Today I got my second jab, and am very full of feelings.
I didn’t talk about the first jab when I got it, because I felt embarrassed that I was being jabbed only a few weeks after my Mum. I got the call-up because I have asthma, which puts me in the clinically vulnerable group, but just didn’t consider myself vulnerable. When the text came telling me to book an appointment, I a) assumed it was a mistake and b) burst into floods of tears. Emotional regulation, never my strong suit, has gone entirely out of the window in the last fifteen months, along with any meagre skill at small talk I ever had. (And blimey, it was meagre.)
At the clinic, on the first jab, the vaccinator asked me if I was a medic or a carer, and I said I just had asthma and it was probably a mistake. She reassured me no, no – my borough was getting through its population very fast – and again, I nearly cried. In the recovery room there were five of us, as well as a volunteer who usually worked for Arsenal doing local outreach and who had been confined to desk when the pandemic hit. “I begged them – anything – anything – except a desk, and they let me come here,” he explained. It was also the most people I’d been in a room with for months, and oof yes they were doing small talk, and hell yeah that was weird.
The second time I told pirate jokes while being jabbed. This is something I’ve picked up from donating blood – please give blood people – because I am an absolute wuss and find it easier to look the other way at the moment of truth. By far and away the best donor carer I’ve ever had in my many donations (thank you NHS for the biscuits) told the following joke:
“A skeleton walks into a bar. ‘I’ll have a pint and a…'” [in goes the needle] “‘… bucket’, he said!”
Which is all a long way of saying that goodness, feelings.
The winter was long and grim. What meetings I could have with people in London parks were always kinda dented by the fact that our lips were blue and we had to just keep moving or freeze. And not in a fun snowy way. In a properly grim, wet, wind-chill meh way that England really has nailed. I got in the habit of bringing tea and a hot water bottle whenever I pedalled off to the next park bench, but even if you could be briefly warmed by a cuppa, your odds of finding a place to pee after during those long, long months were pretty minimal.
Work was a welcome distraction, but as is always the case with scribbling there’s very little – until there’s suddenly waaaayyy too much. Between October-February I edited more things than sense, and though I’m just back to writing books now it feels so much harder to get energy back, so much harder to guarantee that I’m gonna wake up at 7 a.m. bright-eyed and waggy tailed. No one has actually rested or recovered during lockdown – we’ve all just kept going.
With the Hackney Half potentially scheduled for May, I kept running, but my mileage in December/January was basically piss. There is a sense of “ugh, really?” you really get when you have to slam your shoulder into the front door just to hold it open against the howling morning gale. In March, however, things leapt ahead and by April I was in danger of over-training, which is one of those things that you definitely get to peg with the wisdom of hindsight in the “not sure everything is emotionally ok” bucket. Thankfully I’m now at the best bit – the taper – which means minimal running until May 16th, when I’ll be doing an unofficial Hackney Half in honour of the real thing, which is now happening in September. And yes, you can still absolutely sponsor Macmillan Cancer Support, a fabulous cause that has, by my reckoning, had about 1000km of training out of me since this began.
Finally, I’ve been standing as a candidate for the Green Party again, because climate change isn’t going anywhere. I will spare you my rant about the UK government at this time, but sufficied to say that if you too are worried about the state of the universe, may I recommend a) voting Green or b) any number of the resources that I will put at the bottom of this blog post for getting involved/informed about positive climate action, delivered in the form of a list that really just wants to be a hug.
None of this, by the by, is unusual or remarkable. Once again, I have had a very safe, very sheltered and very lucky pandemic. I feel privileged beyond belief to have been jabbed, and still can’t quite believe it. Spring is definitely on the cards – though I am writing this while wearing gloves, a hat and two jumpers, because again, England in May – and people are starting to book holidays. Holidays! I haven’t been on public transport since February 2020, and that was the DLR which is sorta a toy train anyway. I adore London, and feel incredibly blessed by the landscape around my flat, but goodness I don’t think there’s a single nook or alley in a 5-mile radius I haven’t walked down in the last 15 months in the name of “oh look, a dead end that smells of pee, I wonder if there’s something new/interesting down there?”
And so here we are, feeling feelings. And what I mostly feel, not gonna lie, is monumentally confused.
15 months of wearing a mask, staying indoors, staying safe has become more than just good habit – it’s basically become the only thing going. In the absence of hobbies or a social life, hand-washing and maintaining 2m distance down the local Co-op is kinda it. It has become borderline an identity. And that right there is the problem. I have been tracking infection numbers since worldometer started updating them. I have been scrupulously safe, rigorously followed the science, determined that even if I get Covid, I will not transmit it to others. I will not be part of that vector, given that one person can infect ten, ten people can infect a hundred, and of that one hundred, the odds have been alarmingly high that ten will suffer badly, and four could die. I will not be the person who coughed at the top of that pyramid.
