Forty days in, and lockdown land is starting to feel somewhat surreal.
As a community that was largely sheltered from the full lockdown experience until now, Canberrans are finally beginning to relate to what our Victorian and NSW counterparts told us was going to be a strange and stressful time.
I won’t lie: when lockdown was first announced, I wasn’t too worried.
Naively, and from a position of immense privilege, I assumed I would weather the expected (at that time) short period in hibernation well. Think of how much writing I’d get done! I have a novel coming out I could be editing! I still have my full-time work to occupy my time, and the comfort and security of my home, relationship and health to hold on to.
Being fully vaccinated, I felt cushioned from the threat of COVID, and my only concern was contracting and spreading the virus to others.
Ah, to go back to that more innocent version of myself.
Now, my outlook is quite different – the cracks are starting to appear, and I’m noticing them in others too.
Every day is a sepia-toned repeat of the one before. Despite being ordinarily blessed with robust mental health, I find myself feeling anxious for no reason, leaning heavily on sugar and carbs to get me through each day, and starting to lose my patience with the people I’m connected to (albeit via a screen).
And from what I’ve witnessed around me, the cracks are widening in the community at large too. One pressure point is the responsibility we feel to enforce COVID-safe behaviour in others, especially as the lockdown drags on.
It’s understandable that as weeks turn into months, many of us are struggling to maintain the lockdown behaviour we were diligent about 40 days ago. I find myself itching to take my mask off while walking the dog, especially as the weather gets warmer. Even though they’re nowhere near my local area, the impulse to see friends is strong. The desire to visit my parents, especially when I know they’re struggling with being so isolated from their family networks, is overwhelming. If I’m feeling it, I have no doubt others are feeling it too.
Inevitably, some of us will slip into past behaviours, and others are forced to call it out and gently point out the rules that are being broken. This feels incredibly awkward and can lead to defensive and combative reactions. It makes the offender feel embarrassed, stressed, maybe angry – and the other person feels like a fun-policing dibby-dobber.
To be frank, our many cultural norms around being a good sport, not ‘telling on’ people, and generally being relaxed and chilled out make it challenging to hold people accountable to lockdown laws.
I’ve witnessed a few of these scenarios over the past few days (and by ‘witnessed’, I do mean via Facebook messenger chats relaying info, while I languish in my home). In one instance, a friend wanted a small picnic to celebrate a milestone. Another friend had to point out that it strictly wasn’t within lockdown rules. What ensued was a snippy debate about who was right or wrong, and a pervasive sense of hurt and confusion between both parties, who ultimately were coming from positive places albeit cross purposes.
Similarly, I’ve heard from other friends about their frustration at being called out on social media for going to pick up items they purchased on Facebook marketplace during lockdown, which couldn’t really be considered ‘essential’ (the decision to post it on social media also says something about how mundane our days are, that this was a source of excitement). And another friend has been called out for attempting to meet someone from Tinder during lockdown.
It’s immensely difficult to adjust to such a significant change in our daily freedoms over such a short period of time. It’s even more complicated when we have to, by and large, enforce the rules ourselves, because so much COVID-safe behaviour is reliant on people’s honesty and compliance.
The concept of ‘community’ is so closely linked to physical proximity and the organic interactions we can have with each other, and in the absence of these factors, we’re left with the tedious parts of common society with none of the benefits.
Let’s exercise kindness and compassion, even as we commit to accountability and a collective effort to get out of this thing. The Canberra we have post-COVID may look somewhat different to what it did beforehand, but we still have a community worth fighting to keep safe.