I thought this was a really important issue to discuss this week. Now the peak is over and lockdown is easing things are changing on a daily basis. It’s really hard to keep track of all the little changes to restrictions and what we can and can’t do. So, what is lockdown guilt and how do we forgive ourselves?
The “New Normal”
Inside my house, much feels the same as it did on the 23rd of March. I live in a quiet area so I never see much traffic coming or going. Most of my neighbours are retired so I don’t see a huge amount of activity outside my front door. This feeling changes as soon as I drive out of my street. The roads are busy and the shops are open, it feels like normal? Not the “new normal” just like how it was pre-lockdown. It’s like living between 2 different worlds. Instability in my mood has become a regular occurrence and I find myself forgetting what has past and falling into old behaviours.
We’ve all dealt with the ups and downs which come with being indoors for a prolonged amount of time. Mental health as been at the forefront of this crisis, as the realities every day of life become exposed and left wide open for interpretation. Everyone is feeling things they have never felt before and don’t understand and lockdown guilt is one of those.
Sticking to the rules is tough, it’s meant to be. A great majority of us have been deprived of friends, family, intimacy and excitement to name a few! It can’t be sustained in the long-run, people need people, but with all these blurred lines it's hard to know if you can do right or wrong.
So, what I mean by lockdown guilt? Well, it’s that punishing yourself feeling you get if you think you have broken a lockdown rule.
Most of us have gone our entire lives as law-abiding citizens, we aren’t used to feeling guilt or shame and yet now a simple shuffle to close to someone in a shop and we are criminals?
You might accidentally get to close to someone, allow a family member to use your bathroom, offer them a bite to eat from your kitchen, or you might accept a hug from a loved one. All things that we have been doing for our whole lives and yet in a few short weeks, have trained ourselves so strictly that these impulses must be suppressed and abruptly stopped.
When you have other people to think about the pressure becomes even more apparent. Could my actions lead to the death of someone I love? That is a feeling of guilt no human was meant to experience!
Anxiety and Lockdown Guilt
It’s been so important to me to try and maintain a sense of normality throughout lockdown. I’ve been in a place in my life where I was too scared to leave the house or go on a date. I couldn’t allow myself to go back to that place, that routine and I explored those feelings before in my blog “Conquering Anxiety and Agoraphobia in Lockdown”. I’m far too susceptible to those behaviours, but I don’t want to be a criminal? I don’t want to become the death inside my home.
I’m more than “used to” feelings of fear and the physical repercussions (see the previous blog “What is an Anxiety Disorder) however I’m not used to lockdown guilt.
My best friend hugged me this week (unsolicited but still) and I felt horrid. I haven’t touched another person for 12 weeks and here I am in a situation I didn’t ask for, hugging someone I have known and trusted for most my life in an endearing embrace which was been the most normal thing in the world up until March 23rd and I felt disgusting.
I love my friend and after my rigid body had unclenched and settled into the hug, I realised how much I missed it, human connection. Afterall hugging and intimacy in any capacity is a way to show someone you care, let them know they aren’t alone. We use it as a way to comfort each other, tell someone they are safe, words and zoom call pail in comparison.
I had crossed that line now, there was no going back. For the remainder of that day, I was frantically running over how clean I could make myself once I got home and questioning whether that would even make a difference? How could I erase what had happened so as not to put the lives of the people in my house in danger? I felt stress and anxiety about the amount of work I had to do when I got home to reduce the risk, thinking of how much of myself and the items in my possession I had to clean.
By far the worst feeling was the guilt and secrecy. Never before have I so quickly had to decide whether or not to admit to what I had done. Like a common criminal. If I tell people will they not want to be around me? Shall I lock myself away for 14 days to be ultra-safe?
Maybe you are reading this thinking “wow this is a bit over the top” and even I am aware of that, but at that moment that is how it felt. In the midst of this crisis, the fear is very real and I did the only thing I felt I could do to calm me down, which was to acknowledge what had happened and communicate it.
I spoke to my family and they were very understanding, in fact encouraging. They too felt it was normal and, in this case, essential for me to have that human connection. Communication is absolutely paramount to any relationship and lockdown shouldn’t change that.