I find myself dreaming of family BBQ’s in the sunshine, wild summer walks with my friends in the woods; my Mum’s roast chicken dinner, my best friends pregnant belly, hot salty chips on Brighton beach; sepia tinged love in The Time Before. I realise I am once again afflicted with the human affliction of wanting what is drastically so far out of reach.
Over the last week I have been struck down with an all encompassing malaise; an unfathomable exhaustion, runny nose, a tickly throat, nose bleeds and a complete loss of the ability to smell and taste. The latter I find most alarming, I like the taste of most things and I am currently bereft of my favourite hobby of comfort eating pie.
Seriously though, you don’t need me to tell you that this is an absolute shit show. For everyone. In normal times I would be going to work as normal as a nurse on an acute psychiatric ward, and simply powering through whatever has been making me feel under the weather and fucking with my taste buds. As we are so conditioned in this work-centric world. But the images of people on ventilators, the numbers of deaths on my newsfeed, the idea that I could be putting the lives of my patients at risk; many of whom already have underlying physical health problems, stopped me in my tracks.
If you had told me that I would ever be ordered by my manager to stay at home for 7 days and enjoy Netflix I would have probably told you to speak to your local psychiatrist. But this has happened to me.
It is quite remarkable that testing for front line NHS staff had not even been a thing until recent days. Even now it is rather unclear how soon or how I will be tested as a nurse. It’s almost two months since the first UK based COVID-19 case and I would have thought this would have been an immediate no-brainer: test those with symptoms on the front line; so we know we’re sending home the right people.
In a system that is already running on a knife edge and the bare bones of staff at the best of times, we can’t really afford to have staff off sick because they “maybe, probably, think they have Corona-virus.” Out of my team of 16 people, 9 of us are currently off with suspected symptoms. It seems ludicrous that we could each all be experiencing the natural tiredness of working painfully long shifts, the common-cold, a bit of a cough, a mild flu of some other strain, or just be feeling a bit hot. In this situation of head-fuckery I frantically check my temperature for proof that I’m not imagining all of this and wasting everyone’s time and cash laying in bed watching Drag Race.
At 8pm on the 27th March my entire neighbourhood erupted into fits of whooping, clapping and whistling. I opened my window and I cried into the dark. I felt a terrible dreaded guilt for not being at work while my remaining team members bore the brunt. Constantly second guessing my mild symptoms and feeling like a big old fraud.
Being quarantined is unnervingly reminiscent of a depressive episode. It has flung me back to 2016 when I quarantined myself voluntarily; cut myself off from reality in my nest under the duvet. There was no virus, just a deep blanket of black in my mind. Lying in my bed all these months later, forced to isolate away from my family and friends, I am reminded how ill I was, and just how fragile we all are. Human connection is the elixir of life.
I’m hoping that this period of state-enforced-boredom will remind us to look for the small joys in the mundane. The little freedoms. To never again take for granted being able to freely go to a supermarket to deliberate which shape of pasta to buy from the fully stocked shelf of 20 different options.
In a society so saturated with choice, and an economy built on disposability, on the human desire for instant gratification, we are now forced to work with what we have. Those dried lentils at the back of the cupboard? Let’s make a fucking soup. We are realising the true life-saving importance of community. We are finally seeing that the real superstars are not the Kardashians but the nurses, the doctors, the scientists, and the people in your street leaving food parcels at your elderly neighbours door. These people are the glue.
In enforced isolation I wonder why I didn’t make more plans with my friends, make another trip home to see the folks. Roast more chickens when I could get to the butcher.
So let this be a lesson to slow down. To spend time with the people who love you the most and the ones who make your heart sing. Let’s notice what is on our doorstep, fly less, explore our own coast line, build our communities up, say hello to our neighbours and ask them how they are (from a 2 metre distance of course.) Let’s look for what we can create with what we’ve already got.
All that matters after all is not money and buying shit, all that really matters is each other.
Also, no one really needs THAT much bog roll.
Love, Annie x