It’s been a weird year. Hopefully, at some point, things will drift back to something a little more familiar, and we’ll all get the opportunity to reflect on how living through COVID and Lockdown affected and changed us.
In the first of what will hopefully be many guest posts, Joe Macbeth gets that ball rolling.
When I was asked to share my thoughts and experiences on lockdown, I felt a natural temptation to lean into the negative: the excessive drinking, the self doubt, the financial issues, the feeling of being trapped and spiralling mental health issues. But this year has been bleak enough and isn’t in desperate need of a ‘woe is me’ diatribe. And it wouldn’t necessarily be an accurate retelling of my time in isolation. Whilst I had my lows and my personal issues, many of which preceded lockdown and would continue on afterwards, I also had many life reaffirming moments which I gained from months of self reflection.
It was also not the first time I had experienced lockdown. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. And in my teens, I experienced quarantine when the SARs outbreak occurred. School closed down, you weren’t supposed to go out in public, people panicked, and masks were prevalent. In the strangest way it added a touch of nostalgia to this year’s pandemic for me. Memories of my childhood and the person I was back then. I was young, naive and idealistic. I was holding onto my childhood and obsessed over video games, science fiction and football. Thoughts of relationships, jobs and adulthood were kept at a distance. I was an introvert, I hated school and spent more time than I’d like to admit daydreaming than actually living in reality. So for me at that time, lockdown wasn’t that bad. I got to stay at home and play games. There weren’t any worries or fears. Because you don’t really worry about getting sick when you’re a kid nor do you worry about earning money and keeping a roof over your head. So the peril isn’t there.
Flash forward nearly 20 years and there is an eerie sense of familiarity about the events unfolding around me. But a very different version of me is facing them. I’m older and jaded. Money drives my life. As much as I hate to admit that. I need to keep a roof over my head, keep food on the table and now that I’m a father, make sure my son is secure. Lockdown is now a stressful experience. I worried about my job and whether or not I’d be furloughed. I worried about the future of my industry, having worked in hospitality for over a decade and being very aware of the looming recession that would cripple my trade. Negative thoughts took their toll on my anxiety and caused my mental health, my depression and my drinking to spiral. I have a reckless history of falling into excessive vices when I’m under extreme pressure, and I fell into a spell of bad habits throughout the latter stages of lockdown and continuing once work resumed. I felt trapped whilst I was stuck at home. Caged within my own home, I would pace back and forth down the hallways. I watched excessive amounts of television and played endless video games, trying to pass the time. Until I felt my mind getting worn down by the monotony of it all. And so I spent long sleepless nights staring at my bedroom ceiling, listening to the hum of my fan and the creaking of my bed, whilst pondering why I felt so unhappy.
It wasn’t quite a moment of epiphany but rather a slow realisation that I didn’t feel trapped in my home. I felt trapped in my life. Lockdown had just made me face my problems head on. I had been going through the motions for years. Rationalising every promotion as a positive step. Every pay rise as a reason to keep focusing on my job. My work life leaked into every aspect of my personal life. I worked on my days off. I worked late into the night. My friends were all in the trade. If I went out, I would drink and go to other bars and essentially sit in my work environment. And I was well aware that lockdown could end any day and I’d be back to that life, back to the endless work life, working for the almighty dollar, working because I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped working. I realised that I didn’t care about any of it. What I really wanted in life, what I’ve always wanted, was to be a writer. And so I picked up a pen and started writing. Short stories, novel outlines, potential articles, whatever popped into my head. I felt happy. I felt like I was fulfilling my purpose. And for the first time I didn’t feel trapped. Lockdown wasn’t unbearable anymore. It felt like it had all those years ago in Hong Kong. A welcome break. A chance to do things I loved. I also was gifted with the opportunity to see my son so much more. He would spend half the week with me, and I cherished every moment.
Lockdown for me was a hard reboot. A chapter break in life that allowed me to reevaluate my priorities. It made me realise that whilst I want to keep a roof over my head and keep my head above water, there are a million ways to make money. And I much rather scrape on by and have the time and energy to do what I love and be with my loved ones. So whilst I appreciate lockdown has been a very different experience for so many people. One often of loss, fear, misery or of loneliness or just sheer boredom. For me, it was a somewhat positive experience, albeit tinged with some dark moments. It’s allowed me to remember what makes me happy and given me a new lease on life that I’m sure will help me overcome any trials and tribulations that this ongoing pandemic and this cursed year might throw my way.
Joe Macbeth, Sept 2020
Joe Macbeth worked in the hospitality industry for 14 years managing various cocktail bars and restaurants. He is currently spending his time writing and consulting.
Joe asked that I mention https://www.mind.org.uk/, and specifically their outstanding work in providing help and support throughout difficult times, like living through Lockdown and COVID. For more info https://www.mind.org.uk/coronavirus-we-are-here-for-you/