The end of lockdown is like New Year’s Eve. You’re expected to have fun, feel like a loser if you don’t have plans but would rather stay home than face thousands of people. It’s triggering and a little heartbreaking when I’m asked how I’m enjoying my post-lockdown freedom. Lockdown gave me the type of freedom that I’ve only experienced on holiday. I absolutely thrived. It was exciting to finally have work-life balance and be liberated from obligations outside of my 9-5. Now that lockdown is over, I feel like I’ve been interrupted from a deep meditation by someone doused in Lynx playing Tiesto up full blast. I’m not ready to return to life as it was before the pandemic.
The end of lockdown is undoubtedly a positive for restoring the mental health and livelihoods of those affected. Bec Judd can stop complaining as she can now get a mani-pedi and bikini wax. I acknowledge that many suffered due to lockdown and they have my full empathy (excluding Bec Judd and the neo Nazis who organised the anti-lockdown riots and abused healthcare workers). As such, I was immensely grateful for my circumstances during lockdown. All of my needs were easily met on my modest 5-figure arts salary. Loneliness was not an issue as I rent a flat in a small apartment building with a housemate, friendly neighbours and a polyamorous ginger cat. My only dependents are my plants, which is a good thing since a third of the ones I bought during lockdown died. At 38 I have ticked off many life goals and experiences, so I was content with taking a break and saving money. If this happened in my late teens or early 20s I probably would not have been as zen about it. Lockdown was a breeze compared to my depressing and crushingly lonely periods during school and university.
Lockdown sheltered me from everything I dislike about the real world, such as hen’s parties and people who use flash photography in restaurants. Before the pandemic, my measure of a successful personal life was based on how many social activities I could cram in. I dreaded being seen as a loser with no plans. I was often the planner and organiser, which was draining. Lockdown provided relief from social pressures and FOMO. It gave me the space to reassess my priorities and brush the dust off creative projects. My long-supressed introvert side was allowed to shine. I felt enriched as a result. It was empowering to detach from the desire for external validation. For the first time in my anxiety-ridden life, my focus switched from fretting about the future to living in the present. It took a pandemic for me to realise that the future is out of my control.
To admit to not being excited about the reopening is a social faux pas when nearly everyone is crying “Woo hoo! Freedom!”, but like Larry David, I’m compulsively honest even if it might result in alienation. Honest conversations with friends revealed that more than not were in the same boat. My artist/writer friend Sebastian said “After the survival mode of the two big lockdowns last year, I found a good groove this time. I enjoyed it because it gave me the balance of life and time that I want. Socialising and all that stuff with reopening is great but honestly I just want to work on my own things and do me.”
My psychologist reinforced that many of her clients felt the same way about the end of lockdown. She said that apprehension and anxiety about returning to the real world was normal. It just doesn’t seem common because people aren’t vocal about it on social media. On the first weekend out of lockdown, my extravert friends posted photos of themselves having their first post-lockdown drinks. I posted a photo of myself on the couch with the cat on my lap.
Though I have eased into socialising and enjoyed my post-lockdown reunions, walking through crowded areas and bars with loud music makes me want to hide under a blanket. My socialising so far has been spontaneous or involved little planning. The thought of filling my calendar and planning weeks away is overwhelming. I don’t want to engage with the back and forth that comes from trying to find a date that works for everyone in a group. I don’t want to spend more than a few minutes finding a restaurant with a free table. Lockdown taught me to simplify. I’d like to continue living this way for as long as possible.