8th May 2020
On the fortieth day of lockdown, I gave up padded bras. At first this was a comfort thing. Newsflash, fellas! Bras hurt! All those hooks and panels and wires and straps jabbing at you like you’re caught in a bear trap. I thought, if there’s no one to impress any more, why bother, why suffer? Back to sexless crop tops, yaaaas. But as the days turned into weeks turned into months, it became about more than that. Going cold turkey was medicine. Following twenty years, literally two decades, of pretence, I eyed my naked torso in the mirror and said “well fuck it, that’ll do”. Padded bras had been an obsession since Christmas 1999. In year seven at secondary school I had committed the cardinal sin of reading a book at lunchtime in the first week, and boom, that was it, my fate as a freako was sealed, but I’d managed (or so I thought) to fall in with a group of fellow freakos. As friends (or so I thought) we arranged to do Secret Santa at one of their houses when term broke up for some tinsel-y cheer and female bonding (or so I thought). We ate beige food and listened to whatever aberrations were in the Christmas charts and opened our gifts. My turn came around, and I tore into the wrapping paper to uncover... a pair of furry soft-toy breasts. The others collapsed into howls of laugher while my vision blurred into a kaleidoscope. This was no Secret Santa. They had colluded. Worse than that though, I realised they saw me (or so I thought). They saw my stalky structure, my failure as a woman, and they saw all of it. Looking back, I can see how tragic the entirety of that scene was, and not just because of my own self-absorbed woe - I mean, who even MAKES furry soft-toy breasts? What is even the POINT of them? - but at the time it broke me. In that fraction of a second, the sound of ripping paper morphed into a siren, an alarm that never stopped blaring in my head throughout school and beyond. My self crumbled and I lost faith in people and I replaced that faith with a grain of dark matter that swelled and swelled and swelled inside the oyster of my growing-up until one day it was a hideous pearl of a black hole, the weight of which I threw at myself and at everyone else I ever met. I carried this pearl around inside me every moment of my adult life, cradling it within my chest in place of the voluptuous mounds of flesh that I would never have. Until day 40 of lockdown. I opened my underwear drawer and looked at the array of foam ovals dressed up in lace and bows, lying there like seals on a beach, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I laughed at them, like they had laughed at me. Fuck it. I’ll do.
12th May 2020
I watched the clouds peel themselves from my legs as I stuck my feet into the sky. This one was going to be the one, I could feel it in my bones. I pointed my toes. As the top of my head mushed into the grass I realised I wasn’t holding my breath for once. Headstand practice has become one of the few silver linings of lockdown. That single solitary daily march to Southwark park, round it, and home again, taking a route through the backstreets to avoid poisoning the air with too much flesh. Illegal flesh. Will we ever be able to get near a stranger again without recoiling in horror? Why did I always care so damn much abut getting “good” at yoga anyway? I know the theory: sync up your body and mind in the present moment, it’s good for you. It doesn’t matter whether you have all the balance of a sprouting potato or the core strength of a pancake or you’re as flexible as a stick of celery. The point is, yoga is good for you. Even just 5 minutes of trying. Even just the act of paying attention. Simply signalling to yourself that you give a crap about the state of yourself. Yes, I know the theory, but I’ve been doing yoga for years and I still couldn’t do a fucking headstand and dammit that fact ate me up. And now I can do a headstand, I get it. OK, you don’t have to be good at yoga, and I’m never going to be a pro at it because I’m a potato celery pancake person, but now I can do a headstand, and that feeling when your spine lines up and gravity falls away you point your toes and look up, I mean down, at the sky, and you can’t see your feet which means in theory you could be as tall as the universe because there’s no evidence in front of you to the contrary, well, that’s magic that is. And then you look at the people and the trees and the dogs and they’re all upside down, and because they’re upside down they are the most interesting sight you will ever see, and it takes your breath away. And then you remember that you’re supposed to be breathing deep and slow yoga breaths but it doesn’t matter and you grin to yourself, an upside-down grin that none of the people or the dogs can see on you because your face is the wrong way up. When I got home from headstand practice today, I tried calling A again. No answer. She was probably in the garden, pulling up nettles, being bossed around by her controlling partner who says she never gets anything right. We were close as children but drifted apart in adulthood. She followed me to #London to go to university because she thought I was having such a gosh darn fantastic time there (I wasn’t... I just took too many drugs, but obviously I couldn’t tell her that, or so I thought) and she in turn did not have a great time. Was I a shitty sister for not noticing? Was I a shitty sister for not trying harder to help when she revealed the awfulness of the experience and the fallout from it, many years later? Should I have done more? Should I have taken us on sisterly holidays? Should I have moved in with her? Is it my fault she’s now moved in with a man who freaks us all out, in the middle of nowhere in the country, many miles away from all her friends and family? We’ve fallen out. I’m an unforgiving, unempathetic beehatch sometimes and I know that, she makes bad decisions and doesn’t know how to apologise and she knows that. We’re grown up now though. We like each other, most of the time. We’ve fallen out but we’ve always muddled through, so there must be a way forward where our paths start to converge again? I don’t want us to keep growing apart until one day in our dotage we don’t even both to send each other a Christmas card. I thought lockdown would be the reset button we both needed to keep in touch more. I mean, we’re both struggling with lost work, both suffering the pain of isolation, but instead I feel like we’re growing apart at turbo speed, as if lockdown was somehow the nail in the coffin in our relationship. She’s there, alone, under the thumb of a man who wants to keep her that way. I miss my sister more than ever and it breaks my heart. Doing headstands in the park always reminds me of her, in her garden, pulling up nettles. And so I try calling. I try calling, and maybe one in every five times, we get to speak. Sometimes she calls me back just once and I can’t pick up and I try her five more times. It’s hard to want to spend time at her cottage because the dynamic of their relationship brings me out in goosebumps. Where only two years ago she used to voice her opinions and fight her corner with a ferocity that would make you blush, now she barely says a word, other than to respond to his requests or castigate herself for making a mistake. When lockdown ends I’m going to pack as suitcase and arrive unannounced that I’m staying with them for a week. It can’t be too late to fix this, can it? It fucking can’t. I can’t face the alternative.
