It’s a little early to be celebrating this anniversary. Really it falls in the autumn, the anniversary of the day that the dark clouds vanished and the game of ‘depression Snakes and Ladders’ was over. But I feel like now is the time to celebrate it because the ‘lockdown’ was as close as I’ve come since then to getting lost in the gloomy underworld again. I have clung on to my happiness by my fingernails, and with the support of my loved ones. ‘Lockdown’ started three years, almost to the day, from when I left my husband and the life I’d lived for 15 years in what felt at the time a last-ditch attempt to make a life that would satisfy me and make me happy, a life that was worth living. In those three years I’ve travelled, volunteered with amazing projects, seen myself reflected back to me by strangers, and worked hard every day to nurture and maintain the green shoots of that life, and to grow them into a fulfilling present and an exciting future, to be honest with myself and others, to be free of my past.
It seemed that 2020 was going to be the best year I’d had in a long, long time, and the future shone bright before me. ‘Lockdown’ squished that present and future, with the loss of a whole season of live events that I and a friend had spent many months planning, booking and organising. The whole performing arts sector now exists in this state of uncertainty, indefinitely. And it was the third time in three months that an opportunity to move on and move into my own home fell through, after three years of living in other peoples’ houses (or a tent!). It knocked me sideways. I floundered. I stepped on a Snake and slid downwards several levels in the game. It was very hard not to become ego-centred and hopeless at first, to avoid the feeling that ‘the Universe doesn’t want me to be happy and fulfilled’. Spoken word and poetry became too painful for me to watch, read, or even think about. I keep finding little sad, lonely and hopeless poems from that time that I don’t remember writing scribbled in odd pages of my notebooks.
There were times when I and my new boyfriend found ourselves living together in very close quarters, there were times when we had to social distance again and I had to cleanse all traces of him when he left after a visit sitting metres apart in the garden and I wept. Home was fraught with everyone’s anxieties. I worried about the safety and well-being of loved ones in care homes. It was sunny almost every day, so as a person with super-sensitivity to sunlight and warm temperatures, I had to stay indoors.1 Social distancing and even the emptiness and peace of the ‘lockdown’, although pleasant to my Asbergers’, did not really do my mental health any good.
I felt frozen and bereft and I fell into Twitter, often spending the whole day in there. I found stories from all over our world, stories that, for the most part, horrified or enraged me, and made me feel powerless against an ever-expanding soul-less and psychotic system that steals from the poor to give to the rich, that lies to our faces outrageously, that simply does not value life or believe in fairness. Like millions of us around the world, I wanted to be out on the streets holding these bastards to account. Instead we were all indoors, looking after ourselves and each other, as we always end up having to do since the ‘representatives’ we ‘elect’ to look after us actually want us gone. I began to feel that the contribution I had been making to my community was not enough, that nothing ever would be, that my own life and ambitions did not matter in the face of this crisis, and simultaneously, that I was powerless and incapable.
I watched every documentary that Adam Curtis has ever made. I understood the concept and progress of ‘hypernormalisation’ and it helped me get a handle on, and see through, the endlessly confusing, contradictory and downright false and ridiculous statements and actions of our government and others around the world. They are designed to create that feeling of fear, horror and powerlessness, so that we just give up trying to unravel the Gordian knot of bullshit and corruption and instead buy ourselves some sense of security and autonomy from Amazon or a mortgage advisor. So that we choose EastEnders over the real people that live in our real community and the hard work it takes to interact with them meaningfully and co-operatively.
My beloved and I did some small ‘actions’ that helped us feel less powerless, that we were raising our voices outside of social media. I began to write again, and managed to surmount my fear of being on video to share some of those poems with my creative community. I started playing the guitar very very badly again, and singing songs that helped me express some of my thoughts and feelings. But still, I felt paralysed and simultaneously responsible for changing everything bad happening to us: isolation, death and disease, untrustworthy governments and corporations extending their surveillance of us, billions funnelled into the accounts of the super rich and the corrupt while people starve and get evicted in the middle of a global pandemic, legislation that enacts draconian and ill-defined powers for states and their police forces, environmental disasters, indigenous peoples encroached upon, brutalised and murdered … I could go on and on and on. What on earth could I, a single, deeply flawed organism, possibly do to change all of this? And then my health, and my right knee (the one I took for George Floyd), gave way entirely.
