It was 5pm on a Monday and, as I shut my laptop for the day, I heard my phone buzz. I picked it up off the desk and swiped at the notification that had popped up, and suddenly I felt a desperate sense of dread. The text I had received was made up of four words, the four words I'd had an ominous feeling would be coming at some point soon, and now here they were: 'Can we do something?'
Outside of a pandemic and a gently-easing lockdown, I'd have taken such a question as a compliment, a sign that my friends loved me as I loved them, and valued time spent with me. But with no jab yet booked, constant government warnings on helping to slow the spread of covid-19 and my own anxiety about contracting the virus, the words provoked a swollen lump in my throat and a quick-step beat in my chest.
Just one week on from the National Day of Reflection, to mark a year since the first lockdown, many of my friends are — in their own words — 'over it' or, for their own sanity, making 'special exceptions' to see friends and family indoors. I am not yet at that point.
The threat of catching the virus still taunts my health anxiety and even a walk with a friend leaves my mind somewhat racing as to whether we moved too close together to avoid runners, cyclists and dare-devil children on scooters as we went.
I'm not yet ready to hug friends, as much as I might want to. I'm not yet ready to pop round for a movie or for dinner, and even when the government permits it, I'm still not sure I'll be ready.
The move out of lockdown has caused great anxiety for people in all sorts of ways. For some it's the prospect of the return to the office after a year working from home, for others it's starting to date IRL again and for some, like me, it's the ever-widening gap between what I feel ok doing versus what my friends do.
It's akin to the way that, as a 31-year-old woman, my friends are spread between having two children and a mortgage all the way to living in a house-share in an effortlessly cool part of the city and everything in-between. Where we were once all at the same life stage, there is now great disparity, and it causes angst, loneliness and disconnect.
And as the sun makes its reappearance, and we hang in that grey area between being fully locked-down and fully immersed back into life, I feel the strain of managing my friendships and arrangements even more.
I feel silly or 'boring' for refusing to come inside as the sun sets and the temperature drops and I feel left-out for declining invites to dinner. 'Oh, it's fine,' I'm often told. 'Everyone's doing it.'
Then there's the frustration that I, and many others, are still limiting our lives due to covid-19, while others simply make social arrangements with reckless abandon. And, when I do see friends outside, all too often they charge in for a hug with checking it's OK, and if I pull away they turn to mockery.
To some extent, we have all made our own rules. What feels right for some, doesn't for others, and I'm sure there are things I feel comfortable doing that others might feel less sure about. But how do we manage this problem, as lockdown continues to ease, without feeling consumed by angst, anger or, as I worry might also happen, losing friendships?
Here, she shares her top tips:
Don’t compromise your own beliefs which is likely to make you feel even more anxious.
Keep your side of the street clean - make sure you’re doing all you can to keep safe and keep everybody else safe.
Accept that you can’t control others and it’s not your responsibility to do so
However, give yourself permission to share concern when you feel like friends are taking unnecessary risks. You don’t have to be accusatory. Sometimes people just don’t think and you can present the risks with a gentle perspective without judgement, giving people a chance to revise their choices and do something slightly different.
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