Stuck in the House: Ewan

Hello there and welcome to a new feature, Stuck in the House, where we share personal insights and tales from our contributors about their time during lockdown and their reflections about the past year and concerns for the future. We want to create a safe space where young people can discuss life under lockdown and engage openly with the topic of caring for our physical and mental wellbeing. We would like to make clear that all contributions to this series are from the author’s own perspective and do not constitute any qualified opinions or advice particularly as regards to mental health. Included at the bottom of these posts are links to professional resources which you can access if you are in distress or need of help. If you would like to contribute to this series then please get in touch through our socials.

Frankly, talking about lockdowns and the pandemic feels a bit overdone and tedious at this point. However, it is very hard to avoid a world event that has occupied the past year of your life. I would love nothing more right now than to be writing about a holiday that I had just been on, or the positive experiences that I took from 2020. The truth for myself and countless others is that last year was awful. Here I’m not going to talk about wider ramifications and issues associated with the pandemic, as this series looks to view this global event through the eyes of individuals.

For me, the start of the lockdown coincided with my first ‘proper’ job. Having been employed by a Glasgow-based travel company since the Autumn of 2019 I was just starting to become fully settled in the weekly routine and 9-5 life. Working previously at a depressing call centre I was over the moon to be working as a marketing supervisor. Despite the ‘supervising’ being dedicated to a department of which I was the sole member, I really liked the job and the people that I worked with. In February of last year plans were being made for my girlfriend to join me down in Glasgow, and we were both looking to get into full-time work and start saving up some proper money.

I don’t imagine that global pandemics often occur at ideal times, but I have to say that when COVID struck it was particularly hard to adjust. As my job was focused solely on marketing holidays, it was pretty clear to see that my job was about as ‘at-risk’ as it could get in terms of employment. The whole company ended up struggling and didn’t survive the initial surge of panic surrounding this new global phenomenon. This news came shortly after we had first been locked down and looking back, I probably struggled to process it. At the start of the very first lockdown, I had relative optimism. To be asked to stay home from work and still receive a salary was nice at first. Being lucky enough to have my girlfriend Eva come down to Glasgow the week of the initial lockdown, it meant that we had a seemingly endless source of quality time. Long distance had been a challenge and we loved every minute that we got to spend alone.

I’ve got to admit that I was lacking any real sense of dread or scale in those first couple of months. Even after I lost my job, I couldn’t see past the pros of spending so much time with Eva and between the restrictions and our garden we had plenty of lovely days spent with no real burning need to do anything. If we managed to not get lost in the shocking news coming through, then we could craft quite a nice existence in our wee flat and its accompanying garden oasis.

Eventually I felt that I had to look forward and start thinking about what I was actually going to do with myself. Signing onto Universal Credit helped me through the hard times when others were on furlough but with no end to the national lockdown in sight I needed something to do, or at least something to look forward to. I applied for a postgraduate master’s in journalism up in Aberdeen and got accepted for a start in September. It was a bittersweet end to my time in Glasgow. One year on from moving there with the intentions of starting a career in media I had met far more hurdles than expected. Having only just settled at the first full time job that I actually somewhat liked only for it to be brought to a halt by the pandemic, I wasn’t feeling overly hopeful towards the future. Still though, I had some great times in my mouldy wee flat and it was a good experience to try living somewhere beyond Aberdeenshire.

By the time July came Eva and I were actually really excited to move back up and see some mates whenever restrictions allowed. Moving into a far nicer flat that was far cheaper per person sweetened the deal and after the initial hassle of moving all of my worldly possessions across the country we were feeling pretty content. That time where everything seemed to be getting better in late summer offered much needed hope to the both of us. No matter how much you love someone it’s not human to be around them 24/7 for months on end.

We each relished seeing friends for the first time in what felt like an eternity, which made Aberdeen’s local lockdown really difficult to take. All of our lives are expected to be an upward trajectory, at least when you’re still quite young and have everything ahead of you. The unavoidable pause that this pandemic put on our lives showed me that this is really just a construct that requires us to go out and start earning money and climb up the career ladder. If I have taken anything away from this year of isolation it has been a bit of perspective. In the scope of the world a lot of the things that I found myself worked up over don’t really matter. I’m trying to put less pressure on myself as a result of this somewhat obvious revelation.

I found that learning about things in your own time is much healthier than the rigid deadlines of school and uni. Over months I picked away at books and watched documentaries and gradually learned about history and philosophy in quite an enjoyable way. As a person who gets bogged down in inactivity this was vital to my mental wellbeing during the months of lockdown. Even if I wasn’t working towards a degree or anything, it benefitted me so much to just be trying to pick up some lessons here and there. That need to be working on something is actually how this blog came about, so the months of solitude weren’t completely in vain. This undoubtedly helped in my decision to go back to uni and I feel that the fresh approach to learning has opened my mind up a bit and has gotten me into better habits.

Before sitting down to write about all of this I don’t think that I did believe that some good may have come out of all of this. For every good thing there have probably been a fair few bad things to come from months of social isolation; I’m more anxious again in general, the future is the most uncertain that it has ever been and it can be incredibly hard to dig yourself out of depression when you are bound by the same walls every day. However, even salvaging a couple of slivers of hope is enough for me. This past year was never going to be good and if you told me when it all started that we would still be in lockdown the same time the following year I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself. Given the state of the world, just surviving is enough to expect from yourself and – whilst this is easy to forget – it’s essential to be kind and not add more pressure to a future that already weighs heavily on all of us.

Trying to teach myself this was really difficult at times, as I am quite prone to getting worked into a frenzy and not really knowing what to do. Getting existential dread about your life is hard at the best of times, but in the past year it has been paralysing at times. Having a person to care for, and care for you, makes any situation better. For me, just having to look after myself and my own interests doesn’t really work. Being there and providing support is as good a reason to live as any in my book, which was only amplified when we got our first pet together, Fraser the cat. Caring for him has spurred both Eva and I on a bit, giving us a reason to get out of bed at a reasonable time and keeping us on our toes. I’m thankful not only to Eva, but to Fraser as well, for being there for me and giving me motivation to keep going.

For now, if all I can manage is going for a run and occasionally reading a book or watching a movie then that’s fine. There is plenty of time to work in life and being eaten alive by stress isn’t going to help anyone. While the world goes through the biggest event of our lifetimes you can be forgiven for retreating and looking inward for solace and taking things a day at a time. With many of us feeling truly vulnerable for the first time, it gives an insight into how marginalised people live every day of their lives. Through experiencing hard times I was able to find more compassion for my fellow man and started trying to get into better social practises. Although it is unlikely, better treatment of others and ourselves would be a great collective takeaway from all of this, instead of the increased division that plays out online as a result of people being forced into social bubbles.

Instead of getting sucked into the whirlpool of online discourse and opinions I’m going to continue to work on myself. For now I’m going to try and get over the initial despair of the lockdowns and keep reading, writing and taking any joy as it comes. Whether I’m watching old series of Anthony Bourdain travelling the world, reading classic novels that I’ve always meant to get around to, or just revisiting my back catalogue of music, I’m only just now accepting how to live like this. It’s seemed near impossible at times but now, as the end seems to be on the distant horizon, I can say that everything might be ok, eventually.

Words by Ewan Blacklaw

Resources for Mental Health:
Samaritans – Contact a Samaritan
NHS – Charity Directory
Mind – Seeking help for a mental health problem

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