6 things I learned during lockdown

Number one: fluent Russian. Just kidding! Don’t worry, this list of “lockdown lessons” won’t make you feel bad about yourself. Despite my occasional Oprah-inspired moments of insight, my lockdown achievements are less “valuable skills” and more the product of too much time in my own head. Nonetheless, I wanted to share what I got up to and things I realised during this time.

  1. Taking time off is really important!

Thanks to a healthy diet of #girlboss and “slay, side hustle queen!” messaging for the past decade, as well as spending the biggest chunk of my career in the precarious world of freelance writing, days off were just not a thing for me. I didn’t feel hard done by – I was proud of being The Freelancer You Could Depend On. As the media shrunk and the market for jobs became even more of a Hunger Games battle for survival, I found that availability was one of the few things I could control. I didn’t say no to projects, shifts, or events. Instead, I said no to a week in Greece and a yoga retreat in Cornwall because I knew other younger, hungrier, cheaper freelancers were ready to take my place. I said yes to overwork and I said no to life.

Anyway, since the pandemic hit, I found myself even more tired than usual (which is really saying something). One day I spent two hours staring at 47 words on the page. CTRL C, CTRL V, no wait, CTRL Z. Then one particularly exhausted afternoon, I couldn’t fight it anymore. I slapped the laptop shut and lay down to read Sex and Rage. Since then, every day I’ve felt fatigued, I took time off instead of suffering it out.

I’ve taken 5 days off since March, more days off than I took in all of 2019. Even if it’s just to lounge around the house, those days off revive me more than any Flat White ever could. So, if you’re self-employed or you’re a loyal employee who works through fevers, listen to your body and normalise taking time off. WFH burnout is real!

  1. Propagating succulents is fun!

Bet you weren’t expecting this one, huh? When lockdown happened in Ireland in March, the Groundhog Day experience really exposed the fact that I have zero hobbies. “Writing is my hobby!” I once suggested at a job interview. No, writing is my job. Hobbies are things you do for enjoyment, to unwind, things you don’t need to be award-winning at to enjoy. (Side note: here’s a good Man Repeller post on why it’s good to have hobbies, not just side hustles.)

Well, anyone who knows me IRL (or who follows me on Instagram) probably knows I love plants. At the time my Echeveria succulents were flowering so I started reading up on what the flowers meant and whether I could propagate succulents from the pretty yellow flowers. The answer is yes, you can!

It’s a pretty slow process and I made a few mistakes you’d expect from an amateur gardener but, 5 months later, I now have 6 thriving baby succulent plants. More than anything, this pastime I stumbled upon has really taken my mind off reality and it feels unexpectedly good to watch these shoots grow. Everything feels so joyless in the Covid-19 world we live in so I’ll grab any joy I can get.

  1. None of the things I’ve been worrying about are important!

I write content for websites. No one will die because I’ve forgotten a comma. I know this but yet for years my job has been the most important thing. To me, at least.

I don’t want to get into the wider existential crisis this pandemic has kick-started (mostly because I don’t have the words to do it justice) but this experience has driven it home that nothing is certain. All we have is the here and now and everything can be taken away or flipped on its head overnight. Weirdly, this extreme version of “put everything into perspective” has done wonders for my own anxiety. The things I fret over, fixate on, overthink, or lose sleep about are all completely trivial. Now, if I could just get back all of those sleepless nights…

  1. Gratitude works!

If you hate new age woo-woo wellness, look away now. I’ve previously mentioned how important a daily gratitude practice is for anxiety and general mental wellbeing but in recent months, I let it slide. During the pandemic, I’ve really focused on reframing my thoughts to emphasise what I’m grateful for again. The biggest one being that no one I love got the coronavirus.

My gratitude list changes by the day and it runs from niche to universal. Whenever I find myself grumbling about a 5.30pm meeting, I’m grateful I’ve continued to work when so many creative people are unemployed. I’m in awe of parents who have to work from home now and juggle childcare but (sorry) I’m glad I don’t have that extra responsibility at such an uncertain time. You could be grateful that you’ve got a spare room to work in, that you got to spend this time with your family (without killing each other), grateful that every day you can stick on your headphones and go for a walk. Whatever it is, daily gratitude really, really works. Best of all, it’s free!

  1. Accept social media for what it is, or get off it!

There is no nuance or context on social media – especially Twitter – and expecting it to be a place where you share your views and miraculously change everyone else’s minds is just silly.  I’ve felt this way for a while, mostly after reading Trick Mirror and How to Do Nothing in quick succession, but my feelings were cemented after we were all thrown into spending more time online during this pandemic.

Every day on Twitter seems to bring a new outrage. Then there’s the cloutrage. You know, the people who have amassed a following by being permanently offended or writing hot take quoted tweets. Even if you tweet something innocuous (“Anyone else feeling exhausted right now?”), there will ALWAYS be a “but actually” or a “what about children in Yemen?” reply (from people who do not actually care about the children of Yemen or could not point to it on a map). To answer your question, yes, it’s all a bit exhausting.

Arguing with someone on Twitter will never, I repeat never, change anyone’s mind. Like bad reality TV, social media has been designed to thrive off drama and engagement. The thing is, once you can see this, you can either accept it and refuse to play the game, or get off social media. Those are your options.  I look at people embroiled in 29-tweet-long threads, bouncing opposing ideas back and forth with bigots or contrarians for hours each day, and I wonder what are you doing this for? Then I realised it’s not real outrage – at least one of the “offended parties” is probably trying to get a column or they feel validated by the attention.

Instead of getting caught in the cyclone of outrage, starve it of oxygen. I unfollow people who make me angry (recent unfollows: someone who said she got 8 hours sleep – I mean, rude!) and while I still share my opinions, what’s changed is my expectation of social media.

  1. Jilly Cooper’s Riders is the perfect pandemic escapism!

I embarked on my first Jilly Cooper experience during this pandemic and it’s possibly the best decision I made this year. I’d heard it was a bonkbuster so admittedly I approached Riders with low expectations. Boy, was I wrong. Riders is a fast-paced (literal) romp through the cutthroat world of show-jumping, galloping through issues like social class and sexual politics with a laser wit. Throw in lush countryside scenes, excellent characterisation, backstabbing, puns, and possibly the best Complete Bastard I Hate Myself For Fancying I’ve come across in fiction, Riders might just be my top read of 2020. Now, have I ever mentioned that I once had a letter published in Horse & Pony magazine?

You might also like my post on what I’ve been doing to handle my coronavirus anxiety, or this post about working from home and your mental health.

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