Everyone needs at least one pandemic ritual. It took me about six weeks into lockdown to find mine. Once I did, it happened every morning: walk to a tiny scrap of woodland and sit on the same bench to “journal”. Two or three pages of head-clearing white-noise, mostly self-possessed whining or theories about preventing the destruction of the planet, and a walk back to my rented flat. As lockdown became more mentally and emotionally intense, I stomped there playing chakra-cleansing songs, or stayed longer on the bench doing a body scan (mindfulness 101) while posh north London children screamed or dogs came over to headbutt my crotch.
That was the one thing I’m convinced I did right the first time around. It was an organised hour I had control over as I felt any motivation dissipating by month two, leaving in its place panic about the future. Outside of that, I realised what many people did: that their lockdown set-up wasn’t working. The lovely (but small) rented flat I share with two others is set up as many are in London – it’s a one-bed flat with a second bedroom in what should be communal space. To access the garden, you have to walk through my bedroom, which meant my room where I lived and worked became a constant passageway. For someone who protects their own time and space like a rabid guard-dog, it wasn’t that my boundaries were being overstepped. Rather, it felt impossible to set them.
Semi-nomadic house-sharing in London or other major cities works because to pay the bills or to enjoy the city, you are by necessity on the move. Keep moving, keep busy and you don’t notice that you’re in a matchbox with internet randoms, bankrolling some dickhead who retired to France at 40. So before I entered my final lockdown form as an embittered hag, scrolling and seeing friends and acquaintances happily coupled and nesting, planning futures together or doing DIY in the homes they owned, I left. Like 10.5 million people in the UK since the start of lockdown number one, I moved back in with one of my parents.
We’re currently straddling a pandemic limbo, with one foot in Before-COVID life as shops and restaurants open, but one foot more solidly still at home in lockdown. Boris Johnson doesn’t want a second lockdown; speaking plainly to the Sunday Telegraph, he compared this option to a “nuclear deterrent”, adding that he doesn’t think the country will be “in that position again”.
The British public believe otherwise – three out of four of us think there'll be a second lockdown this year, and the UK’s chief scientific adviser says the risk of a second wave will increase towards Christmas. A report released last Tuesday warned the UK could see almost 120,000 new coronavirus deaths in a second wave of infections this winter, in a "reasonable" worst-case scenario. Importantly, this figure doesn’t take into consideration the effects of another lockdown or a vaccine. With all the political rhetoric, scientific estimates, lived experience of the pandemic and good old fashioned British cynicism, it seems equally reasonable to assume it will be – it has to be – one or the other.
I know my second lockdown will have to be different logistically and in the small day-to-day ways. Any utterly stupid thrill of a simpler life or the unknown has been completely flattened. The second lockdown will be one of endurance, knowledge and, at least for me, far more structure.
In Australia, people are already weeks into their second lockdown. After a few weeks of respite at her parents house, Nicole Barling-Luke returned to her flatmates in Melbourne for the second lockdown. “It all feels really familiar to live like this, and it’s scary that it’s familiar to live like this. It’s not ‘normal’, yet we dropped back into it immediately,” she says.
As far as goals go, Nicole had grand ideas about the first lockdown, which have been discarded (“I’m being very realistic about goals in lockdown 2.0, knowing how hard it is to do anything outside survive”) and is focusing instead on her friends. “The mechanisms and infrastructure all set up to support are stripped back,” she explains. “All the Zoom trivia, apps and fancy solutions for staying connected are out. It’s direct phone calls and Whatsapp messages that are needed.”
When I asked on social media what others had planned, some said their relationships accelerated and they had decided to move in with their partners. “The chaos of coordinating everyone’s movements in house-shares hasn’t really been talked about much,” says Aja from London, who is moving in with her girlfriend in the next few weeks. “Having a protracted discussion about why your housemate can’t really go and shag Alex from Hinge right now is not the one.”
Others have already decided to move to a different city or the countryside. Hannah, who is moving from Manchester to Brighton, told me: “It was previously a vague plan, but being landlocked in a city during lockdown became too much.” Everyone said changes to living situations were made based on the necessity to work from home.
While I need to be more productive for my mental health’s sake – TikTok and drinking a lot of wine was “valid” the first time round, I’m sure – for others like Nicole, the second lockdown is about readjusting expectations. In a relatable essay for the New Statesman, Amelia Tait wrote that it was galling to realise her dream of writing a novel wouldn’t simply happen in lockdown, simply because she had an excess of time.
Considering a second lockdown, she tells me over email that she’ll be escaping into reading more rather than playing Animal Crossing. As for the novel: “We're overvaluing time in this equation, right? Because what is all the time in the world if you still have to make money and stress about making money and also be fearful for the entire future of humanity?”
With a bit of reflection, I realise that lockdown amplified all my pre-existing insecurities around money, work, friends, my foundations and any kind of future. I am in the privileged position of being able to change my conditions to some degree – I’m not a key worker, I don’t have kids, I'm currently in full-time employment and am following the news about the rise in domestic violence rather than living it. If my basic needs are met – food, water, shelter, clothing – then it’s secondary needs that require tending to: security and safety.
With our health and employment safety likely questionable as we face an economic crash, a hard Brexit and the daily threat of the virus, it’s the security of our living space and what we do in it that we can hopefully do something about. Do we feel comfortable in our lockdown environment? Do we feel safe to be ourselves? Can we tend to our worsening mental health? Can we go beyond cortisol and survival mode to educate ourselves, grow as individuals, provide proper support for our loved ones – let's be honest, no one was doing their best by the end – and help to make necessary changes to our outside world?
More than two-thirds of the 10.5 million people who moved home expect to stay there for the foreseeable future. I get on well with my Dad, who has my old bedroom empty and a garden with no one to use it. Out my window, there is a huge expanse of woodland that looks like broccoli florets. There is total silence, except for my dad’s weirdly lithe cat sprinting around. The first two weeks I was here, I woke up after he’d gone to work and wandered around in a T-shirt, luxuriating in being barefoot on carpet and not being observed. For a potential second lockdown or at least another long six months working from home, we might feel lonely or daunted, but at least we can be prepared.