19th May 2020
Oh my, the pleasure. Such exquisite pleasure. The new shower wiper is the new highlight of every day. It arrived from Amazon as a special lockdown treat, and it has overdelivered.
Its predecessor was a lumpen plastic thing which didn’t fit behind the taps and always left a centimetre in the middle of the surfaces un-wiped. This one though. This one is a fighter jet. Impossibly slender, impossibly long, chrome handle, wafer-thin black silicone edge. It wafts across the glass and tiles as if powered by its own energy source. It even has its own sucker cradle gadget to attach it to the wall. I want to take it to dinner and meet its parents.
Orgiastic bathroom cleaning experiences. Is this what we’ve been reduced to? Or is this what we’ve elevated to? When people talk about “finding joy in the small things” when there are no big things available to enjoy, is this what they mean?
21st May 2020
I wish I could grow a beard as well as my hair. Such fun to be had when it doesn’t matter how terrible you look.
It’s been four months since I had a haircut. I have finally made it through the five stages of grief and popped out the other end, new and improved.
Denial: Haha, not on your nelly. The salons won’t close. Haircuts are an essential service! And hairdressers are key workers. Right? Right??
Anger: OH THE HUMANITY. LOOK AT WHAT IS HAPPENING ON TOP OF MY HEAD. I CAN’T EVEN WEAR A HAT TO HIDE ITS SHAME BECAUSE IT’S 27 DEGREES AND MY SCALP IS ALREADY SOGGY WITH SWEAT.
Bargaining: Okay lockdown, listen up. Here’s the deal. I will agree to put up with this mop without complaint for one more month so long as you agree to let the salons reopen before my birthday. I’m turning 32 which everyone knows is just as scary as turning any other two-digit number that starts with a 3 when you’re a childless woman. Have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Depression: Bugger. I’m a terrible human for caring so much about my stupid hair when people are dying of coronavirus and other people are risking their lives to save them. And for caring more about my stupid hair than about the salons and the self-employed hairdressers who are losing their livelihoods right now. That’s it. There’s only one option left.
Decapitation. This would solve all the problems at once.
Acceptance: Yeah... lockdown chic is totally a thing now. What can I do to make my hair look even crapper than it does already?
25th May 2020
Today I've committed to working around P's cuntyness by getting straight to work at 7am this week, instead of getting up at 8am, then going for a walk, then working from 10am. That way I can cram in five hours of productive time before hell takes hold. Anything extra is a bonus.
Because the problem - and therefore the opportunity - is that P only terrorises the MIDDLE chunk of the day. His music could be thumping out at top volume for any number of hours between 12-5pm, but he very rarely strays beyond those hours. That's a factoid I can use to my advantage.
Sure I can understand why he might be behaving like this. Sure I can understand that he's struggling with lockdown, and that music is his coping mechanism. Sure I know he's not a monster and that there may be tragic reasons in his past that explain his attitude and behaviour. Sure I can imagine he thinks he's being incredibly considerate and restrained in his habits.
But after two fucking months of this daily torture, my empathy tank is empty.
I have two choices. Confront him, or learn how to live with it. I'm not crazy about confronting him, knowing how aggressive he's been towards other neighbours who have politely pointed out that his music could wake a dead alien on Pluto. So if I can't face up to that interaction myself, I need to really truly accept this situation for what it is, and own the alternative instead.
It's bloody good timing to be reading the book 'The Courage To Be Disliked', where the author talks about some psychology dude called Adler who tells us not to interfere in other people's 'life tasks'. Never to try to control people, even with the very finest of intentions, like a parent pestering their kid to do their homework. Only to try to either encourage people or thank people if/when we feel so inclined, and to focus on our own life tasks, and ours alone.
If P's life task is to play his shitty music on club speakers at an illegal volume every single day without giving a fuck about anyone else, my life task is to get my work done without letting cunty neighbours ruin it. And I am capable of making that happen by working around the constraints myself.