I was right back to three years ago, in a bed, in a room feeling powerless and hopeless and alone. So I got out of that room. The four walls and the closed door, so precious to me; my privacy, my space and my control, which help me stay sane in good times, are also my nemesis. Just like three years ago, I had to get out of my room and the energy that I’d created and experienced in it. I moved in with my beloved, and it took three weeks of sleeping and eating as much as possible, of avoiding social media and calling people for conversations instead, of taking slow little walks in nature and foraging in the verges, for the knee to recover and my teeth and gums to stop hurting, to get some energy back and to move out of a place of fear and loneliness. During that time the hits kept on coming and my frustration was no less. For every square forwards I moved on the board, it seemed I paid with having to sit out a round or two. Snakes snapped around my heels and Ladders were snatched away. There came a crisis, triggered by a sad event.
I sat one night a few weeks ago, unable to sleep. My head, my heart, my belly were full, were churning. It was 1.30am. I got up and dressed and went to sit in my car, the only place I have all of my own. I knew a poem was brewing within me and I had to be alone to write it. I had to be near the sea to write it. Serendipity finally intervening, I found that my knee was recovered enough for me to drive, and that travel restrictions had been relaxed enough that I felt that I could drive somewhere. What happened is this poem. And that night it all began to change, to move again. I am wild, I am free, I am loved. I have choices. I’m lucky, privileged, blessed. It took another long drive a couple of days later and a long heart-to-heart with my beloved for me to relax and really feel all of that.
We understood that the world has changed. And that it’s not for a few months, but indefinitely. That you might make plans, but that the ‘lockdown’ might well come back, and scupper them again. That the social issues that upset us the most are not going away, but will in fact worsen. That the soul-less are inexorably devouring the world and everything living on it while we fight each other in the streets and the supermarkets and online and bombs keep dropping like a rain that no amount of sunshine can drive off.
And we understood that we have to create our freedom inside ourselves. That, horrified as we both are by this new world, we have to make spaces within it to love, to enjoy, to connect, to play, to laugh, and to tell the truth. That if we can’t, then the virus of hypernormalisation has infected our minds and the soul-less have power over us. That if we can, we might be able to share that freedom with others, and help them feel it too.
Because actually nothing has really changed at all in this new world. No matter how much security you think you have, it is all an illusion, which could be blown away in a hurricane or even with a sneeze. The future always is and always will be unpredictable. Change is inevitable. Shit happens.
Snakes and Ladders.
And in the face of this, the answer too remains the same. Get that egg boiling! Resilience is going to be the key to avoiding the Snakes in the post-COVID 19 universe. Resilience and critical thinking. And critical thinking has to start with ourselves. Before we can truly assess with an open mind the tide of information the modern world bombards us with, we have to aware of our own biases and habits of thinking and feeling. We have to work to free ourselves from them, to respond to things as they happen, as appropriately as possible, rather than to react to things out of habit, fear and ignorance. Learn how to shine the light upon yourself and then turn that light upon the world once it is bright enough, and you will see further and more clearly. It’s not easy and it’s not work that’s ever really over. It has to be done every day. All the time. Relax and accept that you are changeable, along with the flow of life itself. That you are enough, as you are, that your unique combination of genes and experiences and tastes and quirks and talents have never been seen before in this universe, and never will be again, so express them in a pure and unpolluted way. Build compassion towards yourself and then shine that, too, onto the rest of the world. We are all flawed. We are all perfect. No-one knows what’s ‘really going on’. No-one. And that’s how it’s always been.
Let’s fight the power. Love each other. Build free and truthful spaces and share them with as many people as we can. Become as self-sufficient as we can, spiritually, emotionally and practically. Let’s divest ourselves of the old tired divide-and-rule power games and see that only if we have a revolution of the heart can we bring down this soul-less Snake and stop it from dragging us down into the underworld that we create with our own minds. Let’s find those bloody Ladders, and help each other up them, into the sunshine and fresh air.