the risk that has affected so many families with elderly parents and grandparents.

So yes, last March I felt completely overwhelmed by circumstances, worried for my own health, worried for my 20 something children and how lockdown was affecting their lives so badly, and I felt demotivated, powerless and generally completely stuck in a cycle of news reading, announcement watching and overthinking.

One year later… still in lockdown

A year on, things are in some ways the same, but in others a lot different. The virus is still wreaking havoc across the world but the cases here are on a downward slide and there is hope that restrictions within the latest (third) national lockdown are being eased, gently this time. Hopefully some lessons have been learned and this will indeed be the last time it happens but we shall see!

What’s different is my state of mind. I realised last March that it would be unlikely that the pandemic would be over quickly. And that my high level of anxiety about that was not sustainable.

So I regrouped and started doing some things that would improve my own mental health and hopefully that of others too. By starting the daily vlogs on my YouTube channel – the Craft like no-one is watching series – I gave myself a focus each day, I put my anxieties into words, I spoke about other things, my crafts, my crochet, my knitting, my own struggles with ‘mojo’ and so many people responded positively.

Just as my ramblings were comfort to you out there who watched the videos each day, your comments came back to me as sticking plasters for my battered mind. We were all in this together, and we were going to get through it by just keeping on with our making.

And we did. My crochet mojo definitely disappeared for a while last spring but I threw myself into creating a vegetable garden, and chatted on about that, showing my plants and garden developing over the spring and summer.

Then, as the therapeutic effects of a daily walk, tending the patch of Earth that surrounds my house, and getting the lovely thankful comments on my videos, I started to feel the need to make using yarn and wool again.

I don’t know how many hours of video chatting (and video editing!) I did during those months but it contributed to how the pandemic has changed my life. Its not been all bad – and developing more of an interest in video making generally has opened up all sorts of possibilities for the future.

Its still not certain how things will work out, particularly with the world economy and the economy here in the UK. I don’t know if luxury hand dyed yarns are going to have the same demand over the next few years or whether fairs or yarn shops are going to survive. Its likely that cash will be tight for many families, so I’m going to move into the rest of 2021 doing what I always have with my freelance career – keep my options open, don’t put all my eggs in one basket and continue to try to be inventive and positive.

Five ways the pandemic has changed my thinking

Its the old cliche isn’t it, that we need to live for today, be mindful, be in the moment. But its hard to do that when live is moving along so fast, deadlines come up and have to be met, there’s pressure to increase your business profits, to sell more, to buy more and so it goes on.

The first big thing for me is that I don’t want to go back to feeling obligated to do things, when actually, I don’t really want to. The pandemic has sort of put the brakes on a lot of things and I’ve noticed that I haven’t spent money on things like coffees and lunches out, day trips, car journeys, holidays, etc. Not that I was a big spender before but not doing these things has certainly made a bigger difference than I expected.

I’ve realised that many of the ‘days off’ that I took in the past were to please someone else, or to go along with a group and visit somewhere that didn’t necessarily interest me. At the time it seemed like no big deal, but now it seems more important to spend my time and my money wisely and use my precious non-work time for things that I absolutely relish and enjoy and love.

The second decision I’ve come to is that I am going to prioritise family above everything. In the last 12 months, I haven’t seen my daughter or her boyfriend once. They only live in Manchester, but the north west of the country has been under heavier restrictions over the last 12 months, well beyond the national lockdowns, so there was a window of about 2 weeks in July when we could have met up and we missed it. We didn’t realise it was such a small window at the time! How I am looking forward to seeing them again this summer!

I’ve also missed the regular jewellery making sessions that I used to do with my brother. He managed to get over for a garden lunch twice last summer, but that was that. We have both had our vaccines now and I hope that this summer, we will be able to meet up once a month and fashion some silver.

Thirdly, I’ve realised that its actually OK to be an introvert who loves spending time alone. Such personality traits used to be looked on as a deficiency by many people but came in quite handy during lockdown. Although the early days were dominated with anxiety about the virus and its impact, I haven’t really felt too restricted in my daily life.

I work at home, I love my home and my home and garden can easily be enough. I can amuse myself endlessly with wool, crochet, knitting, my phone, iMovie and gardening. And while I enjoy a glass of wine or two at the weekend, specially on a sunny summer evening after a day in the garden, I wouldn’t care if I never set foot in a pub again.

Fourthly, I have finally, for the first time in my life, learned so slow down. I’ve been aware from being in my teen years that although I am introverted, I have a very driven personality. I thrive on achievement and am never happier than if I’ve worked through a massive to-do list, even if its taken me until 11pm at night. But I’ve realised through this enforced slow-down during lockdown, that achievement-addiction is not a good thing.

Although I work at home, and have been freelance for most of my working life, its only now that I’ve ditched the guilt about not working 12 hours a day. The world does not end if I spend four hours on a Thursday in the garden planting seeds! If I cut myself a bit of slack, I actually feel more motivated and achieve more during work time. In fact, I now go-with-the-flow much more and work on tasks and activities that I have most enthusiasm for on any particular day.

And, finally, I have learned the value of just being able to stand and stare. That’s in a poem somewhere but I can’t place it just now. Throughout my life there has always been something to do (or several things, more like) before I get chance to do something that I really want to do. Or do nothing at all. Contemplation, mindfulness, meditation, daydreaming, whatever you want to call it, is GOOD and I am now building some of all of those into everyday life.

And, PS, I’ve learned that is fine to not go to the hairdresser for a year, or get your nails done. Sigh. The hairdresser is maybe one place I will be going back to (only after my second vaccine dose though ;).

I also have a video about my thoughts on a year of lockdowns… its not a repeat of the blog post but rather an extension of it…