The Last Entry
I can feel it rising in my chest…
Those are the last words I wrote for my #LockdownDiary. It was past day 100. I didn’t know it then but I was about to lose control. Restrictions were being lifted more and more, people moved with ease (or so it seemed) through the post-lockdown landscape caring little for people like me, riddled with fear. Masks were not yet obligatory indoors.
I was paralysed, crippled by doubts and fears, unable to read, to write or focus on anything that was not a manual task. I remained afloat, my legs kicking frantically under water, my body unnaturally still above the water line until I gave in. The part of me that speculates and fears overrode the rest of me. I was drowning, struggling, gulping water by the mouthful, scared. I didn’t know what to do. I had never felt such violent emotions, such numbing of my brain.
I sew, I played games on the Nintendo Switch, I constructed cameras out of cardboard. I didn’t know what else to do so I waited, busied my hands, focused all of my attention on one task at a time, not allowing space for my thoughts. They had turned treacherous. I feared they would morph into emotions, wrecking havoc in my body, tightening my chest, clenching my fists, accelerating my breathing until it would all become too much and I would collapse in tears.
This annihilation of thought, this stasis of my body was easier.
My laptop remained firmly closed but I scrolled endlessly on Twitter on my phone, captivated by the mind numbing action of my thumb rhythmically flicking through my never ending feed. I barely read the tweets. They were of little importance, I simply needed them to be there, fill a chunk of my day in search of the last one I had seen.
I laid on the sofa with my partner, staying with her as she watched Schitt’s Creek, leaving only when the level of shouting became too much for my ears.
I didn’t know what else to do.
I was sure that if I waited long enough, this too would pass as everything else had before in my life. I knew nothing had truly passed without efforts and work from me, but it was an easy illusion to maintain.
One day my partner suggested we go for a walk. I didn’t want to but she was feeling caged, trapped within the confines of our home, of our neighbourhood, of my lethargy. I was afraid of meeting someone on a narrow paths, hedges and fields grown too high to step into them to maintain a distance from other people. My partner insisted. I reviewed all the walks nearby I knew, my memories of them like stories from someone else. I remembered walking in Wiltshire with a friend. The roads deserted, the paths empty save for deer and rabbits. I remembered the stillness of those days, the never-ending stretches of sky, the dappled light in the woods – streaks of sunshine breaking through in pools of gold. It was bliss, a time out of time.
‘Let’s go to Wiltshire,’ I said.
We packed some lunch, water, a book or two, a camera, and drove through quiet roads to our destination. We parked in a sleepy village, the sun already beating down on the car, and headed for the hill where trees stood tall, a reminder of ancient times.
We walked through a half remembered landscape, eleven months separating me from my last visit here. I remembered the cacophony of late summer, my senses overwhelmed by the richness around me, hanging still, trying to evade the turn of the season. It wasn’t quite there yet. Barley was still unripe in the fields, a sea undulating in the breeze. Blackberries were red and tart, the sugars not yet fully released into the dark sweetness.
We entered a deserted woodland, the paths overgrown, known from the green lines on the map of my phone. I breathed in, my soul wavering. We crossed the woods and stepped onto a drovers track. I saw it my mind the old man reading a newspaper in his Jaguar, parked on the cracked slabs of concrete. I heard my friend and I, nearly a year ago, dropping our bags to the ground, resting our bodies in the late afternoon. My partner sat down, gulping water. I remained upright, too light to lie.
We followed the track until a turn north appeared, taking us down the hill, through fields and village roads. We could hear the quiet hum of an A-road nearby, bringing me back into the here and now.
A man walked out of a pub garden, sanitising bottle in hand, gloves over skin. He sprayed the tables by the front of the pub, the wooden structure encased by black and yellow lines.
‘Do you want a drink?’
‘Okay,’ I replied before I had time to think. We sat at the newly cleaned table, a sign nearby telling us not to go in. We could wait for a staff member to come or we could phone to place an order. I felt strangely safe at this table, m being too tired by the long walk to protest, my mind confused by memories of the past.
We ordered drinks and some chips, drank and ate at the sound of villagers conversations shouted from across the distance imposed by safety tape. Fuzzy with drinks, numb from the sun, we meandered along the river to extend our stay in this place out of time as much as we could. Eventually we rejoined the tarmac, our feet joining the symphony of sizzling barbecues, swirling ice-cubes against glass, and half heard voices behind hedges and fences.
Staying on the smallest of roads we could find, we drove back into the sunset, the light blinding us through the car windscreen. I slipped my head outside to watch the road for my partner. Eyes squinting behind sunglasses, hair ruffled by the wind, I repeated like a mantra, ‘you’re good, you’re good, you’re good, you’re good…’.
I didn’t recover then but I began to heal. In bed that night I wrote again. I left the keyboard, took pen and paper and filled the pages of an old notebook full of poems. My words were clumsy, my sentences jagged, but I wrote. It was the 11th of July. I haven’t stopped since. Red ink sprawls on the pages, often smeared by my fingers. I notice things again, ordinary moment of life, feelings present in me, thoughts drifting and settling.
In early August, I picked up a book from my bedside table and opened it, the words slowly revealing themselves to my eyes. My attention held for an hour, my mind wandering in the woods of Herefordshire with John Lewis-Stempel. I have not stopped reading. The following day I worked on my website and Queer Out Here
, my focus returned, my brain awakening.
The same week I drowned. A few innocent words uttered by my partner and my brain spiralled out of control. My chest tightened, my vision narrowed by fear, I yelled and I kicked to regain control but all I achieved was a heightened level of fear. I gulped water once more, my body weighed down, and I fought until I couldn’t any longer. We were in the car on the way to a walk. My partner puller over in front of a gate and I burst into tears. I leaned across the gear stick, my belt digging into my best, and sobbed in my partner’s laps.
A week later I was back at work, the desk I was to use grey from dust. My computer was spread across three locations, unplugged and wiped clean of my bookmarks and software needed for my job. I told my manager about my anxiety, hoping for some kind of understanding but my plea was ignored. I swallowed hard, hoping to call back the tears at the edges of my eyes. Our one to one carried on with clenched fists and ears closed to the sound waves coming from my manager. I left the office exhausted, my emotional resilience depleted, my body and mind numb from the exertion of the day.
As I write this, I am sitting in a park, thinking of all that has happened in the last couple of weeks. I have felt good. I have felt anxious. I have cried and I have laughed. I have met up with friends, eaten out. I have barricaded myself within the walls of my home. I have drifted and I have been focused. Overall, I have been okay, alive once more, my brain engaged and aware of the fragility of my soul.
This state of trembling, my body quivering by the edge of an ocean side cliff is new, but I am learning to live with it, adapting, being gentle and kind to myself while fiercely guarding the spaces within and out where I feel safe.