By Merril Darling
Day one: Just like any other day, I started the day with breakfast in bed and the ABC News Channel. As I carefully chewed my high fibre/ reduced sugar/ low travel miles muesli, I was bombarded with more and more terrible news from around the world. Novel Corona Virus was rapidly spreading beyond the locked-down areas of China. What had been a local problem was now a world-wide epidemic, possibly a pandemic as bad as the Spanish Flu which swept the world after World War I. This was not information from hysterical social media – this was the national broadcaster with experts and graphs and crashing stockmarket reports. This was potentially very serious for me and my family in the ‘Lucky Country’!
I do feel lucky. I am a wife and mother and grandmother and daughter and sister and aunt and friend and colleague and volunteer and neighbour. I have a lovely active, artistic, friend and family-oriented life. I have many social contacts. I am a self-funded retiree. I am surrounded by people who travel regularly for business and pleasure. I live in a beautiful part of Australia that attracts holidaymakers every week and especially during school holidays. I regularly use public transport. I am a pretty healthy 60 year old, but live with chronic asthma. I started to feel uneasy.
I went to the gym. I often call this my "happy place" but it had already changed. New hand cleaning protocols were in place. Some members were wearing gloves. There were so few of us that we could easily obey the 1.5 metre social distancing rule. Even so, I felt wary of the shared equipment. This had honestly never crossed my mind before. I was there to be healthy and social but it felt dangerous. I haven’t been back since, but am continuing to pay my fees to help support the workers and business.
After the gym, I called in at the local chemist. They told me Ventolin is out of stock everywhere. They kept my script. They will fill it when supplies become available. They hope this will be during next week. Really? Is this happening already?
Next stop, the supermarket. People looked furtive and stressed. No-one was passing the time of day, everyone was intent on getting in, getting lots and getting out as quickly as possible. There was no toilet paper, no tissues, no hand sanitiser, no flour, no rice, no pasta. Half of the fruit and vegetable section was closed off. Many shelves were bare. I could afford to buy more but there was nothing to buy. It crossed my mind that this was the sort of stress and shortage that many people around the world experience when their country is at war. But our new enemy is a microscopic virus which looks rather pretty as an on-screen graphic. It doesn’t take much to bring us all down, now that we are all so enmeshed and connected around the world!
Having unloaded my motley collection of groceries, I headed off to my 'home from home', the Peninsula Arts Society. I am considered a ‘youngster’ there. I am happy to be a volunteer. These people are my tribe. This is where I learn and thrive and create and grow. This is where I am my 'best me'. On this day, the committee decided to close the premises for the next four weeks. Our duty of care for our elderly members meant that even our existing hygiene and social distancing measures would not be enough to keep them safe. Our self-employed tutors were informed that their classes and source of income had been halted. Our members were informed that their social and creative outlets had ceased. None of us know when, if ever, things will get back to normal. Maybe we will never be the same? Maybe we will all be more wary of each other from now on?
Day two: We visited with immediate family and phoned extended family and friends. Everyone is cancelling their travel and social plans and setting up new social distancing protocols. Schools and childcare are still open but many workers are working from home.
We don’t know if we will still be able to care for our beloved grandchild. It will break our hearts not to share whole days with him regularly. He’s just learned to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and we have been invited to a birthday party for his beloved flat rabbit, ‘Rara’. Skype just won’t cut it.
Everyone is being so kind but also so careful. I am starting to count how many squares of toilet paper I really need to use. I sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice in my head when I wash my hands. The news is on all the time now. Everyone knows the name of federal and state health officers and biomedical security experts. I continue to feel uneasy.
Day three: State and federal government officials are now meeting together to formulate a national response to corona virus, including stimulus packages to try to ameliorate the threatened economic recession. This comes on top of our catastrophic bushfire and flood emergencies of the last few months. It looks like the ‘lucky country’ has run out of luck.
I have started to create a daily schedule of home-based activities so that I don’t get depressed or go stir crazy. I am trying to be more mindful and intentional now that I am not so ‘busy’. My husband and I now walk together every day (something we always promised ourselves to do but never got around to). I am reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in small doses, with study guides and paper and pen at the ready (this was always on my bucket list). I am working my way through all my issues of Womankind, starting from #1. I am also rereading every Georgette Heyer novel I have owned since my teenage years (to escape to a very different time and place). I am sewing and writing and planning to paint and draw. I am cooking with effort and creativity not seen since I was a young bride 40 years ago. I am watching a lot of TV but rationing news to twice a day – morning and night. I am trying not to shop online because it is too easy to do and we don’t know what will happen to our superannuation over the next few months. I am keeping in contact by phone but already missing genuine social and physical contact. I wonder if I will ever fully recover my equilibrium?
When this is all over, when we have a vaccine, when we don’t have to restrict sales of toilet paper, will we all have learned to live a simpler life? Maybe we have all been too complacent and it is only right that we live with a sense of unease? Is this a small taste of the dislocation climate change will have on our lives if we don’t start approaching it with the energy and resources being put into fighting this virus?
Life in lockdown. Womankind approached its community to write about life in lockdown around the globe, notably a three-day diary of everyday life under the threat of COVID-19. Womankind is publishing these stories freely to show how the pandemic is affecting women from all over the globe - from New York, to Barcelona to Glastonbury.
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