I officially left my contracted post as a nurse in December 2019. I had beautiful plans to really ramp up freelancing throughout 2020, staying on the staff bank for nursing shifts which I would gradually taper off in line with my earning more – enough, anyway – from writing.
I was going to sit in cafés with oat milk lattes and enjoy life as a digital nomad. My partner had just started working in a lovely café/bar on the Quayside in Newcastle and I was hoping to sort of install myself in a window seat like a modern Hopper and become incredibly urbane. Simone De Beauvoir would turn up from the past and we could sit and discuss our writing – she on important matters of feminist phenomenology and existentialism; I, something equally important advertising quack remedies. It would have been glorious. I’d probably have written the great American novel by now, or at least sold some novel nostrums to the infirm and vulnerable on behalf of the CBD and Magnetic Bracelets marketing industry Fat Cats.*
Well, we all had plans for 2020, didn’t we?
Covid struck the world, and the UK was in bits. I ended up working back on wards a little more than I’d planned, and having the kids at home through the week took some getting used to. They are almost entirely self-sufficient, but I started lockdown with very high expectations about how I could support them with their learning and general life. It turned out to be better for everyone’s mental health if I kept to myself so they didn’t have to babysit a frustrated and bewildered woman trying to keep up with primary school equations and Spanish phrases that were clearly beyond her comprehension.
I found it quite exciting at first. I love an apocalypse. This was probably as close as we’re likely to get to zombies, or Triffids or the rise of the machines in my lifetime.** I got really into it. I created a Plague Cupboard with tinned potatoes and lentils and water purifying tablets (really) and potassium iodide (not really). I switched my alcohol consumption exclusively to Corona beer, partly because I love staying on theme and partly because no one else seemed to be buying it. I ordered my prescriptions ON TIME, and I started actually almost-consistently taking the out-of-date vitamin tablets that have been in my paracetamol and plasters drawer forever.
I know how lucky I am to have had a job – two jobs, really – that could continue throughout lockdown. Work and earnings have been so precarious for so many people. Being able to go out to work – although the atmosphere and workload was unlike anything anyone had previously known – gave me a degree of routine and normality that was very, very good for me. There was a new national appreciation for the NHS which resulted in lots of free pizzas delivered to wards, discounts on goods and services, people standing on their doorsteps and clapping into the void, and general special treatment and adulation (but not a pay rise). It was quite nice; everyone enjoys a bit of blitz spirit and a change is as good as a rest (as my nana used to say before she entered that changeless rest that comes to us all). NHS workers were among the few to be able to maintain a normal income through Covid so all the free food and discounts felt a bit misdirected, but people didn’t have a lot of ways to demonstrate appreciation (again, pay that matches inflation would be, you know, okay).
I should, perhaps, have been chronicling my experience of Covid. We’ve all come through it with lots of relatable experiences and some challenges have been almost universal. But, for a time when you couldn’t really do anything, I feel like I’ve been remarkably busy. I think we all feel like that, a bit; I’m sure there are a few people who’ve used lockdown to become fluent in Latin or create their magnum opus. A lot of people have perfected their sourdough, kimchi, or crochet. I got pretty good at this amazing vegan Snickers recipe. Most people have just been getting through these strange times one day at a time, one bad dream after another, one hard-won online groceries delivery slot every week. Somewhere along the way I stopped enjoying the cinematic apocalyptic novelty of it all, and a glimmer of hope seemed a long way off.
I have bipolar disorder, and when I’ve been depressed in the past it’s been part of a dramatic, frantic mindless rollercoaster where I really haven’t been thinking about things properly at all. In the long periods between those bumpy parts of the rollercoaster, I’m normally very happy and functional. In this last UK lockdown, though, it’s all been a bit miserable… not even exciting and apocalyptic any more. No hope of robotic uprising, no Martian attacks. It’s very strange for me to be down like this without actually being horribly mentally ill, and I feel like I’ve got a bit of insight into that low-grade, long-term dysthymic sort of depression. You just keep plodding on, feeling tired all the time and like everything’s a bit pointless, but not enough to do anything about it.
Some people HAVE been working very hard to get through this, however, so vaccines*** are being rolled out and I am hopeful again; the end is in sight. Cafés will open again soon, children will be back at school, and I will finally write the great American novel, or at least sell some flaxseed for the Plant-based Omega 3 marketing industry Fat Cats.
*I actually don’t completely disregard my scruples, and – a note to any clients who might read this – I do insist on evidence-based claims, or at the very least a few pithy qualifiers.
**I’m not really superstitious, but there’s something about saying that something horrible won’t happen that gives me an instinctive shudder of impending divine irony.
***I’m very, very happy that vaccines have been developed; in fact, I’m very happy that modern medicine is available to us in general. I don’t know what the impact of this vaccine development has been on animals in laboratories, and I suspect it would be graphic and upsetting. Cruelty Free International research and develop alternatives to animal testing that are better for humans and other animals alike. They deserve as much support as possible.