What I did do: I binged on old sitcoms. I argued with conspiracy theorists online. I watched YouTube videos of widely smiling Americans cutting their own hair and telling me how super easy it was.
I felt anxious and sad. I went on FaceTime dates that made me feel even more alone. I slept too little, then too much. I considered myself a saint for leaving the last packet of spaghetti on the shelf in Asda. I scrolled down my Instagram feed and saw people baking cakes, selling homemade candles, congratulating themselves for working out every single day that month, and I felt strange and guilty in a way that I’ve been describing as “lockdown remorse”.
I remember going back to Primary School after the summer holidays, how the teacher would ask everyone in the class what they’d done, what they’d achieved, what they’d learned, how they’d spent their time. In the tentative aftermath of full lockdown, I feel a similar pressure to impress, to list my achievements and the ways I bettered myself. What did I do with those months spent at home?
Did I write a screenplay or learn how to code? Did I train for a marathon? Did I read all of the previously untouched books on my shelves? Did I wake up at sunrise each morning and do yoga before drinking a litre of green tea and then spending an hour bullet journaling?
In short: No. I did not.
Lockdown remorse is the sense that you’ve wasted an opportunity for growth, that you should have done more with the months when everything was closed and you were mostly at home. Considering that this is our first global pandemic, it’s difficult to know how to tackle this feeling. This feeling, like much else, seems unprecedented.
Lockdown remorse is the sense that you’ve wasted an opportunity for growth.
My wisest mind understands that just surviving was the point, and that my successes happened mostly moment to moment. I sent loving text messages to my friends and my family. I grew my patience by standing in long queues outside of supermarkets. I wrestled with my attachment to certainty and order. I got up out of bed when I did not want to get up out of bed.
I disinfected cans of Coke and Mini Rolls and left them outside for delivery drivers. I didn’t change my body or take great strides in my career, but who decided I was meant to? It’s not just alright to have done very little of material consequence during a global pandemic; it’s totally understandable.
This wasn’t summer camp. You’re not supposed to have a wall of printed certificates that said you made everyone very proud and ate all of your broccoli. You didn’t eat any of your broccoli. You had six bag of Pom Bears for breakfast and you’d do it again.
But the remorse can still stubbornly linger. It doesn’t only extend to the things we failed to achieve. Our mental health collectively suffered and so did much of our ability to create and play and feel curious. The things that many of us rely on to feel at home in the world became impossible. Regular, structured access to exercise, exciting future plans, a varied routine, a social life, good sleep, the option of a casual bonk without needing a nasal swab and a fourteen-day quarantine.
These were all swept unceremoniously off the table. As a result, we felt we were losing ground, like more and more of our sanity was sailing down from our heads to the floor like the uneven chunks of hair cut with kitchen scissors after half a bottle of afternoon wine. The work to put ourselves back together seems daunting, especially when things could easily get worse again.
This wasn’t summer camp. You’re not supposed to have a wall of printed certificates that said you made everyone very proud and ate all of your broccoli.
I think that reassembly can wait. I think survival is still the point. The remorse at not having done more, of not having abs or being able to speak conversational Hebrew can be countered with self-compassion and a reality check. It takes privilege to not have been at least a bit clobbered by this year, to have had time to do more than fight to keep the fridge full and a roof over your head.
If you wrestled with the crocodile of anxiety and sometimes won, you did enough. If you got out of bed on days when you didn’t want to, you did enough. Your body doesn’t have to be smaller and your home doesn’t have to be improved and your relationships don’t all have to be stronger. You can give yourself credit simply for endurance. You can thank yourself for getting from there to here. You can wear that bad home dye-job and uneven hair cut like a crown.