So, once you get past the ‘housekeeping’ side of lockdown (money, shelter, food, communication, work, childcare) and the honeymoon period (new routine, discovering how to knit, baking for England and binge-watching whatever sh*t you can find on TV), has passed, the real ramifications kick in. That of dealing with your own sh*t, locked away in deep vaults, hidden from view and banished from your everyday life, proactively supported by a world of distractions and the perfectly perfected skill of being busy.
Mine have started physically attacking me, without any warning or preamble, I have simply been ambushed by the most innocent of scenarios.
But most of all the complete and utter sense of worthlessness, as complex maths equations, science experiments, and language skills, appeared to me as aliens from another planet.
The first was having to home school the kids – that unearthed my intellectual inadequacies, the long-hidden wounds of not being considered bright enough, or good enough to amount to anything much. The surprise my parents, my teachers and I had when I did manage to cobble together a few ‘ok’ GCSE grades, the fulfilled expectation when I did manage to all but fail my A levels, the sense of wonder when I did manage to obtain a place, on some obscure degree course, at some decidedly, non-red brick University, the elation when I actually managed to get a degree, swiftly followed by a reality check when no blue-chip firm would touch me with a barge pole, given my unforgivably low A level grades and a degree from a Polytechnic masquerading as a University. But most of all the complete and utter sense of worthlessness, as complex maths equations, science experiments, and language skills, appeared to me as aliens from another planet. I tried so hard to understand them, but all to no avail and that meant I did not gain entry to the elite club of intellectuals, who did not leave school at 16 to work at the local factory, but went on to live varied and interesting lives, who were looked at in awe and who I so desperately wanted to be like. And all that all because of home f*cking schooling.
The second was having to cancel our summer holidays. The last part of the middle-class dream life I had been able to sustain. It didn’t matter that despite my husband’s ample salary, we did not live in a manner house, that we should, of course, have been able to afford, had it not been for a series of f*cked up decisions and behaviours I had clung to over the years, resulting in f*ck all money and a sh*t load of debt. Now there was no proof, no opportunity to provide my children with the wonderfully idyllic life we should be able to afford, unconstrained by debt. There was no excuse for not living a much grander life – the money was not going on holidays this year, just good old fashioned debt repayment. The mirage of my life would be uncovered.
The third was a conservatory, badly damaged in the storms. The result —a £50k bill to re-build it, that of course, we didn’t have. And now in lockdown, the reality of this romantic small cottage hits home. It’s old, pretty worthless as we have been flooded 3 times and too small for all 5 of us at the same time. So, another re-mortgage which still leaves us a few grand short and a confused look from people as to why on earth we don’t 1) have the savings to fund this and 2) enough equity in the house to borrow more. Well, we don’t because I have spent it all, to distract myself from the things that actually needed my attention, but just like my maths lessons, left my feeling far too worthless to look at.
No one tried to stop me, to tell me what a mistake I was making, to reassure me that I was valued, that I was wanted, that I made a difference and that things would work themselves out.
The fourth was drinks with friends. Gorgeous, loving, funny and incredibly successful friends. Who had made all of the decisions I should have – the difficult decisions, the honest decisions and who had the intellectual capacity and mental confidence to do so. Spending time talking to them was lovely and excruciating at the same time. A mirror reflecting back to me all that I could have been, if only I’d been a bit braver, less egoic and less self-serving. Their life was every bit the life I had so wanted to have. But I gave it all up, in the blink of an eye, fuelled by ego, anger and the fact I knew better. But of course, I didn’t. And just like that, the gang I had worked so hard to be part of, the life I had crafted with dedication, love, and pure hard work was gone. And no one gave a damn. No one tried to stop me, to tell me what a mistake I was making, to reassure me that I was valued, that I was wanted, that I made a difference and that things would work themselves out. I was just another statistic. I was deeply hurt and still am to this day. I never really wanted to leave, I just wanted to be valued. And even now all of these years later, as I look at the lives of my friends who didn’t leave, who stuck with it, my grief rears its head and I sob like a small child having lost her very best friend.
And when you try to talk to others about your demons, the deep, dark and honest truth, they try to soothe you, to tell you this was how your life was meant to be, that you made the right decisions for you, to look at all that you have and all that you have achieved.
But I cannot. I see an unfulfilled, volatile mother, a life full of compromises and lies to avoid facing the consequences of my decisions, a whole stack of regrets that I cannot seem to shake no matter how hard I try, a physical ache every time I look at the life I walked away from and an on-going sense of worthlessness, without any distractions to dilute the impact.
And of course, I realise how self-indulgent, narcissistic, self-pitying and pathetic all of this must seem, especially to those with real problems to deal with right now. But it is exactly because we are conditioned not to dwell too much on ourselves, to consider how much better off we are than others, to be grateful for what we do have, not what we do not have, that creates these tsunamis of sh*t. Because we do not deal with them honestly and in the moment. Because we are afraid of the judgement of others, of our own fragility and vulnerability, of our true desires and inadequacies. And if we actually come clean about what’s really going on, then perhaps we will be even more of a failure, more worthless and more of a pariah.
And this is the true reality of lock-down. It’s not the isolation, the fear, the panic, the uncertainty that’s the real problem. It is, of course, sitting with ourselves – naked, raw and unfiltered. But right now there is no one else to sit with and she is a persistent visitor, so I guess I will have to listen to her and learn to make peace with the decisions I’ve made, the beliefs I’ve had and the grief I carry.
It is indeed, a very hard lesson to attend. I have no idea if I will make it to the end. But I’m still here right now.
I agree with Ken. I live out in the country and it easy to be isolated. Lots of room, long walks with the dogs and time to read and write. I don’t watch the new at all. We live , we learn , we share and we move on having learned. Hang in there my friend and reach out to those that call you friend.
Nik, thank you for this rare, unfiltered piece. I commend you, and I admire your courage for putting it out there. It isn’t easy to come face to face with decisions we’ve made, especially ones that, when we look at now, may not have been the wisest. But we do what we have to at the time.
There’s no shame in any of it. We live, and we learn. And, I suspect, many of us are starting down similar self-reflections. I know I am. But, all that matters is you try – each day. I learned I couldn’t fix the past, but I can learn from it. And I can decide each day to understand better and make the most of what I do have – the things you can’t put a price tag on. You are not alone, Nik, as you have a compelling voice. Thank you for sharing this and for making a difference with your words. I wish you peace on this journey.
Dear Nick, it has been a while since we had any constructive communication. Now, your beautifully worded prose may sound like self-pity to others, but for me, it is yet another one of your well-orchestrated pieces of inspiration to many. The shortcomings you have managed to highlight are more or less Universal. It may sound like they’ve come to the surface due to the pandemic. But, I know for a fact, the majority of us carry these feelings in the deepest recesses of our hearts, without gathering the courage to own them up and making a change for the better.
The final component of your conversation, to me at least, is the winner, so long as I “learn to make peace with the decisions I’ve made, the beliefs I’ve had, and the grief I carry.”
Thanks for the Valuable Advice!
Warm Regards, With A Prayer for All
Nik, I always enjoy reading your articles. While I have never spoken to you from your writing it is clear you are witty, intelligent, caring, insightful and probably a better mother than you give yourself credit for. I don’t know too many people who haven’t made any mistakes or who aren’t suffering consequences of their actions past or present. Please give yourself credit for all the good things you do and have done. Please stay safe and well.
Nik: The reality is that we all make mistakes as we stumble through life. The question is what we learn from those mistakes, and how we use those lessons. The worst mistake I see is when people let their mistakes rule their view of themselves, embrace depression, and freeze any effort to change. Try making a list of all the bad in your present-day life, and all the good. Then focus on the good. Learn from the past, but never dwell on it.
“And this is the true reality of lock-down. It’s not the isolation, the fear, the panic, the uncertainty that’s the real problem. It is, of course, sitting with ourselves – naked, raw and unfiltered.”
Nik believe me you are your worse enemy and I’m positive you will find your way out of this or through this. The lines I extracted from your writing-Is exactly how we are all feeling to various degrees.
Focus on all the good things you are and have done in your life so far and let that propel you forward.
thank you for sharing