By Garth Johnstone
It’s always painful being a bit honest with yourself, laying yourself bare and admitting to weaknesses and “failures”… but here goes.
I genuinely thought that I had the attributes and some of the strengths that were going to be required to get through the lockdown comfortably. And when I say comfortably, I am referring to the mental and psychological challenges that might go with staying at home for three weeks and longer in line with the president’s orders.
Let’s get this out the way early on, my wife and I have enough space, food, drink, water and electricity to comfortably get through the lockdown. We are among the privileged South Africans.
This article is talking to the slightly mistifying mental pressures and chinks in the armour (at least for me) that creep in the longer this goes on.
I am bookish, I have hobbies and interests, like gardening, and plenty space to do it. I have projects around the home that need attending to, books and articles that allegedly need writing. There is plenty to keep me occupied, including work. I am one of the lucky ones who is able to work remotely during lockdown.
But into week four I am realising that all the little diversions are not working, I am unable to block out the nagging anxieties, the “what ifs”, the “what happens when” that creep in through my anti-Covid mental firewall.
And there’s only so much gardening, tinkering in the kitchen, fiddling with recipes, exercising, reading and researching that you can do before you go a little bit bonkers.
I really, really miss getting out into nature areas and walking, that’s something that’s grating away. I have nature in my garden, but it’s the same film reel over and over each day. The enjoyment of walking is irreplacable once you become an addict.
I am genuinely surprised at the highs and the lows: One day I’m ship-shape, the world is a wonderful place to be and I’ve got loads to do, and the next come all those questions that are a reflection of the uncertainty brought on by this cursed coronavirus.
“Like, hope mom’s OK…Do the kids have enough work to sustain them? When can our friends go back to work? What about our Nottingham Road, Mooi River, Howick community, just how many are jobless, relying on handouts and what happens in the months to come? Am I going to have a job in a few months’ time? What’s going to happen to our country and our people? And the big one, how long does this go on for. Or even worse, what if there is another virus?”
So, on the one hand, here’s a guy who thinks he’s got his head together and is strong enough to ride out a crisis like this; and then there’s the one who is unable to push the negativity and anxieties into the background.
Perhaps it’s healthy to have these thoughts (any professionals out there who can provide useful advice)?
So, yes, there have been a few really low days on this journey so far; but the next day, as Captain Tom says, is always better, and this has been the case.
Covid news cycle
Another thing that has certainly affected me and other people I have talked to is the relentless Covid-19 news cycle. The never-ending bombardment of scary, stressful, disturbing and also curious and entertaining headlines, has created fatigue and ramps up the anxiety many of us are feeling. Yes, the journos are just doing their jobs, and I think, on the whole, they are doing a great job educating, informing and entertaining, but there’s no doubt it builds up the stress. On the other hand, if you don’t want to watch, you could always change the channel or disconnect.
Uncertainty is a big word at this time and it’s got TV channels, social media apps and websites reeling in unheard of numbers in terms of page visits, viewers, listeners etc. Fear-mongering, unfortunately, is how some media outlets make their bread and butter.
Family and friends, and staying in close contact, are crucial during this unprecedented disaster. We’re yet to feel the full brunt of the health and wellness crisis that could hit SA. Those WhatsApp groups, chats and video calls, plus the memes and funnies are helping to keep spirits up, in a scenario which I am suspecting will get a heck of a lot worse before it gets any better.
So far my close family is doing well. We are all part of the privileged, all able to self isolate in safety and relative comfort. For now, although there are a lot of questions and significant stress, particularly for my brother and his wife who have a young child, we are doing OK.
I’m praying SA is spared the worst.
No, I am not a tough guy.