9:02am Wake up and my first thought is shitshitshitshitshiiiiiiiiit – I was supposed to start teaching at 9am.
9:03am Text from their mum – ‘Hi Annie, we are online.’ Fuckfuckfuckfuuuuuuu-
9:04am This is all the foxes’ fault! If they’d just stopped shagging long enough for me to get some sleep…!
9:05am Have responded, apologising profusely, saying I’m not well and asking to reschedule. On second thoughts, I should have just admitted my mistake and then I could have done the other two lessons and just rescheduled the first, but my sleep-addled brain wasn’t thinking quickly.
9:10am Feel horrifically guilty, even though they’ve cancelled on me at the last minute, like, 4 times.
9:30am Boyfriend arrives home from night shift. Tells me about his night and asks what my plans for the day are. I tell him I’ve got another hour and a half of feeling so bad about oversleeping that I can’t do anything, then maybe half an hour of glaring at myself in the mirror, and then a few hours of feverishly replanning today’s lessons to make them better in an attempt to assuage the guilt. My boyfriend raises his eyebrows and asks, on an unrelated note, how my anxiety is doing during the lockdown. It’s fine, I tell him, I’m fine, everything is absolutely fine.
10am Have bought myself a new notebook precisely because I could feel myself getting more and more jittery as the days passed. Writing things out usually helps, but ironically I am too full of nervous energy to sit down and write anything today. Could be anxiety. Could be caffeine.
11am Have seen lots of opinions flying around about (un)productivity in the time of corona. From my perspective, I think you should just do what makes you feel better. If you’re paralysed into inactivity, that’s ok. Who cares if Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine? Writing plays was his job, and I bet he had a maid or an Anne Hathaway to cook for him and clean up after him (don’t come for me if I’m wrong, I’m not a Shakespeare scholar and I can’t be arsed to Google it). But if you, like Shakespeare, are starting new projects to keep busy or even just because you like doing projects – that’s fine too. There’s no pressure to do or not to do anything, or to feel or not feel a certain way.
My personal problem with the (un)productivity issue is that I never feel like I am doing enough, even though I am objectively doing quite a lot. I’m teaching 7 hours per week which also involves lesson planning. I’m walking every day and two of my authors just sent back the second drafts of their manuscripts, so I will have a couple of book edits to do over the coming weeks. Also, there’s always My Novel to pretend to be writing, the Corona Journal to post and Tiger King to (re)watch. I realise that it sounds like I’m showing off – ooooooh look at all my PRODUCTIVE ACTIVITIES – but all those activities are driven by a state of nervous anxiety that means I can’t just sit still, and it doesn’t feel good.
When this all first kicked off, I didn’t really have the option to do nothing; like a lot of other people, I’d been living ‘hand to mouth’ and while I was hardly on the breadline, I did rely completely on January’s salary to pay February’s rent. I have no savings, so when I was laid off and had no income, I was scared. This is when I frantically gathered tutoring jobs like it was my… well… job. I managed to strike gold because I happened across one person who wanted a tutor for their son, and then it turned out they had two more sons and a grandma who also wanted to learn.
Now that I’m no longer in immediate financial danger thanks to Rishi’s Massive Package for the Furloughed, a rent reduction and tutoring money, I’d like to be able to calm down – but I can’t. The jittery nervousness won’t go away, even though being evicted is no longer imminent. I’m prone to feeling overwhelmed in my ‘normal’ day-to-day life, but I figured that was the case for most of us – with full time jobs, friends to see, a social life to flake on, physical and mental health to maintain, flats to clean, meals to cook, side hustles to work on, hobbies to practise, messages and emails to respond to, money to worry about, family, partners, pets and on and on… it made sense that ‘overwhelm’ was just everyone’s default state because that was the world we lived in.
What lockdown has made me realise is that I don’t think it’s 100% The World’s fault that I am constantly living in a state of high anxiety. Even when outside expectations and commitments are massively reduced, I still feel stressed because I make things for myself to do. I want to be an NHS volunteer, to help at the foodbank, to help the local aid service, to apply for jobs at Tesco and the Nightingale Hospital, to cook meals for my boyfriend and flatmate, to watch all of Tiger King, to watch all of Killing Eve, to read all my unread books, to write my novel, to walk 10,000 steps per day, to teach 7 hours per week and spend at least 2 hours planning each lesson to make them perfect, to do yoga, to meditate, to work out, to journal, to check in and respond to every one I’ve ever met, to write letters, to write a funny journal every day, to hoover and scrub and dust every inch of the flat, to write and organise quizzes for my family and friends, to host an extra virtual book club and on and on and on. It never feels like enough.
I caught myself the other day writing ‘Relax for 30 minutes’ as an item on my to do list.
It’s not bad to be busy. It’s not abnormal to be anxious. What’s not clear is whether my anxiety makes me do all these things, or whether I’m anxious because I’m doing too much. I have a feeling that my need to fill every second is to distract me from something that I don’t want to pay any attention to. I’d like to learn to slow down and give myself a break, to deal with whatever that thing is. What am I afraid of? What will happen if I stop running? (Not literal running, you understand. Metaphorical running. I fractured my foot, remember?)
Maybe it’s ok if there is washing up sat by the sink for more than 30 minutes or if I only spend an hour planning each lesson. Maybe it’s ok if I didn’t cook this evening but just heated up a frozen pizza, or if I didn’t reach 10,000 steps, or if I haven’t read every BBC News update yet. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I haven’t seen Mad Men or Love is Blind or Money Heist. Maybe it’s ok to feel stressed out and write about it in my Corona Journal rather than the short, funny(ish) entries I usually write. Maybe, maybe, maybe.