Am I the only person feeling guilty about going out?

But for me, camped in my parents’ house; running errands for them, hunkering down with work and abiding by the rules like the good little swot I am; it filled me with an unexpected sense of righteousness, of doing the right thing, following orders, staying safe, caring for others.

I hadn’t felt that way since I was a kid, who did all her homework and rather enjoyed it, who never broke a single school rule. It was a nostalgic return to this childhood, before teenage life yawned open and brought with it white lies and broken rules, sneaky drinking, parties and the beginnings of doing all the things we shouldn’t.

Lockdown was many things for many different people. Some swanned off to rural idylls and had a rather marvellous time of it (negronis on the patio anyone?) Others struggled, financially, mentally or both.

This we know. No isolation was created equal. 2020 – no matter your circumstance – has not exactly been fun.

I had thought I wasn’t smusgolating; but in a way I have been. All through lockdown I’ve unwittingly been feeling smug about my reduced spending, my renewed focus on work and projects both personal and professional, my weeknights spent curled up with a book instead of traipsing around Soho after too many picantes.

There is something smug about playing by the rules, of raising your eyes in condemnation at the quarantine breakers and the Cummings scandal, knowing that you get a gold star in lockdown, that you’re top of the class of Covid19.

It dragged me back to my inner nerd: the girl who never misses a deadline, never steps out of line. I had quite forgotten her – it’s been so long since we met.

Acknowledging my accidental smugsolating has been a belated thought process, however. Because I only realised I was actively enjoying the virtuousness of staying home and staying safe once I started to do the opposite.

My first party was both glorious and terrifying. I anti-bacced my hands so many times during the night that everything – from my cocktail to my dinner – tasted of detergent. My first pub was exhilarating but nerve-wracking. My first bar was heady and filled with a lead weight in the pit of my stomach. My first hug with someone outside my quaranteam was such a rush of emotions that I burst into tears.

Was I happy, scared, sad, terrified? All of it.

Post-lockdown life has been an emotional minefield for so many of us. We’ve tripped and tangled ourselves up in the muddy maelstrom of mixed-messages to have been spewed out from Westminster over the last few months. Nothing has made sense; from what can and can’t open, to where we should and shouldn’t wear a face mask, to if we can travel at all.

Should we eat out to help out, or stay home to be safe? Should we bring back the travel economy, or view all holidays as an inherent risk? Is it – in actual fact – safe at all to be going back to normal life?

As someone who realised she got a lot of bizarre, nostalgic pleasure from playing by the rules, it’s hard to know which rules to follow now; or if, actually, we’re on our own now. We need to follow our own rules.

All I know is that everything that previously made my life joyous; bars, parties, travel, hugs, restaurants, lazy afternoons and all-night parties with friends, all now feel illicit. Going back to my life feels somehow wrong. It feels like breaking the rules. I have lost my lockdown virtue and now I feel like the naughtiest kid in school. Everything I’m doing, it all feels like I’m about to get caught, about to get slammed into detention.

Maybe it’s because we know we’re all just kidding ourselves, that this is just a brief respite before a second wave. Perhaps we know that, in reality, we probably shouldn’t be doing any of this, no matter how much the government wants to save the economy.

Or maybe it’s the awful realisation that life is going to be this way for a while yet, and that the nostalgia I’m clinging to – is not actually the virtue of lockdown at all – but the freedom of my life before it.

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