We can all agree on one thing: this is the worst of the lockdowns, isn't it? The first one was a novelty. The second, inevitable, but we had Christmas to hope for. This one? It feels like there's nothing left to look forward to because we've been disappointed too often.
I have been feeling the same. Endless days, marked only by whether or not I'm working from home. But last Saturday was slightly different. And here is why:
Firstly, I woke up early because, well, I'd gone to bed early the night before because what else is there to do these days? A lie-in isn't a treat when it's an option more days than not.
But anyway, I woke up early. I went out for a run with my friend, and it was icy and misty so it felt a bit Wuthering Heights out on the frosty moors. We did seven miles, which was entirely inadvertent, but neither of us has much sense of direction and we’d been overconfident about our knowledge of the moors. It felt like a long run because of the icy terrain.
After the early run, I had it in my head that I might do something creative for breakfast, which for once I actually did. I made toasted English muffins with stewed baby plum tomatoes, poached eggs, and rocket salad. It looked so fancy I almost put a photograph on Instagram but I resisted and then enjoyed the small surge of self-control-related joy this resistance afforded me. It buoyed me sufficiently that I could almost have described my mood as “good”. Unprecedented!
For the rest of the day, I decided to capitalize on this mood. I decided that I would pretend that it was a Friday in early 2019 and I had been for a long marathon training run that morning. (I got into a delicious routine when I was training for my marathon, a routine which involved taking every Friday off work for a long run and then spending the afternoon watching box sets and eating Popchips in enormous quantities “for recovery”).
It worked brilliantly. I filled a bowl with Popchips, stretched out on the sofa, turned on the TV and it was just like old times, right down to the slight tiredness in my 7-miles-done legs.
I told myself that if I could only be bothered, I could walk down the hill into the town center and it would be bustling with people; I could, if I wished, go for a late lunch in a wine bar and text friends to join me and we could all get gently sozzled as darkness fell, ordering tapas instead of a proper dinner and having many refills of sangria.
I could if I wished, I told myself, go to the cinema and catch an afternoon showing of something, before collecting a takeaway coffee and browsing the antique shops on the little cobbled streets near the cinema. I could drive for an hour and hit some different shops if I wished and maybe try on an expensive dress I could agonize about for a while before going home and buying it online for £25 less and pretending it was a bargain.
But, I told myself, I wouldn’t do any of those things because I’d been for a long run and my muscles needed to repair with the aid of a large quantity of barbecue-flavored Popchips and some sofa time. Sometimes, I reminded myself, we all need an excuse for a lazy day at home.
This strategy worked fantastically well. Through the judicious application of what can only be described as outright self-deceit, I managed to kid myself that being stuck in the house (having exhausted my one and only opportunity for outdoor exercise in the form of my run that morning, and being legally forbidden from stepping outdoors again) was a choice, not a state-mandated inevitable result of quarantine legislation. That a few streets away, there were bustling shops and pubs and cinemas and market stalls, waiting for me to rejoin them when my achy legs would let me.
Bliss, it was. It was technically no different from any other lockdown Saturday, but I felt chilled rather than prowling and resentful. I sank gratefully into the fantasy, and it paid off.
The next day, I went for another run with another friend. She asked me how my week had gone. “Do you know, I have to tell you,” I said excitedly. “I genuinely didn’t hate yesterday!”. Then we looked at each other for a long beat and took a moment to acknowledge the somber depths to which our mutual bar for life satisfaction has, now, actually fallen.
But she agreed to have a go at the self-deception herself, though. I think everyone should. I mean, I believe it’s commonly known as “positivity”, or “turning a frown upside down”, but whatever — it felt great.
It's just a little shift, after all. Imagine that you have more of a choice than we currently do; imagine you've chosen to stay at home, and that you need the relaxation of a lazy day. Suddenty this feels very different to resentfully prowling the house, remembering that this time last year you were on a plane or in a different city or even - remember?! - in a restaurant.
(Seriously, try it. Pretend you've got a choice and you've chosen to stay at home. You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes).