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"We're all figuring it out as we go along"

What a funny old time we’re in at the moment.

I’m currently writing this on the front steps of my flat in an attempt to have a vaguely tangible  connection to the outside world. I can hear snippets of conversations, garbled rushes of music from passing cars, the bark of a frustrated dog in an upstairs flat. People pass by me and, this being London*, I occasionally receive a reluctant smile or barely perceptible head nod. Little connections.

(* No word of a lie- the postman just popped past and we had a brief, but lovely, conversation. His family are keeping well and his local post office is a bit hectic at the moment but they’re starting to get on top of it all. This thirty second exchange has already found itself in contention for Best Moment of My Day. Yeah, it kind of ruins my preamble about London being unfriendly but it feels disingenuous to not include it.)

I’m on my phone too much, you see. I’m wasting so many hours craning over the tiny screen that I’m developing muscles in my neck that weren't there before. At first it was to keep up to date with developing news stories and governmental advice, but as the New Normal has started to become more familiar, the initial adrenaline spikes of “what national decisions have been made today?” have been replaced with lackadaisically scrolling though the same social media apps on repeat. Sometimes I close one app only to absentmindedly reopen it immediately. Daily concerned conversations with friends and loved ones have gently subsided, replaced with the occasional message asking how the other person is (the answer rarely changes) and weekly Zoom quizzes (the answers rarely change). I’m wanting to spend less time on my phone and pay more attention to the real world, to the little moments and the details that, ordinarily, go unnoticed and unappreciated.

Basically, I want to stop seeing topless men on my Instagram. Beautiful specimens breezily gloating about how many squats they’ve just done, with the shimmer of sweat sparkling on their chests in the morning sun and their perfect bodies being betrayed by a single stray strand of hair which has obviously been positioned there on purpose since nothing about the image is natural. Or, indeed, perfect.

I’ve had issues with my eating for over a decade. I’m many years removed from the darkest period of my illness, but the pernicious shadows still linger. Behaviours and thought patterns that originated from the anorexia have become so enmeshed with my own that I can no longer tell the two apart. (Personally, I find that it helps me to view the anorexia as an entity separate to myself, a way to distance my True Self from the one that was corrupted by the illness. I don’t know if that’s a standard coping strategy or if I’ve just invented a new form of therapy and fast-tracked my way to a Nobel prize? Time will tell.) On a daily basis, tasks and thoughts come front-loaded with a wave of insidious thought patterns. The sheer energy that is involved to navigate a fairly innocuous activity can sometimes require a herculean mental effort. Right now, with the entire world being locked in our homes, even the most minuscule of activities are magnified and are forced into sharper focus.

So my hatred of the Perfect Sweat Shimmer Instagram Men intensifies. It’s not even how they look- that can be deconstructed by thinkers far smarter than me- or even that they’re posting these snapshots of aspirational lives in the first place. It’s how the posts make me, and by extension those who are in similarly vulnerable positions, feel. (I can already anticipate my partner preparing to remind me that avoidance tactics and perceived ‘safe spaces’ are ultimately detrimental to the fortitude of one’s thinking, and I am absolutely inclined to agree with him, but it doesn’t make that initial sting hurt any less. My defences are pretty low at the moment, the slightest knock is proving to pack an almighty punch.)

We’re being told to stay active, but I’m rubbish at yoga. I’m scared of collisions and accidents were I to ride a bike. I feel too emotionally and therefore physically drained to go for runs. My relationship with exercise is fraught at the best of times, so I refuse to enter a battle of wills with it during this turbulent time. If you require those activities to maintain a sense of equilibrium and sanity in these upside down days, then you have my full blessing. But if you’re posting proof of your activities to achieve even the slightest sense of one-upmanship over your fellow lockdowners, then that really sucks. I know I know, you’re not entirely to blame. As much as I’ve been conditioned to hate your posts, you’ve been conditioned to seek affirmation from them. The cycle needs to be broken somehow, but why does the effort to break the cycle need to originate from those who are being most damaged by it?

I’m isolating with my partner (and our wee kitten- our true sanity saviour) in our one-bedroom flat. On a good day, it could be described as ‘cosy’. During an enforced global lockdown with days on end being spent confined to these rooms, I’d probably use less flattering words to describe it. Every moment is shared, every movement is discussed and, in regards to my disordered eating, every meal is communal. Before, hours would pass before I’d remember to eat, or I’d eat something small to give me a necessary boost of energy. Now, with the current lack of structure and variety in our lives, mealtimes are the best way to mark the passing of time and furcate the day. Pre-quarantine, what was formerly known as 4:30pm is now ‘nearly time to think about getting dinner ready’ o-clock. The habitual nature of food has taken on greater importance as it acts as the sole remnant of ‘normality’.

Trips to the supermarket have taken on grander value. I felt that I had more or less conquered my generalised anxieties of doing a food shop, which had been a source of great upset during my years of illness. A coping strategy that I had adopted was to effectively glide through the aisles on autopilot, not placing too much importance on buying necessary items and avoiding the products that I had deemed to be ‘bad’ or not needed. Now, my partner and I are planning meals together for the days ahead and having to introduce new foods to our diets. I’ve come to realise that I have a shockingly bad knowledge base when it comes to meal preparation. The less I thought about food, the better I felt. Now, I’m having to source ingredients and make food-related decisions in the moment, thus shaking me from my self-imposed reverie. This, added to my constant fear of someone coughing on me next to the tubs of Hellmans makes what should be a straightforward activity into a frantic, emotionally charged scenario.

I’m making peace with the fact that this isn’t permanent. Perhaps the life we all knew won’t return in its entirety, small changes here and there, but a sense of normality will be established. We’re all adapting to this prolonged event, our nervous systems being drained in a continual state of Fight or Flight. We’re all figuring it out as we go along. My eating issues were there before the isolation, they’ll be there after – but at least now I can rest easier in the knowledge that a least a few more people will be washing their hands after they go to the bathroom.

Back to my front steps I go. It’s looking like it could be a lovely day.

Contributed by Lawrence