My Life in Lockdown
Part 1: Life Before Lockdown
13th March - 18th March
There was a general air of anxiety everywhere that week, even if it wasn’t
always addressed. My friend back in Birmingham messaged me and suggested I
stay home, but I shrugged it off and carried on more-or-less as normal, with added
handwashing (20 seconds, singing Happy Birthday twice in my head, all that jazz).
I’d spent the past month working as a mentor to a group of exchange students from
Kyoto, and their farewell part was set to be on Friday. Everyone was excited for what
was supposed to be a nice event, with the host families coming in and the students
preparing a performance to share. I was meant to be heading to campus early to
help set up, but, just as I was getting up to leave, I got an email explaining that the
party had been cancelled due to concerns from the host families. Even then, I
remember wondering if this was an overreaction.
That weekend, one of my housemates asked if she would be safe to go on a
cinema date. The rest of us gave her hand sanitiser and advice to be careful, and I
couldn’t shake the growing sense that this was becoming more real by the second.
I said goodbye to my students properly the next Tuesday as they loaded onto
the coach for London. The worry in the air was clear now. We’d gone to Nando’s the
afternoon before in a last attempt to share the British university experience, and it
had been quite surreal. A couple of the girls told me that they were thinking of
avoiding the showing of Les Mis they had been looking forward to all month, for fear
of getting sick. I got an email announcing that all teaching had been moved online,
and I read it over my peri peri chips.
Tuesday was emotional. The exchange trip had been cut short by a few days,
so flights and hotels had been cancelled and rearranged, although other groups had
their trips cancelled altogether. We said goodbye next to the coach, and took photos,
and hugged, only realising later that we probably shouldn’t have, and waved as the
coach drove away to London.
After our goodbyes, I decided to head to the library, since I was on campus
anyway, to grab some books for my dissertation and try to get some reading done.
The library was a ghost town. I’d never seen it so quiet, with maybe one or two other
students on each floor. At some point, I checked my phone and saw an email I’d
been dreading. By now, like I mentioned, it had already been announced that all
teaching would be delivered online, but the taught portion of my degree had already
been submitted, and I naively thought that maybe my lab work would be allowed to
go ahead. This email felt like a heartbreak. I was faced with the news that I would
have to dedesign by dissertation, turning it into a literature or data based project, as
coming onto campus and into the labs had now been deemed unsafe. I couldn’t
focus anymore, so I took what books I had, checked them all out, and walked home
in somewhat of a depressive stupor.
Dealing with change has never been one of my strong suits. I was diagnosed
with autism towards the end of primary school, and the transition to year 7 left me so
worried I was almost unable to eat for two months. In short, the news about the
changes to my dissertation hit me hard.
My housemate saw that I was upset and decided to cheer me up with a movie
night. I managed to eat, and to enjoy the movie, despite the horrible twisting of
anxiety in my stomach.
I woke up the next day fairly convinced I was going to die, in the way that
living with an anxiety disorder often convinces you that you are going to die. I had a
mild sore throat and a headache (definitely the result of my crying the night before),
and, at this point, that might as well have been a death sentence. And I had a fever.
Did I have a fever? Maybe I had a fever.
I called my mum to panic down the phone at her, stressed that if I came home
that night I would become this century’s answer to Typhoid Mary, only more
symptomatic. I let her calm me down, then knocked on my housemate’s door and
panicked some more, until I’d finally got it out of my system.
Later that morning, I had a dissertation meeting. The whole thing was over
Skype, which was a little odd, but generally the meeting made me feel a whole lot
better about my degree related woes. We talked over how my dissertation topic
could be adjusted to make use of existing literature and data, and how the
archaeology department was working hard to look after its students. I left the
meeting reassured that this, at least, was not the end of the world. I still wasn’t too
sure about everything else though.
After my meeting, I checked my phone and was greeted with several missed
calls from my mum. She’d decided to come and pick me up early from university,
and she was already on my way. That gave me about two hours to finish packing up
my things as best I could before she arrived. When she pulled up, I took my
suitcases to the car and gave my housemate a hug goodbye - the last hug I’d have
from anyone outside my family for months. We drove home without stopping.
Five days later, the UK officially entered lockdown, and it felt like the whole
My Life in Lockdown
Part 2: Life During Lockdown
23rd March-19th April 2020
Lockdown in the UK officially started on the 23rd of March, not that I’d been
leaving the house at all since getting back to the Midlands. Hours before lockdown
was announced, my mum had driven to Nottingham to pick my sister up from
university, worried she’d be trapped there alone if lockdown was enforced. The 23rd
was also the day my dad moved out. Due to the medication he’s on, he was
considered at risk for the virus, and he decided that living in a house with me, my
sister and my mum, who was still working at the hospital, was too dangerous. He
was gone before my sister got home, driving to my grandparents’ house to stay in
their spare room and play fetch with their dog.