Other things I can do to make it happen: always make sure my tech gubbins is charged, so I can decamp to a bench in the park the moment P's subwoofer's first thump of the day cracks my floorboards. Or stay in the flat but use the white noise machine and put Brain.fm at full volume on my (NON-inappropriate) kitchen speakers and put a cushion on the seat and under my feet to dampen the earthquake vibrations. Of course neither of those solutions are "optimal" in that they don't solve the problem of the outrageous unfairness inherent in P being a cunt every day at the expense of hundreds of people like me who live in his block. But if I can't change that, then dammit I shall have to change myself instead.
30th May 2020
This week in the group chat, D floated an analogy. Lockdown = comedown.
He said “lockdown human feelings are all so far out of any ‘normal’ context and I’m not confident it’s necessarily worth allowing them to hold too much sway. It’s like if you’re having a comedown: the existential crisis is so much easier when you just keep telling yourself it’s the drugs than it is if you lean into it.”
I guess I agree. At any rate, the analogy made me feel better. Like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. When you take MDMA your brain gets thrust in into an extreme state and your hormones go off the rails for a limited amount of time until your psychology is back to business as usual. The same feels like it could be true here, except it’s a cycle that’s taking months to resolve instead of a week or two.
Is it OK to externalise the source of the plague of depression and anxiety we’re all suffering due to lost work or being stuck home alone or illness among our loved ones or the incompetence of the government or even the crushing guilt of having “lucked out” compared to others? Does the analogy provide the ideal scapegoat for panic attacks triggered by the sight of one single roll of toilet paper? Can we put our faith in it as a blip, soon to be forgotten, pub chat fodder only?
What if we should lean into it after all? Maybe there won’t be such a thing as ‘business as usual’ for a very very very long time? If not because of coronavirus, then because of climate change, or the fact that our financial systems are propped up by layers and layers of smoke and mirrors because they’re predicated on growth but growth isn’t really a thing any more?
Is it possible to believe in both? Can we pin some blame on a trigger and excuse ourselves for feeling shitty as it won’t last forever, while also leaning into it?
One thing’s for sure. I’m glad I don’t have any baggies kicking around these days. I wouldn’t trust myself to resist the urge to fight fire with fire.
3rd June 2020
Today was a Bad Day. I walked round Southwark Park bawling my eyes out with T’s hand on my back. Joggers averted their gazes and bequeathed us an extra metre’s distance in sympathy as they passed. I have no self worth, I said. The more I try to fix this, the more books I read and the more podcasts I listen to and the more I write about it and attempt to notice and change my thought patterns, the worse it gets, I said. If I don’t believe in myself, how can I expect anyone else to believe in me, I asked. I believe in you, he said. I pushed his hand away and told him I felt guilty when two boxes of flowers arrived at the door for my birthday. Why would anyone send me flowers, I said. I told him how earlier that morning while I was arranging the flowers in vases I felt confused, like they were here by mistake, like I should return them to the friends who had sent them with an apology and an instruction to forward them on to someone more deserving. Are you sure about that, he said. I ignored him. Why am I not more generous and sociable, why don’t I do more to brighten up people’s days instead of moaning and bringing them down, I said. Well, what would that look like if it were easy, he asked. Well, obviously I would need a personality transplant, I answered, as if he had come up with a Very Stupid Question. Maybe it was a Very Stupid Question, or maybe it was a Very Smart Question, but today I just wasn’t able to stare it in the face. I wonder how many other people are in this state too, whether a minority or majority of the UK feels hounded by the woefully underused communicational possibilities a few taps away inside their laptop or their phone, wishing they had the energy to reach out to arrange a video chat with their families, wishing they had the will to call their closest friends for a catchup or plan a remote pub quiz for colleagues, capable only of sobbing onto the shoulders of the humans who happen to be within arm’s reach. His voice caught in his throat as he pointed out, as he has before, that these feelings aren’t reality. That this is just a Bad Day. That self awareness is a journey that gets worse before it gets better and it took him years to start coming out of it the other side. That the conditions in society right now might not be so ideal for anyone to be making sweeping judgements about themselves, all things considered. And then he reminded me that I say these things every four weeks like clockwork and every time I comment that it seems to be hormonal to some degree, that I mustn’t let it get to me, that I need to remember: it’ll pass. What if it’s just the same cycle happening now, he asked, and he looked afraid as he said it and I hated him for saying it because he is a man and men don’t get to say things like that to women, even when it’s true, even when men absolutely should say it because it’s exactly what women need to hear, and I know that and he knows that. But he’s right. You’re right, I said. Today is just a Bad Day.
24th June 2020
I just saw in the news that Trump has branded coronavirus “kung flu”. I laughed. Couldn’t help it. Unfortunately the man is a rhetorical genius. He knows how to create a villain, to bring an enemy to life, in a way the public can really sink their teeth into. Just like his descriptions of “Crooked Hillary” back in the day. He’s a master of the art of storytelling and this gives him an unfair advantage. Unfortunately (again) it’s not a behaviour anyone can put a stop to, at least not here and now, not within the realms of today’s possibilities. Which begs the question. When oh when will the rest of the world cotton on and catch up?