Normal

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Sunset over Wellington from a distance, through the trees at the top of my garden

I’m hearing some common feels about lockdown ending. I have the friends who have struggled with isolation but soldiered on through it for the greater good, keenly missing their lives, their people, their social contact, their routines, their fun. They’re looking forward to it, talking about the hugs, catch ups, dances, events, people, food, being a human in a crowd again, a sense of normalcy once it’s safe. I have friends who are happy pottering within their bubbles, not too worried about it either way. I have friends who are anxious that we’re moving too soon, doing too much, that all the good work we’ve done is so easily undone and regardless of how they feel about lockdown, longer is safer for all of us. I guess most people are a bit of a mix. I know everyone is talking about what they’ve learned, what they want back, what they don’t, what they hope the “new normal” might feel like.

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Wellington at sunrise from the top of Polhill Reserve. I’m just gonna fill the gaps with pretty pictures from my state mandated daily lockdown runs AKA Jacindacize

I haven’t heard anyone describe what I’m feeling yet which means either no one feels the same or no one else knows how to articulate it either so I may as well give it a go and see if anyone relates. Honestly, the thought of lockdown ending makes me panic. Even the shift to level 3 yesterday upset me greatly. I have thought and thought and the best word I have come up with is grief. I feel like I’m grieving.

I need to do the disclaimer that I’m in a privileged position in a lot of ways, and am in no way diminishing the lockdown experiences that have been uncomfortable, unhealthy or unsafe. I don’t want lockdown to go on forever. There are lots of things I do want back too. This is just me trying to express what moving out of it feels like – as an “invisible” disabled person, as a neurodiverse person, and a chronically burnt out person.

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Uh oh, getting serious. Here’s Ella, my tiny Jack Russell Chihuahua dog looking pensive next to an early morning mug of coffee, both resting on my belly

At the beginning a lot of people talked about how invisible and unimportant lockdown made them feel – not the experience of lockdown itself, but the knowledge that no one cared before. No one gave two shits when it was just them, when they were stuck at home alone for months or years before COVID because they were sick, or in pain, or unable to work. Accommodations “weren’t available”, working from home was “inconvenient”, making classes accessible online was “impossible”. If they cancelled plans or couldn’t attend social events they were “flaky”, they “didn’t care”, they’re “not a good friend”. Even doing their best to get through and make it to work, class or a casual catch up but not performing 100% got them judged, fired, failed or dropped from invitation lists. The message has been pretty clear for a lot of people, including me, for a long time: No excuses, sunshine. Make it work, we don’t care how. Either suck it up and show up smiling or piss off.

It’s a very old and boring story, but all that annoyance, irritation and judgement at a minority group’s “unreasonable needs” got flipped on its head damn fast as soon as everyone else needed those things too. Suddenly everyone was keen to reach out, connect, support, check in, share tips, drop off food, care for each other in new ways. We’ve taken zoom meetings in stride, we’ve magically learned to use technology we said was “too hard” before, we’ve installed software, changed company processes, we’ve picked up the phone, sent pictures and videos, texted just to say hi, memed up a storm, used awesome tools to share our work without needing to share space. We’ve hyped up our essential workers and said thank you to people we usually ignore or outright slag off. We’ve told each other we matter, that our worth is not measured by our productivity or the clothes we wear or whether we showered today, we’ve made sure everyone knows that just surviving today is OK. We’ve done it, we made it work, we sorted it out. No problem. Well, some problems, but we’re all in it together, right?

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Purple and yellow sunset in the clouds over the south coast hills

Well, we were in it together. But as of yesterday, we weren’t. I thought nothing much would change, it’s level 3.9 ha ha, I’ll just stick to Level 4 rules for a few more weeks, stay tucked away at home and keep myself and my bubble and everyone else safe. I didn’t anticipate how little “everyone else” gives a shit. The pictures are all over social media – the crowds standing shoulder to shoulder waiting for some shitty burger. The overflowing rubbish bins and trash blowing down the street. Traffic jams at drive throughs blocking bus lanes. People walking four abreast on footpaths, forcing others to swerve into the street where – oop, there are now a million cars. And it’s not just out there  – the quiet, wide hill tracks I’ve paced alone all month, nodding to the other runners and moving to the side, are now overflowing with large groups of people who look at me vacantly as they stand stock still or play power walk chicken . Hammering starts on the neighbourhood construction sites at 7am and the power tools whine all day. Everyone else is just right back to normal, with a thump, with a crash, with a weirdly aggressive stance in the dead centre of the footpath.

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Tea break! Cinnamon cookies in a tiny cookie sized dish, with tea steeping from a little human-shaped tea strainer

These past five weeks have been incredible for my disabled atypical ass. I have stayed home. I’ve been able to stay warm. I’ve eaten well and regularly, exercised better, slept more. I’ve spent time outside that wasn’t just a mad dash across town between jobs. I’ve been able to listen to my body and adjust how I work and what I need to do to be comfortable and safe. Not travelling to and from work has given me so many hours, spoons and dollars back, and I’ve spent them with sunrise cups of tea, snuggles and walks with the dog, podcasts, language study, just thinking. No strange contortions on awful chairs, no sunglasses indoors to block the fluorescent lights, no skipping lunch because it hurts to walk there, no wearing blankets and gloves and a hot water bottle as I slowly freeze at my desk. I’ve doubled the amount of hours I work and I’m still working less than I was. I’m a fuckload more productive. I’ve been judged by what I can do, not where I did it, or what I was wearing, or if I sat on the floor all day or why I buzzed all my hair into a mohawk for no reason. I’ve actually been successful. This time of year is usually really bad for my body, as the cold and the damp and the dark herald the increase in pain and immobility. So far I’m feeling better this year than any other in a long time. I’ve been taking less medication, of all types. I haven’t caught any colds. I feel productive, I feel safe, I feel trusted, I feel in control of the things I usually have no say in.

But now it’s Level 3, and soon it will be Level 2, and I freaked out because I knew it was coming, but now it’s here it’s not panic it’s just underlying dread. I feel so much more lonely and restricted than I did at Level 4, because at Level 4 everyone was trying. Now it’s just me again, trying to do things differently. Right back to “unreasonable needs”. Because it’s easy to keep your distance when it’s quiet and peaceful outside and you can go for your lunchtime walk or down to the shop without being forced into traffic then stared at like you grew another head. Because yea, I could keep working from home but it doesn’t matter how much happier, healthier and more productive I am, it’s still so much easier when everyone else is too. When even your boss is. When you don’t have to explain anything or ask for anything, or try to prove that you’re not being lazy or difficult. When that’s just normal and ok and everything is automatically set up so that everyone’s included. When you’re not the exception, an anomaly, just an inconvenient technological complication.

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Ella asleep on my lap looking blissful, as I work at my home office setup

We were all in it together for a while, and now it’s gone and I’m grieving because I hoped, we all hoped, that some of this would stick, and I’m so scared that none of it will, because its easier for everyone else if it doesn’t. I’m terrified of waking up in two weeks’ time and walking out the door back to normal, because normal hurts. Normal means constant, gnawing, grinding discomfort, pain, exhaustion, moving aside and twisting in knots and pushing through it all as though it’s fine. It’s not fine. Normal doesn’t work for me. I don’t want it back. But “everyone else” does. And today everyone else is standing in the middle of the footpath glaring at me for causing a commotion by stepping in front of a passing car just so they don’t have to move.