I’m sitting on the veranda. My housemates and I are interspersed between potted plants, while our other housemate has just raided the local park for new plants to propagate. You can hear cars whirring down the Inner West Link, birds chirping and the tactile clicking of keys as I type away while the sun begins to set.
This is my fifth week working from home. In the last week, for the first time, I noticed myself feeling tense and stuck. Tense at my seeming lack of options and stuck for the inability to change them. I dread any mentions of the passage of time at the moment. “It's my fifth week working from home”, “the Government is setting in place these measures for 6 months”, “we’ll be here til there’s a vaccine which is at least 12 months away”. These are phrases that bounce around in my mind. And even if no one else is mentioning them, they find their way to the surface repeatedly and annoyingly. All I want to do at the moment is focus on one day at a time and get one foot in front of the other. Worrying about the passage of time does no favours for my mental health and feeling tense and stuck.
What would I really like to do? Go to the movies. The cinema is one of my favourite things. At the beginning of the year I bought a membership to the local cinema up the road from our house and was so excited to be spending more time there. With COVID-19 resulting in a shutdown of unessential services, the cinema and my membership gather dust.
I’m something of a homebody. I don’t have an issue with hanging out at home. I will happily spend a day playing video games (Switch; Fire emblem: Three Houses, Zelda: Breath of the Wild; RPGs & JRPGs) watch movies or a favourite tv series (I recently got our house into Avatar: Legend of Korra also, Parks and Recreation and The Closer), cook food or just eat comfort food and nap. These are all the metrics I use to consider myself a relatively lazy person. But even for the most enthusiastic homebody, there comes a time when you need to change it up. Also, staying at home isn’t much of a choice at the moment.
At the beginning of the COVID outbreak I was quickly trying to adapt to not going to the gym. I froze my membership before the gyms closed. I started going for walks around the park and using my weights at home… Never thought I would be in need of those again but I am grateful! The evolving routine was a regular walk in the morning before starting work for the day. Then I eventually got sick of this and one week I spent Monday - Friday mostly inside working and gaming.
Then the weekend rolled around and I decided to go for a walk on Saturday afternoon. I could have stayed out for three hours!! It felt so good to be outside again. The look of the trees in the sunlight, the fresh air, the endorphins starting to pump through my body. All in a moment I was a new man.
We have short memories and we seem to easily forget the healthiest things for us, our wellbeing, mental and physical health.
A friend of mine said in the last week, as an introvert she feels she’s spent her whole life preparing for this situation. But in some ways, she said, the temptation to act a recluse is too tempting because it's not actually what we need. We still need connection. Amidst the chaos, franticness and convoluted messages coming from government and the burgeoning problem of “zoom eyes”, we need to find ways to not talk, think about or read anything COVID related (sorry) and come back to what grounds us, promotes positive health, wellbeing and joy.
Which begs the question, what am I doing now? I go for two or three walks every day… okay, most days. One in the morning before work, one just after lunch and one in the afternoon after I’ve finished working. This lets me get outside, get exercise, get away from a screen and help regulate my sense of the beginning and end of the work day. I don’t need to go for a three hour walk as I’m outside regularly enough. And video games are mostly a weekend thing.
The sun has passed down below the houses. But there’s still light bursting onto the clouds above, illuminating crevices and casting shadows amongst the liquid droplets and frozen crystals. While my housemate loudly digs through a bag of soil to pot the new plants he’s just stolen. All of it enough to release me from feeling tense and stuck, even if it is just for a moment.
Andrew McCloud is the Tertiary Ministry Organiser with Sydney Presbytery and studies psychology part-time. He has a particular interest in mental health and well being.