It has been this – this and only this – that has kept me going through these last many months. The idea that everything I’m doing is for a good cause – the cause of not being a dickhead – and that this too will pass. The determination to be grateful for what I have, and to give to the people around me where I can, and most of the time that has just been a determination to do everything in my power to not make it worse. When things have sucked, I have clung to this ideal, held it up and celebrated it as good and proper and right, because frankly, there hasn’t been much else to cling to.
And now that’s changing, perhaps. Not immediately, of course. Not overnight. I’m still tracking infection figures, vaccination, reading the science. Still staying sensible, staying safe. My mask isn’t gonna come off until the science says it’s safe, and even then it’s gonna be weird. Wearing a mask has become the sign of being safe – and so yes, it too has become part of my identity.
But maybe – just maybe – I can conceive of a holiday one day? A short trip somewhere outside town? An overnight stay somewhere that isn’t the 5-mile radius around the flat? In gig-land, I’m booked in to go and reprogramme the rig in one of my venues, and there’s health and safety training coming up – and I have never been so excited by the idea of health and safety training. We’re not there yet, but there’s signs and portents that perhaps, just perhaps, there might actually be live events again one day. Escrima might resume in the coming months, and I’m scheduled to teach a women’s self-defense session in June, plague permitting… things are happening.
And I just can’t remember what that was like. Dinner with other people in the kitchen? Chatting with other techies in the control room? Pizza at the lighting desk, sparring on a evening, getting on the train to see people I love, have a cuppa inside a cafe where it is warm? There’s a Laotian place near Charing Cross and I find myself dreaming of it. Going to museums. Live music! Not having to run extra miles every time I go outside just in avoiding people in the street. Swimming. Blimey I miss swimming. I once swam 5km for charity and having not clocked that this too was considered a half marathon distance, utterly failed to fuel or hydrate properly throughout, resulting in the worst exercise hangover I have ever had – but swimming! I wanna swim so, so much. I miss Comicon! I never thought I’d write the words, but I miss a hall of 15000 people dressed as Vader and confused security trying to work out what the difference is between a writer VIP badge (no green room access) and a real VIP badge (green room access + free pastries). I miss sitting on the floor of my local library reading any old nonsense because it was there and so was I.
It’s not just that I probably won’t be able to hold a stick when I finally get back to escrima, or remember how to light a gig – it’s deeper than that. The loose, missing ingredient is that I can’t really remember who I was before all this. Was there really a version of me that hugged everyone? A martial art student who had no fear of close-quarters unarmed combat where we huffed all over each other like flipping steam trains? Really? In much the same way as the person I am now is more than a habit, these things that have been were more than hobbies – they were an identity too. One that I – along with everyone else in the whole world – lost for a while.
One of the most sensible things people say about grief is that it comes from love. You don’t grieve a thing you didn’t love. There are millions and millions of people who are grieving the worst loss imaginable – lives lost, livelihoods, health – and it is dishonourable to pretend I have a fragment of the understanding of that pain. For most of us – for the vast majority – we have been grieving another kind of loss – a way of living taken away, and with it, the people we were when those were the lives we lived. Humanity thrives on connection, and we struggle to exist in a vacuum. We find the stories we can, the ones we must, in order to survive. Stories of being ok, being grateful, wearing a mask, doing the right thing. We find a way to be ok, even if that means finding a way to be someone new.
Maybe lockdown eases further in the UK; maybe we get enough people jabbed that we’re ok. Maybe normality comes back. Maybe we begin to remember who we were, and how we lived. We find that missing piece of ourselves again. I cannot conceive of what life was like before all this began, but I am grateful above all other things that unlike most kinds of grief and most kinds of loss, there is some hope at least that I’ll get to find out again, one day perhaps.
Meanwhile, to everyone else reading this – whether you are in the midst of it or like me starting to blink bleerily at the spring light and wonder if it’s too soon to maybe begin to hope – hello. Wherever you are, whatever situation you’re currently looking at, you’re not alone.
A list of positive climate change things that wants to be a hug? Why yes….
- If you are worried about climate change but feel overwhelmed and just want easy information on positive steps, I recommend listening to How To Save a Planet, or reading The Future We Choose, depending on whether your inclinations are visual or audio!
- If you are looking for suggestions on small steps you can take in your life that will potentially make your days a) more carbon friendly but also ironically probably b) cheaper and c) healthier, the World Wildlife Fund has innumerable resources that are calling out for you!
- And if like me you’re looking at the world around you and going “goodness, yes, social interaction, I remember that being… nice…?” then there will be community groups in your area that range from the lovely (i.e. community gardening projects, local tree planting projects, re-wilding projects etc.) to the political (i.e. Green Party) to the radical – basically, there’ll be someone, somewhere, who’ll be thrilled to hear from you. A bit like picking a good martial arts teacher, there’s no one answer that works for everyone, so have a nose around and find something you really love and think you can enjoy. You don’t have to suffer, no one has to wear hemp and ashes – we’re here to make a better world, and frankly it’s always easier to that well, if you’re enjoying what you do.