Like many people this year, I’ve gone back to therapy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to make that re-referal now, sometimes It takes a bit of prompting from others and other times, I just know. I know it’s that time again. I think of it like a kind of MOT for my brain when I feel I’m getting a bit off-kilter. And there’s nothing like a pandemic to give us more than our fair share of that.
In March we were encouraged to “DO EVERYTHING” a bit like giddy teenagers who can’t bare to be detached from their mates for five minutes. “Go to that virtual pub quiz” we heard. “Join that WhatsApp group!” ” Go for drinks with colleagues on teams after a full day of work and meetings… on teams”. “Ooh there’s an online gig you should try..” “Have you considered virtual E learning?” “Online YOGA. you totally want to try online yoga!” “Festival time! Get virtual festival ready!” It went on and on. I didn’t oblige to all of the above. But I did do my fair share. And this was on top of the usual people I’d keep in touch with pre-covid. We didn’t know how long the world would be this way, or indeed if we’d be sitting here in the middle of a North East lockdown, in October, unable to physically see anyone in person outside of our household. Yet here we are. We were encouraged by society, and probably social media, and partly the government, to socialise and form connections like never before. The governments contribution to this of course was the “rule of 6″and “eat out to help out”, cue every woman in her 30’s wondering if they have five friends, they A) like enough to dash out to see and B) live close enough to for socially distanced park dates. Most of us don’t get a jackpot of both A and B in this pub quiz. After thinking really hard I can probably only list about three people I’d want to desperately see if geography allowed.
There was then of course the extra activities or hobbies we thought everyone was taking up, learning languages, intense exercise regimes, origami, knitting a giraffe, baking a five tier cake. To form connections with ourselves and those around us. Despite briefly contemplating learning to crochet, the reality is that on good executive function days I can just about hold down a full time job and remember to make lunch on half the days in a week, never mind “building a living plant wall,” (no idea what this actually is, but google told me it was someone’s lockdown project.)
They say as you get older your circle gets smaller, although mine was never actually massive in the first place, in a pandemic it certainly shrinks further. One thing that took me back in the direction of therapy, is identity and understanding where I belong not just in a Covid world but life before working from home became the norm. Connections lay firmly at the heart of this. Who do we feel connected to? What is important right now? What really matters? Do I matter? I’m sure we’ve all been wondering similar, as we judge which zoom call to join or if reading a book and turning our phone off is a better option.
My relationship with people and things to fill my time has been pretty sporadic, and as my therapist put it I seem to have spent a lot of time cultivating “unhealthy relationships” that as you can imagine by the description, weren’t exactly beneficial. I’ve jumped from one thing to another quickly whether that’s in friendships or activities, I don’t know why, it’s just part of my life that’s always been there. I applied to go to India on a whim, not actually believing I’d get a place, (another 2am application jobby) and then haven’t spoken to or seen many people who I shared that intense experience to India with since. So, like most of us, I have wondered what friendships will still be sticking around when we can see others in person again without the fear of a deadly virus. Will the way we form connections change? It already has in a way, we’re streamlining our time, and I’ve certainly focussed on the friends who have kept in touch throughout. Although I still consider those who I’ve known for years but speak to maybe once a year as some of my very best friends. Keeping those people in my life is a healthy kind.
As we are eight months in, with little sign of an end, I’ve learned to prioritise everything. We all have more to juggle, and working from home in particular has taken longer to do things. We are distracted more, always thinking or wondering about the next thing. Is lockdown imminent? Do I need to stock up on pasta? Since the “everyone must be more sociable than ever!” frenzy, I’ve focussed on people who I have a two way connection with, and places I feel valued and appreciated. I’ve kept in touch with a solid four, and intermittently contact others. I still feel under pressure to do it all. We all do. Doing it all is all our society has every known. But therapy is exploring not doing it all. Taking it slow and putting on the brakes. A bit like the pandemic has taught us to do.
Suddenly we can’t just go somewhere, it now takes meticulous planning to walk out of the the door. Of course we’re going to miss things and the life we once had. I don’t think I’ve ever longed for a hug from a mate so much. I’ve grown up playing folk music, it’s what I’ve always known, and I know it’s where I can be me. Much of folk music is about connections, and most folk songs, if you can get past the constant theme of death, dying and bad relationships, you get a sense of hope, a feeling that we are all united in some way. I miss the times I spent playing in a session in the tiniest pub ever, playing tunes until the early hours, huddled around a table, drinks flowing and laughter in the air. It troubles me to think that the one activity where I felt my safest most of the time, and a constant in my life when many things come and go, could now be a risk. And I’m sure many things we once did with the people we love and care about the most, resonate with this. I really do worry for the arts, and hope it can evolve.
Therapy has made me reflect on not what I have lost, the abandoned hobbies, the jobs that didn’t work out, that girl from uni who suddenly stopped talking to me; but everything I have gained. We spend a lot of time ruminating over the things we have lost, I’ve had more than my fair share of loss over the years, and dealing with that is certainly a thing I’d recommend. But if we come out of the next six months, with at least two brilliant friends, who’ve stood by you, listened when needed and made plans for the less socially distant future, that really is everything to be celebrated. Anything else is a bonus.
As autumn turns to winter we’ll need to hold this close to us. It will get better.