It is day 4,679 in quarantine. I think.
I am self-isolating in my childhood bedroom, wondering what day it is and how my life came to be this way. Just weeks ago, I was battling for a seat on the tube in central London, ordering in a restaurant with friends and sharing sweat in a spin studio with strangers.
For myself, I have been lucky. I was raised in the countryside and I returned here before Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the population under a lockdown on March 23. What this means for daily life is no travel unless essential and schools, restaurants, cafes, gyms and businesses are closed. It genuinely seems like the post-apocalyptical fiction only found in books and films has manifested itself into our current affairs.
It’s no secret that the way of life is slower in the countryside, more considered. Attitudes are different too. One doesn’t wreck Waitrose in a stockpiling spree. Oh no, here, you take just what you need – and a little extra – and politely leave the rest for your neighbours (although I can’t help but think this behaviour is not out of politeness, but from fear of becoming village gossip).
Bare shelves at a UK grocery story.
Meanwhile, my Hello Fresh delivery (a meal kit company, for the uninitiated) managed to find its way to my rural retreat after a painless redirect from my London postcode. Instead of signing for the ingredients, the driver took a photo of me while standing two metres away. Honestly, we are going to look back on this time in disbelief.
One of my close friends is a nurse, working the ‘frontline’ at a major trauma hospital in the Midlands. She has described watching people die from COVID-19 as them ‘suffocating to death’, a highly traumatic experience for both patients and healthcare professionals.
On March 26, hundreds of thousands of us showed our gratitude to the National Health Service by applauding from our doorways. I think I can speak on behalf of the UK when I say the ‘clapping for our carers’ moment was incredibly uplifting and emotional. With our hospitals stretched, we owe it to the doctors and nurses who are fighting this pandemic so selflessly to do our part.
What this means for me, quite simply, is staying home.
Heroic, I know. But in all seriousness, I feel grateful to be able to partake in exercise videos through Instagram Live and have the space inside the house to do them. I feel grateful to be able to take long runs without seeing another soul, having kitchen shelves stacked with supplies, and spending real, uninterrupted time with my parents and younger sister.
Coronavirus has not affected my immediate family or friends, which is good news; this will probably change. We’re all going to be affected by the pandemic in some way, whether it is by direct infection or struggling with mental health. With the latter in mind, I’m controlling how much news I digest. The more I consume, the more I feel out of control. As a journalist, I have a thirst for knowledge, but in these unprecedented times, my mental health will not thank me for absorbing scary statistics. Instead, I’m keeping informed, and following a small-minded routine. And I think it’s working.
Part of my daily ritual is distracting myself with positive social media. My screen time report hates this (incredibly, the average time I spent using the Instagram app on one day was <three hours and eight minutes>) - but in my defence, the circulating coronavirus-related content has been exceptional. Watching amusing videos and anecdotes of human kindness keeps me feeling optimistic, especially when I consider how in April I had plans with friends to visit Barcelona and in May it was supposed to be my oldest friend’s hen party in Portugal, ahead of her August wedding. Both are likely to be postponed, possibly until 2021, because of the contagious disease.
But what else is contagious other than coronavirus? Kindness.
It does good and it also gives us a sense of productive control. Author Rachel Wolchin writes, ‘It isn’t humanly possible to be the best version of yourself on your own.’ How true. I’m planning on giving blood in the coming weeks, as with people staying inside their homes far more than usual, blood donations are expected to fall – but donors are still very much needed.
I became a regular donor after my mum suffered a serious gastro operation in 2015, causing her to lose her stomach. She needed regular blood transfusions for a year and wouldn’t be alive today if individuals hadn’t donated. It’s worth pointing out that there are currently no confirmed cases of any form of coronavirus being passed on through the donation of substances of human origin such as blood, organs, tissues and stem cells, and the NHS says you can keep donating as normal, unless you have travelled to a coronavirus risk area, been in contact with or been infected by the virus. So please donate if you are able to.
Since one day lasts about 90 hours (can someone fact check this?) I have more time than usual to complete unfinished tasks and hone hobbies. I’m reading more, learning how to French plait via YouTube and I’m trying each week to increase the number of times I can jump over a skipping rope. That said, if I don’t do any of these things on a certain day – or any day, really - that’s okay. The last thing people need during this period of uncertainty is to feel guilty about their lack of productivity, because now is the time to admit that we are probably going to be least productive because we’re stressed and worried. Compassion is needed right now, not guilt.
I wasn’t expecting to be back in my childhood bedroom and working from it, but here we are. I’m fortunate to still be working when so many face an incredibly difficult few months of redundancy, pay cuts and possible bankruptcy before Britain is back in business.
For the future, I am hopeful. It is possible the virus will have a positive impact on our lives in some way, as being forced to slow down the pace of life could enhance our ability to become self-sufficient and more mindful.
An image of the tranquil British countryside, where the author is currently residing.
This certainly seems true, as without air travel and factory production levels of pollution will plummet. Mother Nature is currently getting a bit of breathing space. Oh, and so is my skin. Clogged pores are the main cause of skin imperfections such as blemishes or spots, so going bare-skinned has given my pores the chance to breathe. My social life may be suffering, but my skin has never looked more radiant. What a shame no one is able to see it.
Next, I’d like to take a moment to thank the sun. Every day it’s been shining and I’m so glad. Imagine if it was winter. Imagine! That’s what I thought when I went on a walk earlier today, and spring was in the air: the sky was blue, daffodils had bloomed and blossom filled the trees. And now our clocks have gone forward and we get a whole extra hour in the evenings (I’m not sure what to do with this time, but still).
Underslept is certainly not a word in my vocabulary anymore, and while that’s very nice, I say, bring on the street parties, get-togethers and festivals. I hope I’ll see them soon.
This is the second installment of ‘Living in Lockdown’, a Harper’s Bazaar Arabia series where our international contributors share their experience in self-isolation or quarantine.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash/HugoSousa. Images within text courtesy of the author and Instagram