Life Under Lockdown

Life comes at you fast. At the start of 2020, the world had never heard of Coronavirus. By March, terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” were part of everyday conversation. We entered nationwide lockdown, keeping to our houses as much as possible and watched anxiously for news of the virus at home and abroad.

The impact of this pandemic is almost impossible to comprehend. International travel at a virtual standstill. Populations voluntarily staying at home. Businesses going on hiatus, except those that are truly critical. The self-employed and gig economy are suffering the worst since they have scant protection against a disaster on this scale. Massive economic disruption. Stock markets tanking hard. Governments forced into providing universal aid.

If you’re not careful, the news cycle can consume you. The death toll, locally and internationally is concerning. Criticisms of various governments' handling of the pandemic response is everywhere. Information about the virus is in constant flux - some academics are saying many cases have gone unreported because carriers are asymptomatic or only exhibit mild symptoms. It may have spread among the population further and faster than first thought. Coronavirus is all that people on social media are talking about - and there’s a mix of memes, misinformation, camaraderie and anxiety.

Over to Belfast…

Belfast, like many cities around the UK and indeed the world, is a virtual ghost town. Rush hour no longer exists. People are largely staying at home with the exception of the odd evening stroll to get some fresh air.

I’m isolating by myself, except on days my kids are with me. You’d think it would be a lonely existence, but I’ve settled into a fairly placid routine. Working from home isn’t particularly difficult. I’ve been doing that on and off for years. However, this has come just as I was changing jobs. I finished my current job without physically seeing my colleagues of the last four years. We didn’t even get leaving drinks! And I started my new job the following Monday, not being physically present with my new colleagues.

So I wanted to use this post to share my experiences under lockdown. Being confined to your house with allowances for shopping and state-sanctioned exercise is the weirdest damned thing to happen in my lifetime. And it’s happening globally. This event will have repercussions for decades to come. I appreciate that everybody’s lockdown experience is different. This is mine. It’s unique to my situation and experiences and reflects me coping with this in the best way I know how.

A strange thing happened when the lockdown was announced: an odd calm came over me. This was an unusual situation. A lockdown of this size hasn’t happened in living memory. This was completely, absolutely, outside my control. So what could I control? My environment. My routine. This was going to be a solo lockdown, peppered by a couple of nights with my kids staying over. They’re not circulating, so the risk of them passing something between households is fairly negligible.

The main concern in the beginning was that food would be hard to come by. The initial panic buying meant supermarket shelves were empty of staple items, especially tinned goods. Don’t even mention the Great Toilet Roll Shortage. Supermarkets responded by implementing rationing of items and queuing systems. In terms of food, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to batch prep meals and freeze them ahead of time, so there’s always plenty to eat.

I disengaged from bad habits

Some people have reported drinking much more in lockdown. I’ve been the opposite: I’ve been drinking less. There’s just no point. What’s essentially a social activity doesn’t work alone and apparently I don’t use booze as a coping mechanism. It’s been refreshing to discover that.

Meal planning came in and snacking went out. Sure, I allow myself something nice at the weekend, but that’s largey controllable. I think acknowledging that you’re going to be more sedentary for a couple of months means you need less to eat. Prepared, healthy meals and veggie snacks are keeping me going.

Almost immediately, I pulled back from social media. I still check in, but the fractiousness, fear and misinformation put me on edge. Twitter and Facebook in particular. Strangely I found anything that involved compulsively scrolling was suddenly…repelling me.

Some healthy habits emerged

Early on in lockdown, my local gym closed. I was devastated. Reluctantly at first, I started running again. I try and do that every other day, plus take an evening walk to get some fresh air and daylight. I really think this has helped me cope with being indoors more than anything else. And it’s great to be out there, pounding the pavements again. It’s been a couple of years since I ran this much.

I’ve started mixing in weights workouts in my back yard. There’s a limited amount you can do with a kettlebell, dumbbells and a few resistance bands, but it’s enough.

Lockdown was also an opportunity to lose weight. I decided a few weeks ago to start an intermittent fasting schedule. Taking advantage of a home working routine, I can manage the 8/16 hour split easily: you eat for a window of 8 hours and fast for 16. After 6pm, I switch to hydration to keep myself feeling full. It works, and I’m starting to see results. The question is, how sustainable is this back in the 9 to 5 world?

As a result of all this, I’m sleeping better at night and nudging towards earlier wake-up times. Like a lot of people, I’ve been having the weirdest lockdown dreams. Some very surreal situations cropping up. That said, I’m impressed that these good habits have taken hold. The big challenge will be to sustain them when restrictions are eventually lifted.

How I’m filling my time

Possibly as an attempt to control the immediate environment, I decided to alternate between a few activities to keep boredom at bay and try to use this time productively. I’ve seen a lot of social media criticising people for productivity porn. However, a lot of solo isolators like me need to keep busy. I’m checking in with friends by text and the occasional video call to remain social.

Early on, I outlined a few things that I wanted to achieve during this. Things I could pick up when I needed to be busy. Exercise is the priority.

I tend to alternate between a Digital Innovation course I’m working on, a couple of light art/Instagram ideas (one is a retrospective of photos from travels last year - since travel this year looks unlikely!), I’m trying to read more too, so I dedicate some time to that. I’m also tinkering with a couple of blog themes just as a hobby.

Beyond that, little walks around my neighbourhood, taking books down to Queen’s University and reading in the quad, cooking and just living a slower life than normal. I miss social coffees and Sunday drives and going out for breakfast at the weekend.

I hope that these restrictions lift soon, although looking around the globe I don’t see an immediate return to international travel. Not until every country brings their infection rate under control. And there’s a divergence of approaches to that at the moment. There’s a pretty gloomy outlook on the horizon and I think we need to prepare ourselves for an altered life when we re-emerge from our homes again.

Gerard McGarry Written by:

Liberal, humanist type. Optimist. Lover of life. Tryer of new things.