From hand-embroidered face masks and windowsill herb gardens to smug Nike Run screenshots and endless baked goods, you can’t look at your phone these days without being bombarded with evidence that every single person you know is coping with lockdown life far better than you. You manage to reply to three emails a week (at a push) and still haven’t fully recovered from trying to run a 5K back in March, but your friends, relatives and mortal enemies on Instagram are using their quarantine down-time to make their own kombucha and learn conversational Italian.
It’s probably unsurprising that so many people have refused to let something as trivial as a global pandemic get in the way of productivity. A full week before the UK entered lockdown, Johnny Cash’s daughter helpfully pointed out that quarantine might be a great time to get to work on the next King Lear. The pressure to be productive doesn't show any sign of slowing, with #GirlBoss culture and social media oneupmanship forcing many to try and self-optimise during the coronavirus crisis.
But behind every successful “Couch to 5K” and coordinated family dance routine, there are, of course, dozens of spectacularly under-risen loaves, wonky fringes, unwearable knits and quietly abandoned “Yoga with Adriene” videos. You know it, I know it. Kylie Jenner cradling her big bag of crisps knows it.
And so does Ivo, who decided to make use of the quieter streets during lockdown to stop his cat, Coco from being too scared to go outside. “I started taking her outside for a few minutes each day, but the other week I let her out one evening and forgot," Ivo says. "We don’t have a cat flap so she was just stuck outside all night, and by the time I remembered the next day, she was nowhere to be seen. We searched for her all day, making posters and asking around to see who we could get to print them. She sauntered back in as soon as we finished flyering the street, and threw up on the carpet in protest, but it was a stressful day even by lockdown standards.”
Clearly, Coco is not one for self-improvement.
Meanwhile, Caleigh’s crafty lockdown project turned out to be literally sickening. “I made myself sick from inhaling tile adhesive on my first attempt at making a mosaic,” she explains over Instagram. “There was lots of vomit and lots of grout everywhere. We used this powdered adhesive that you mix with water, but you’re not supposed to inhale it, and if you handle the adhesive without gloves, you can get nerve damage. I can’t feel my fingertips properly, and my hands have gone really prune-y and wrinkly. The bottom line is: don’t use tile adhesive or grout without proper PPE!”
Having streamed a weekly radio show on Zoom since the lockdown began, as well as getting on board with the video chat dating trend, Caleigh adds that she has felt pressure to make lockdown productive, despite working full-time from home. “I think people are putting stress on themselves to be creative and use the time well,” she says. “I’m actually really jealous of people with more time on their hands. I feel the pressure to finish all these projects I’ve started before lockdown ends, or I won’t have anything to show for it.”
And Caleigh is by no means the only person whose lockdown pursuits have resulted in injury. Running magazine editor Suzanne’s had ironically disastrous results. “I was nominated by a fellow editor to do the 5K challenge for the NHS,” she says. “But at 4.7K, I fell and badly ripped my knee open. I had to get an NHS doctor friend to give me a medical video consultation. My attempt to support the NHS resulted in actually needing them myself.”
Mum-of-six Julia also experienced a lockdown injury while trying to be productive: “I pulled a muscle in my leg playing cricket in the garden with my kids,” she says. “I launched with great gusto into a week of sports in the garden when I usually do very little exercise. It hurt so much that I couldn't drive to do the food shopping several days later, and put a stop to ‘Couch to 5K’ with my daughter.”
But it’s not just the lockdown joggers whose attempts at self-improvement have fallen flat. Twitter might be rife with sourdough bros, but Beth’s dismal attempt at a lemon meringue pie didn’t turn out like the picture in the recipe. “When I cut it open, a pint of sugary pie filling came leaking out,” she says. “I didn't win the showstopper, and my partner has banned me from baking.”
And while plenty of people have used the lockdown as an opportunity to experiment with their look, not everyone’s DIY haircuts have gone to plan. Take Marco, who consulted a hairdresser friend and several YouTube tutorials before attempting his own haircut. “The first attempt took about two and a half hours, three mirrors, a couple of cans of lager and a little help from my brother,” he shares. “My hairdresser friend said it looked like a rug on my head. The second attempt was basically just trying to tidy up the first, but due to the useless shaver it went a little wrong. As you can see, I took a chunk out of it at the front, so in the end I had to shave the whole thing off. I’m hoping it grows back quickly so I can get a proper cut as soon as the barbers reopen.”
Social media might be full of lockdown project success stories, but don’t feel bad if you can’t manage a glow-up during quarantine. Perhaps the worst health crisis in living memory isn’t in fact an opportunity to self-optimise. If these lockdown disasters are anything to go by, you’re probably best off just re-watching Friends.
Sign up to our newsletter to get the best of VICE UK delivered to your inbox every week.