The next few days were a surreal blur, with government coronavirus updates
becoming a regular part of my daily routine, not to mention the constant refreshing of
the ‘coronavirus updates’ webpage on my phone, watching the confirmed cases
rapidly tick up. I don’t think I realised before this just how much my weeks back
home were measured by Saturday night dinners with my grandparents. A tradition
we’d been carrying on for decades was now too dangerous to even consider. I still
saw all my grandparents, my dad and my great aunt every Sunday, delivering the
online shopping, since none of them could get a delivery slot, and got to stand on
their doorsteps and shout through the glass doors. Definitely a strange situation, but
better than nothing.
Watching the news, I got the distinct sense that we were living through
history, and I didn’t like it one bit. Back then, it felt simultaneously like lockdown
would go on forever, and that it would end within a few weeks. Despite feeling like
we were stuck in some sort of timeless void, I decided to make the most of my time
and focus on my dissertation. This task was made more difficult by the fact that
many of the resources that would have been perfect were only available via hard
copy at the library and, at the time, these were inaccessible. I soon realised that my
bed was not the most comfortable place to research from, and that I was giving
myself a stomach ache from sitting hunched over my laptop all day, so I set up a tiny
workstation in my bedroom, using a desk I had probably gotten too big for the day I
left primary school. It was better than my bed though, and it felt good to be
I managed to have some fun too! I videocalled my old housemates to catch
up, played gin-infused Cluedo with my mum and sister, and joined in on an extended
family quiz night, which now runs every Monday night. We had a winning streak for a
while before the rest of my family caught on and scrapped the history rounds.
Celebrations happened in lockdown too. A group of my undergrad friends organised
a joint surprise party for my boyfriend and my friend over Facebook video call. We
played games online and chatted for hours, for a while it felt like we were all in the
same room again, which we hadn’t been since December when the last of us
graduated. I hadn’t even seen my boyfriend since mid-February. We’ve had a few
more calls like that, even tried an online escape room, but I miss seeing people face
On that birthday call, there was talk of all this being over by the end of May,
which certainly wasn’t the case, but as we slowly move out of lockdown, there’s hope
that life might return to a semblance of normality.
My Life in Lockdown
Part 3: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
It would be a lie to say that time isn’t dragging on. The initial burst of
academic and creative productivity I had in the first months of lockdown has
dwindled down to nearly nothing, and fighting to keep my mental health in check has
only gotten harder. I realised recently that this is the longest I’ve been ‘home’ for in
four years. I usually come back for Christmas and Easter, a few weeks over the
summer and some weekends throughout the year, but I’ve been in this house now
for three months straight, and that’s required some adjustments from everyone.
The last time I lived here, I was a teenager, and it’s been all too easy to slip
back into the role of teenage daughter, with both me and my mum repeatedly
seeming to forget that I’m not 19 anymore. I don’t think this is an abnormal
phenomenon for adult children returning from university, but it is a confusing one,
and not something I remembered to expect in the panic of returning home.
I was meant to be on holiday this week - another odd thing. The family
calendar that hangs in the kitchen has two weeks marked ‘Florida!’ in the middle of
June, with a smaller, sadder annotation of ‘cancelled :(‘ in my sister’s handwriting.
This is, by no means, the end of the world, I know, but it is a strange little reminder of
what life would be like had this year gone differently.
I’m starting to let myself hope that life will return to near normal soon. My dad
came home last week, we’ve been having socially-distanced tea in my grandparents’
gardens, and I’ve even arranged to see some of my friends (outdoors of course). I’ve
been thinking about heading back up to York in July. I’ve got my house until
September and it’s a better place to study, plus it’s closer to my boyfriend so we
might be able to see each other for a day, or longer if the restrictions are loosened
more. Nothing’s set in stone right now, but I know a few other students with similar
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about ‘re-entry anxiety’. Is it safe to be
reopening pubs? To visit friends? To hug grandparents? I think I’m experiencing a bit
of this myself. I don’t want to be a part of the problem. There’s also another aspect of
this anxiety for me. As an autistic person, I have never got on well with crowds as a
concept. I’ve gotten used to them though, and now I liked to think I’m pretty good at
coping. Now I’m worried that, when crowds come back, I won’t be equipped to deal
with them. In reality, it will probably just take a period of readjustment, but I worry
how long it will take.
I’m taking a short break from studying right now, letting my brain recharge
instead of sitting on my laptop for 8 hours a day and only getting 100 words on
paper. My supervisor recommended I take a break in one of our online meetings. I’m
trying to keep myself active with daily walks, and I’m spending a lot of my downtime
reading and playing video games. I think I’ll be refreshed enough to start up my
dissertation work again soon.
I still don’t know what the next few months will hold, but the picture is
becoming clearer and less daunting, and it seems like there’s a light at the end of the
tunnel that’s only getting closer.