Local parent, researcher and writer, Maddie Wallace, closes her daily diary as she reflects on her own experience of lockdown with her children in Southsea, including illness, home-schooling, and thinking critically about the government’s response to the pandemic.
Four months ago – on the 15th March – I went into voluntary isolation with my youngest three children, S, Z and A, because Z developed a cough. A week later – and a week too late – the whole of the UK followed suit.
It was still winter then, which feels odd to reflect on. Those early days with their uncertainty and unease feel so distant already, don’t they? Like we all collectively had the same dream or watched the same film about empty streets and toilet roll shortages. For some it was a horror; for others it was a vacation movie.
For those of us in lockdown, Spring was spent homeschooling, working out how to follow directional flow in the supermarket, being furloughed, working from home, sitting in the garden, if we’re lucky enough to have one, and trying to teach our parents how to work Zoom remotely.
‘I can only see the top of your head mum!’
‘PUT YOUR HEARING AIDS IN! Fuck it, I’ll text her.’
‘Stop swearing you naughty girl!’
I wrote a daily diary for Star & Crescent, experimented with natural sleeping patterns, tried to study while being lectured about dragons and snails, walked the dog and dreamt about social distancing in my sleep. It was a stressful, loud, peaceful, funny, sad, shocking time.
All of this was BS (Before Sick) because on Monday 1st June I woke up and my kitchen floor appeared to be lava. That’s why my Isolation Diary abruptly stopped. I got stuck on the back doormat in a confused and disoriented state while I was trying to make A some breakfast, with my head feeling like I was in a boat going over Niagara Falls. Frozen to the spot, I knew the floor wasn’t lava and wasn’t swishing about, but I was too unsteady to make it to a seat. With a fight or flight response that had been going increasingly haywire for weeks, my body fully believed the threat was real, and all I could think about doing was running to the sea where it might be calm under the water.
Lockdown became separated by BS and ASS (After Sick Started). Initially I thought the problem was with my mental health – given that I appeared to be delusional – but it was quickly confirmed as physical, possibly autoimmune, maybe cancer treatment related. Last summer I was in hospital twice with the same symptoms, which started to appear again a couple of days into ASS. I felt that being in hospital would only make me stressed, so my GP treated me from home, I had virtual consultations with clinicians, and H & M (not the clothes store, my oldest and her boyfriend) came to stay to support me and the kids.
When H sat down at 10.30pm at the end of the first day she said, ‘It’s no wonder you’re sick, I’ve done your life for one day and I’m knackered, but my head still can’t stop thinking about what has to be done next. How do you DO this?’
It’s the same question I’ve been wondering about ever since.
A lot of the time I was so fatigued I barely got out of bed. When I did get up, I’d feel dizzy and disoriented trying to deal with sensory input, sudden noises, or the hierarchical status tussle between a five year old, a dog and a cat. S and Z didn’t involve themselves with this, they just annoyed the other three. I didn’t want to venture outside at all because buses, lorries and motorbikes are the tools of the devil. H is probably traumatised for life by the time she took me for a blood test.
H & M created a Zen Space for me in my bedroom. They moved my granddad’s old armchair into the window from the corner of my bedroom. M bought me an essential oils diffuser and my friend L gave me a Mimosa plant. I got my illustration pens out and doodled in a mist of Ylang Ylang and Bergamot. I reduced social media and hid from the news, only allowing myself to check Reuters twice a week.
The difficult part was accepting the enforced disentanglement of myself from lockdown rules. I was reliably informed by medical professionals, a week or two after Dominic Cummings and his eye sight claims, that I had genuine exceptional circumstances, not just the kind that political advisors misuse. A went to my mum and dad’s for a week and I rested like a convalescing WWI soldier, trying to avoid loud noises and bright lights.
After a few weeks, I emerged from the ASS cocoon into a strange world where everything had changed. Again. Despite avoiding the news and lowering my social media consumption dramatically, I was still aware that the easing of lockdown – a phrase which sounds like Tory medication for constipation – was happening outside while I was sat in my safety bubble. And then they stole the word bubble too.
To me, it appeared that half the country was tentatively testing the waters of the outside world, surfacing from behind sanitised front doors to meet up with long lost family members and friends in a safe, socially distanced way, with the formality of Edwardians in a BBC drama adaptation. The other half of the country, it seemed, were acting like we’d just had the longest bank holiday weekend since records began, and what’s more the weather was blinding for once. They practically raced off those beaches and into the pubs. No one’s ever had a better tan than in 2020, man!
Another consequence of being ill was that I had to concede the kids needed to go back to school, and not just so I could rest before the second wave of no school: the summer holidays. At least in the summer I don’t have to teach them while unwell and trying to do my own work.
S noted, while swinging from the rafters, that he can concentrate better in the school environment, so he was happy enough. Z and A are acting like they’ve been sold into slavery, despite coming home every day having clearly enjoyed the experience.
The dog has realised that the kids are going out of the house all day again and is now following me around with her nose glued to the back of my leg in case I disappear too.
And Cat Dayman, Fighter of the Nightman, Champion of the Sun? Thankfully he’s only humping blankets and teddies now and not human limbs. I had to cave and let him start using the cat flap because the agonised wailing wasn’t restful. Despite his freedom, he still throws himself out of open upstairs windows. I hear from the neighbours he’s stealing cat food from houses up and down the street.
As isolation has now been eased by a course of government dispensed national relaxatives, this is also the end of this diary. I wanted to do one final piece to say goodbye, and to take a moment to remember that we’re the lucky ones. Forty five thousand people have died so far in the UK as a result of this virus, and that’s just the official figures of people who tested positive. It doesn’t include those with suspected Covid infections, and it doesn’t consider the thousands of extra, unexplained deaths within the care sector and the community.
I heard this week that Britain is heading into the worst recession for three hundred years, so I’d like to leave you with this thought: isn’t it time we explored other ways to live that put less emphasis on money, and more value on human life and the health of the planet? Maybe we shouldn’t be working to live, and working ourselves into the ground, so that money can continue to flow upwards to those who already have plenty, but whose choices for several centuries have destroyed the planet and only benefited a select few.
Is that really what we want for the world?
Maddie Wallace will soon be returning with a new monthly column exploring local issues through the lens of her PhD research at the University of Portsmouth. Watch this space!